Identifying, debating and codifying our values

Natalie Falconer

Head of People

June 22, 2021

There’s a strong argument to say that nothing should have changed since 2014, especially if we had been rigorous in truly living our values, hiring against them, and reinforcing them at every available opportunity. But we started to realise that quite a bit had changed in two years, and some of this change was natural and out of our control. In particular, the team had changed significantly and we had tested, iterated on, and discarded some of our founding principals.

One thing that had not changed, however, was our conviction. We believed that as a company we will be judged by what we do. We knew that what we do (our behaviour) is driven by our culture. We also knew that our culture is based upon our shared values. It seemed obvious to us that we should spend some time to agree on what these values are and recalibrate for the next stage of our journey. Here is what we found…

Here is Our Values Deck

Our Company Mascot is Leonardo Da Vinci

He Represents Three Archetypes That We Relate To

WE IDENTIFIED THAT THERE ARE SIX QUALITIES THAT GOVERN OUR TEAM APPROACH

- We Succeed Together

- We Execute With Skill And Pace

- We Share Our Knowledge

- We Get Better Every Time

- We Have The Courage To Create

- We Enjoy Our Journey

HOW DID WE DO IT?

First, we took the pulse

Archetypes

In 2014, Forward Partners chose the archetypes that felt most representative of the team - Sage & Explorer.

For the uninitiated - archetypes are patterns and types of character that we intuitively understand. They recur throughout history and are perhaps most identifiable in stories. Examples of archetypes include; hero, caregiver, magician, lover, explorer, sage, everyman, creator, rebel, jester, ruler.

Brands use them to great effect to communicate who they are; The North Face? Explorer. Dove,? Caregiver. Coca-Cola? Everyman. We also expect certain patterns of behaviours from archetypes and these are used to great effect in TV & movies. A hero is different from a villain (Harry Potter / Voldemort) and a rebel is different to a ruler (Katniss Everdeen / Daenerys Targaryen).

After the initial values work, the identification of Forward Partner’s archetypes as Sage and Explorer led to Indiana Jones and Yoda being selected as the company mascots. We wanted to go a step further this time so we asked the team to complete a short questionnaire on www.archetypes.com and send their report to us ahead of an offsite. This gave us an idea of what archetypes are present in the team. We took this information and put it into a presentation to share at the offsite, which we’ll discuss later.  

Values

Our old set of values were,

- Seek, share and retain know-how

- Collaborate to be our best

- Make good decisions

- Act with courage

- Be creative, adventurous and open-minded

- Get it done, well

- Enjoy the journey

We felt that these values meant something to the team. But the truth was that we just didn't know how well we had done in living these values. We had the deck outlining some of the processes and tools we had put in place to help us live our values but we needed more than that. We needed to know what the team thought. More importantly, we needed to know how the team felt free of bias. To do this we needed to run a survey without leading questions and unconscious bias.

To do this research we designed a questionnaire that allowed us to do a deep dive on each of our current values. We did this on Typeform. Example Here. We then asked the team to complete this ahead of the team offsite.

The off-site workshop

To really examine the company values we needed to spend some time together as a team. Here is what we did,

We chose somewhere away from the office - a different space to enable free-thinking and inspiration.

We booked a public speaking specialist to come along to the event and get everyone limbered up in the morning so that everyone felt comfortable contributing. We used Metaspeech. They were fun and engaging.

We designed a format for the day and assigned owners to each section

We split the day into two sections

- The set-up

- Values work

We invited the Chairman of our Board - because we wanted to make it clear how seriously we take this.

The format of the day

Archetypes session

Our first session looked at our company archetypes. This gave us the framework to work to for the day.

I introduced archetypes to the team, presented the findings from the team questionnaire, and distributed four decks of cards, each containing all of the major archetypes with associated famous figures. The activity was the following,

- Split into groups of four.

- Think “Why did you get into this business instead of another one?” “What is Forward’s personality - who would they be at the party?” “ What makes us different?”

- Action: flip over the archetype cards one by one, and eliminate any that don’t seem to match Forward Partners.

- Action: Go through the remaining cards and pick out all the cards that represent Forward Partners the most - paying most attention to the team quiz results.

- Action: Look at remaining archetypes and repeat the process for what you think are most important archetypes for us.

- Keep repeating until you get to two remaining archetypes

We then regrouped, put the eight archetypes up on the wall, grouped the ones that overlapped and discussed the remaining four. We looked back at our team archetypes, considered what we aspire to be, talked it out as a team and landed on three.

- Artist

- Achiever

- Intellectual

We now had a reference point for our values work.

Values session

Aspiration

In this session, Martyn Holman, Partner, and Dharmesh Raithatha, Product Partner, asked the team to shout out where we wanted to be in five years time as a company. Martyn and Dharmesh split the content we generated as a team into two groups, actions and values, so that we could clearly see the distinction between the two.

