There’s a point for every company where it makes sense to solidify some core values.…
Defining Company Core Values to Drive Culture
“Build the right team to build the right products”
That’s what Connectifier aspired towards as they grew out their company. We recently connected with John Jersin, CEO and Co-founder, who had great insight on how they kept their culture intact as they scaled from from humble beginnings.
What is Connectifier? It’s a platform designed for recruiters to cull the best of the best members when hiring for enterprise companies. They were founded by two ex-Googlers who recognized the strategic importance of effective recruiting when they saw it first hand via the teams they led at Google.
Below, John shares the process their team went through as they grew their team.
Culture and Values Should Be One and the Same
The first real thinking on Connectifier culture occurred when we were sitting in our first office and considered bringing on our first employee. After we got a signature on an offer letter, we slid into a low level panic about how to make the office seem less lonely. Whether we needed to start buying snacks and even whether we should play music during the day. Over time, we stopped worrying about the little things; realizing our culture was more about why we did things, rather than what we did. In other words, culture is about our values and how those values influence the actions of the company.
“Culture is about our values and how those values influence the actions of the company.”
Today, Connectifier is ten times that size. Most of our engineering team came from Google and Amazon. Bringing with them an ambition to tackle daunting challenges. Most of our sales team previously lead their own teams and brought with them an eagerness to innovate on best practices and collaborate internally. We established a focus on the things that make the biggest differences for our customers, as well as an analytical attitude to find out what those things are.
We have found that this culture helps us solve the kinds of problems our company needs to solve. Connectifier, at its heart, is a search engine that helps recruiters at top companies find great potential employees to help execute their mission. Our culture is an intentionally selected set of values we think people need to build such complex systems. This effectively articulates the objective value we deliver to customers. These values constantly guide decisions made by each team member and allows everyone at Connectifier to be a leader.
Small Things Can Reinforce Values
After settling down about snacks and music, we found the best way to foster the culture we wanted was by making very small moves reinforcing our values. Our sales team gets excited about the technology behind big engineering projects. Our engineering team loves theorizing with sales about how to best educate customers. This culture of curiosity and ambition drives the production of innovative ideas. We keep it going by simply encouraging certain discussions when they naturally occur. For example, when discussing a feature and happen upon an idea for another, we’ll see where that conversation goes rather than shutting it down for efficiency’s sake. If we made the other choice, we’d simply end up with a culture of efficiency. This is how our culture was built: over lunchtime conversations about upcoming work, and in quick reviews of customer calls.
“Our culture was built over lunchtime conversations about upcoming work, and in quick reviews of customer calls.”
Of course, not all decisions that impact culture are made by one or two people. As we grew, we found that the cultural tone might be set at the top, but it’s built by everyone. It’s the job of leaders to encourage or discourage certain values. In fact, that’s about all they can do. Once someone joins the team, it’s unlikely that they’ll become a radically different person. That’s why at Connectifier, cultural values are built into the interview process.
We ask interview questions that allow for multiple valid approaches and answers. This allows us to gauge candidates by whether their default approach incorporates the values we want to see. The upshot is we’ve ended up with a team aligned on problem solving approaches. At times, the sales team has spent hours on a candidate who leaves, riffing on questions like “How would you best convey the value of a Ford Model-A to someone in 1903 who owns a horse”. This is how strong a force enjoying collaborating and solving problems with your coworkers can be. That alignment and passion comprises a formidable advantage when solving problems for customers.
Empowering Employees to Drive Culture
We try to create opportunities for employees to own and improve company culture themselves. Connectifier has a ping-pong table in the office. At the start of our first ping-pong tournament we set up a quick discussion about the fairest seeding strategy. That way we could best compare people who hadn’t played each other. In our case, this small discussion led to one of our engineers coding a point ranking system. That project was sustained and improved by others. Eventually, it was rebuilt by an employee who wasn’t even working for the company at the time of the tournament.
Now, every time someone plays, stats such as who served and which side of the table they were on get entered into the system. As a result, you can see players move up or down in the rankings. It’s something that’s given our games a bit more excitement. More importantly, it’s helped spread a value we apply when building our products: do only a few things, but do them well. We aren’t under any delusions that a ping-pong ranking system will inspire the next data science breakthrough. However, it’s an amazing way of reminding the team what kind of place they work in.
As we plan events today, we try to build in ways for the team to express our values. When we do events like go-kart racing, we put the winner’s name on a trophy we keep in the office, but we talk about superlatives too. Who had the greatest speed improvements in each successive lap around the racetrack? Is that person more likely to outperform someone with more consistent, if smaller, improvements in the long run?
When we provide an opportunity, people will let their curiosity out and take up a challenge. Others will jump in and collaborate. After drawing out that aspect of people and letting them have fun with it, that becomes more who they are in their role with the company. We’ve managed to build a company valuing correctness over simplicity, understanding over guesswork, and solution over spin. In turn, that culture produces products that deliver real results for our customers.
“That culture produces products that deliver real results for our customers.”
CEO of Connectifier. John was a Product Manager leading ten engineering teams at Google, and formerly Technical Lead in Google’s ads unit. John received an M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford and previously founded Zintin, a startup that made two of the first 500 iPhone apps and achieved millions of downloads. You can find him on twitter @jjersin