I’ll start with a confession. When I co-founded BigPanda, and throughout the early years of the company’s life, I was skeptical about company values. At the time, I viewed values as a feel-good corporate exercise. Just a bunch of words on a poster that no one took seriously.
Today, I realize that I could not have been more wrong.
Turning point. BigPanda was a bit of a “late bloomer”, if you will. It took us a few years of wandering in the desert before we really took off as a company. I attribute the turning point in our company’s fortunes to two factors:
- Market timing: enterprise adoption of cloud and DevOps had reached a tipping point, and so had the associated difficulty for Ops teams to keep these environments running smoothly. The AIOps platform we had built over the long years preceding this tipping point was suddenly at the right place, at the right time.
- Company values: we began taking values seriously. We began clearly defining the kinds of behaviors that we value, and we started holding each other accountable for those behaviors.
There is no doubt in my mind that adopting values transformed BigPanda into a better business, with tangible and measurable improvements. We got better at hiring great people. We became more focused and disciplined on the priorities that matter most. The quality and velocity of people’s work improved. Customer satisfaction increased. Our technology leadership in the market expanded. We made better decisions, faster. All of that, because we got serious about values.
Why not? Looking back, I think we got serious about values probably about a year too late. We had already grown up from the early days of the company when we were ten people in a single room. In the early days, we didn’t have to think about culture or values. The small size of the team, and the intensity of the effort of turning an idea into a reality, naturally brought everybody together.
But eventually we got bigger and more fragmented. Ten people turned into 70 people. The single room that everyone worked out of turned into three offices on opposite sides of the world. One big team turned into 8 teams. As we scaled, I started to notice that things that were easy when we were small had become difficult. For one thing, we weren’t hiring as well as we used to. With hiring distributed across many hiring managers, we became inconsistent about who we hired in terms of talent and character. The result: we hired a bunch of people that weren’t a good fit for BigPanda. That sucked.
Additionally, we were juggling too many projects at once. We took on too many commitments, and then swapped those out for new ones whenever a customer requested a feature, or a shiny new object materialized on our radar. We started missing deadlines. The quality of our work fell below our original standards. We moved onto other priorities before fully baking what we were working on. In short, we were becoming mediocre.
Faced with these challenges, our newly hired VP People suggested that we try getting serious about values. To get started, she suggested that we spend time speaking with the team about “what makes us who we are” and then morph that into company values. I was still skeptical but felt that we had nothing to lose. Why not?
The Way of the Panda. Fast forward to today. Values have become the operating system for our organization. They are the framework we use to run and grow BigPanda. Every day, folks at BigPanda are under pressure to make good decisions:
- What projects should I work on?
- Should I speak up if I disagree with my boss?
- How should I manage and lead my team?
- Who should we hire?
- Who should we part ways with?
- How should I treat our customers and partners?
The answers to these questions are rarely easy or clear. Information is imperfect. Time is short. Stress is high. And the road ahead is shrouded with fog.
That’s the beauty of values. They cut through the fog and guide us in the right direction. They help us make smart decisions despite pressure, stress and uncertainty.
Sure, there are many other essential ingredients you need to build a successful company. You need a product that solves a burning pain and delivers real value. You need technology that is differentiated and defensible. You need executives who know how to build a business. But all those ingredients must exist within a framework of values that drive your team to make smart decisions every day.
Driving business goals. Our first attempt at defining company values was a misfire. We gathered employees together for an off-site and brainstormed ideas about what kind of organization we want to be. The results were exactly the kind of values that made me skeptical about values in the first place: respect, trust, etc. At first glance, these seemed like reasonable values. Who doesn’t want their employees to respect and trust each other? But they didn’t feel right. They were too vague and open to interpretation. They felt more like aspirations for how to be a good person vs. how to run a company.
I came home from the offsite disheartened about the concept of values. I spent the next few weeks, and more than a few sleepless nights, thinking about the matter. Why go through all this fuss to define our values? What purpose do they serve? I came to the conclusion that for company values to be worthwhile, their purpose must be to help our company win. More specifically, their purpose must be to help team members behave and make decisions in ways that will advance our mission and our business goals:
- Keep businesses running with AI that transforms IT data into insight and action.
- Build a world class company.
To do that, we needed values that are tangible and pragmatic. We needed values that provide clarity to everyone about how to behave and how to make great decisions.
HEART. Fortunately, our second attempt at values hit the mark. The process took a while and involved many heated conversations across the company. In the end, we aligned on a set of five values that have helped create a wonderful culture and have driven our business forward in ways I would not have thought possible.
These five values form the acronym HEART:
Treasuring the Journey
Below, I’ve included a brief description of how we strive to live each value at BigPanda. For a deeper dive, you can also take a look at the Values discussion that I personally lead with every new BigPanda employee.
Building a world-class company is not easy. In fact, it’s really hard. We face constant challenges: pressure, obstacles, deadlines, mistakes, doubters, self-doubt and more. Maintaining drive can be tough, especially when setbacks happen. To thrive in this environment, we must be hungry and motivated to accomplish amazing things. We must enjoy challenging ourselves to push our boundaries and grow. We must be driven to win…for ourselves, our customers, and our team.
Excellence is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Our customers, partners and colleagues know it when they see it too. That’s what we’re all aiming for: to do work that consistently wows those around us. Of course, let’s not confuse excellence with perfection. We don’t have time for perfection. We need to move fast and make smart decisions, often with short deadlines and imperfect information, then course correct as we go.
Being transparent is difficult, but it’s incredibly important. It’s easier and more pleasant to hold our tongue when we disagree with a decision. But that’s how bad decisions get made. It takes courage and conviction to share your opinion. At BigPanda, we strive to create an environment where trust and respect give people the confidence to speak their minds. To be open and honest in every interaction. We should all strive to provide feedback directly and constructively, and to accept feedback as a gift and a growth opportunity.
Steve Jobs said it best: “focusing is about saying no.” We all constantly have to make decisions about where to invest our limited time and energy. We must stay relentlessly focused on doing fewer things with excellence, rather than many things just well enough. That’s not easy. It’s difficult to say “no” when faced with attractive choices. We don’t want to admit that we can’t do it all…but we can’t, at least not with excellence. Have the courage and conviction to make hard choices and focus on the things that matter most.
Treasuring the Journey
We are all here to help our customers succeed and to build an amazing company. That is the destination, but the journey should be fun and rewarding. Life is too short to do something you aren’t passionate about or to work with people that don’t inspire you and make you better. Make time to build personal relationships. Celebrate each other’s wins. Lend a helping hand to someone who may need it.
Bottom line. I hope this gives you a clear understanding of the values at BigPanda. Keep in mind that values don’t just magically appear and change everything. They require care and feeding from everyone in the organization. They require discipline and intentionality in order to make them real. When that happens, the results are amazing.
Values are absolutely linked to business success. BigPanda’s values are critical drivers of our success, no less so than our unique technology, product, or our go-to market execution. They are one of the things I am most proud of at BigPanda.