Underpinning Onfido's performance with new company values

Inspiration | Mothership Netflix

Netflix has long-since served as the pole star to conversations around company culture, especially in the world of technology startups. Indeed, the Netflix Culture Deck has been described by Sheryl Sandberg as ‘one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley’, and the deck itself has been viewed more than 12 million times on SlideShare.

In my view, the popularity of the deck has two key drivers. First, Netflix have gone stellar. In 2013, the value of its stock more than tripled, it won three Emmy awards and its U.S. subscriber base grew to nearly 29 million. In short, Netflix’s team has actually delivered The Version Nirvana to which most of us strive on a daily basis – and it’s hard not to be fascinated by the fuel that propelled that rocket.

Second, it posits a radical idea. Namely, that the business of Talent Managers is to communicate clearly with and enable team members who are – and should be treated as – 'fully formed adults’ . That is to say, rather than being authors of endless guidelines, rulebooks and strictures, Talent Managers should create the conditions for a high performance workplace. How can this be done? Simply by encouraging a team to trust their own logic and to make independent judgments about what is best for the business.

To scaffold this radical approach, Netflix formulated an agreed set of ‘company values’. These simple principles were designed as guidelines for results-orientated decision-making within the company. Moreover, they simply codified what was already happening – thus making explicit the most valuable behavioural norms present within the team.

In other words, there was nothing fluffy or ancillary about values at Netflix; they were the distilled essence of what was, in practice and every day, actually making the company successful.

Defining values at Onfido

Having been through a period of exponential growth at Onfido, we came to the realisation that centralised systems for decision-making were going to be fundamentally unfit for purpose - and anyway went against the grain for most of us. That said, with 65 people now in the company, we needed some framework for making explicit and then entrenching the behaviours that were highly productive of success.

Sharing Netflix’s belief in management as individual empowerment, we took the decision to define and formalise our values as step one in that process.

Determined that our values should emerge from the most impactful of the behavioural norms already present within the team, we began by organising an away day to crowd-source ideas. We asked questions such as ‘what would your ideal colleague be like?’ and ‘in the last 6 months, what behaviours or actions do you think have been the key drivers of our success?’ We then spent time analysing the answers and grouping them into themes.

Gratifyingly, we emerged with a very clear picture and with high levels of validation of the team. We therefore ploughed bravely on…

Messaging

The next challenge was to formulate our four values in a way that would be authentic, actionable and memorable.

We made a conscious decision to stay away from the highfalutin speak of corporate world – integrity, collaboration, dedication and their kin – and instead focus on ground-level descriptions of observable behaviours.

Onfido’s four values

Succeed together
  • Build an internal network of experts and sounding boards; give and ask for advice and share experience.
  • Make decisions informed by knowledge and data from across the business.
  • Be a positive, constructive colleague. Be a caring friend.
Take pride
  • Be unashamedly hungry for success.
  • Treat every task as an exhibition piece; if a stakeholder (from colleague to investor) came to look at your screen, you should be delighted and excited to show them what you’re working on!
Learn things, share them
  • Go out of your way to source new knowledge and develop new skills. Read blogs, read books, go to meet-ups and conferences. Learn every day.
  • Distribute that content to colleagues – small scale (post articles on Slack / write blog pieces) or bigger scale (lead a lunch and learn/ speak at a conference).
  • Seize every opportunity for coaching. Offer fast feedback to team members and go out of your way to ask them to do the same!
Find a better way
  • Iterate continually to optimise processes, technology and everything else.
  • Gather data to validate your iterations.
  • Deliver highly impactful innovation to drive Onfido towards success.

Dissemination

Lastly, we tackled the issue of how to make the values ‘stick’.

Our initial research suggested that words or phrases were not particularly memorable, so we decided instead to use a powerful combination of animal and colour imagery (both universal, cross-cultural symbols - important for an international team) to typify each core value.

Even though we are still at an early phase of implementation, we are already seeing these symbols being adopted into everyday discourse & behaviour (e.g. in conversation/ GIFs on Slack) - which is promising early validation of our approach.

Moving Forward

Lastly, a disclaimer. As with all things, this piece of work is in its infancy and will go through many incarnations to best serve the ever-changing needs of Onfido.

It is, however, our hope that these values will form the bedrock of Onfido’s success – and will help us to recognise, reward and motivate our stellar team!

Ellie Romer Lee is Head of Talent at Onfido. She often writes about Company Culture and Productivity. Find her other posts below:

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Ellie is Head of Talent and is building a happy and productive work place that attracts and delights Onfidoers. She's also a hungry bookworm, always in need of a good restaurant and a great story.
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