We then repeated the process for what we would like to improve on, or stop doing. Orchestrating the session meant probing deeper on how well the team thought we were doing at working to our annual objectives (another blog post) and the content collected was grouped, sorted and displayed on the wall.

We now had a lot of content on the wall to play with.

Other companies

In the next session, we asked the team to stand up and talk about companies they had worked for in the past paying particular attention to their values and culture. We wanted to do this because it was real and it didn't force us into talking abstractly about other company values and/or famous cases such as Netflix or Valve. We wanted to be as authentic as possible.

What became clear, whilst listening to the stories that the team were sharing, was that company values have a lasting and tangible effect on people. There was a lot of content, and to make sense of it we were all noting down the key points on post-it notes and putting them up on the wall.

When everyone had shared their accounts we grouped together the values that were similar, sorted them into three groups (what we have now, what we aspire to have, what we should avoid). By the end, the wall was covered in post-it notes.

Jonathan McKay - the Chairman of our Board - then asked us to think about the values up on the wall that we thought were obvious, or simply ones that didn't need stating (e.g. honesty, integrity, hard work etc…). We called these hygiene factors. We then made a list of things that values had to be. We wanted them to be,

- Memorable

- Simple

- Actionable

- Inspiring

We now had a framework to test values against in our future session. We tested the ones on the wall that we had identified in our ‘aspiration’ and ‘other company’ sessions and whittled them down to a smaller group.

Teamwork

The last session of the day was where we started the hard work. First off Nic and Jonathan displayed our previous set of values, tested them against our framework, and presented the findings from our team survey.

Some of our previous values failed the test and clearly needed re-thinking. The results from the survey showed that we were doing an ok job of living our values but we could do better. Moreover, it showed that some values meant more to people than others. In short, we could do better and so the rest of the session was about making sure we did just that.

Here is what we did:

We looked at the existing values that passed the test and performed well in the survey.

We discussed what we like liked about them, examined whether they are still relevant, checked them against our new archetypes and threw them open to discussion for further examination.

Jonathan noted down the key sentiments that came out of the discussion on the current values and stored them for later.

We grouped the sentiments together with the work we had done previously on aspiration and other company values.

We revisited our archetypes again and picked out the values and sentiments that closely aligned - the list was starting to get smaller but still relatively large.

We grouped as many as we could into themes. Many sentiments and values addressed the same salient point - this was a hard session that really focused our minds.

A group discussion ensued to whittle these groups down to 12 sentiments/values to be captured in our values deck.

We agreed that this was a good place to end the day and for the post off-site editing to start.

EDITING

Archetypes

It became clear that our archetypes were too abstract, we needed new mascots for,

- Artist

- Achiever

- Intellectual

We sent an email to the team and asked for their opinion - the majority came back and said that we only needed one and that Leonardo Da Vinci represented all three. Sherlock Holmes came a close second. We went with Da Vinci.

Values

Then we moved to the values. We felt strongly that we should have a tight list of values that really meant something. The 12 sentiments that we had did not get us to this point. We had a follow-up session back in the office - about 1 hr - where, after some editing, I presented a draft version of our values. I canvassed team opinion and took the feedback away for further refinement.

Then myself, Nic Brisbourne, Nic Forster (our Head of PR & Comms) and Martyn Holman sat in a room with the second draft of values, complete with team feedback and the new mascot. We wordsmithed and fashioned them into something more punchy and memorable. It took a few days.

REVISION & ACTIONS

We took V2 of our values deck to the team - the working document was on a Slack channel - they gave us more feedback to work with but we were going in the right direction. We also realised that we needed to work on the actionable part of our values sooner rather than later. Values only mean something if we live them every day.

We used a Monday morning to ask the team to write down a wish list of actions they would like to see in the final document that linked to the values we had agreed on. We took this wish list away, sat in a room for a few hours, discussed them, put forward our case for why they should / shouldn't be on the deck and took away the raw material for further revision.

TEAM FEEDBACK

Next, up, we took V3 of our values deck to the team complete with associated actions.

It was a positive reaction. We identified strongly with the values, agreed on the actions and felt it was a good level up on what we had before. There were still refinements to be made and the timeline for some of the projects and tools we had landed on to live our values required project management but we were in the final few yards.

DESIGN

Seth (our resident design magician) then took the deck and took it to the next level.

WE’RE NOT DONE YET

We have all of our actions and projects lined up in Trello and have them spread out across the year so that we are always doing something new to live our values.

Here is our 2016 Values Deck

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Natalie Falconer

Head of People

June 22, 2021

Nat is Head of People & Talent at Forward. Nat has previously worked in start ups, scale ups and larger corporates in a People/Talent and Employment capacity. Nat has previous VC experience working for Kindred Capital VC and been a founder herself in HR Tech. Nat is passionate about nailing the basics for companies when it comes to their People and is on a continual train to move away from traditional HR and move into impactful people projects with a heavy slant on psychology within the workplace and beyond, allowing people to be their best self always.