This article is co-authored with Gaurav Gupta & Vishnu Vasudev, from Ka Partners
CleverTap is experiencing hyper-growth. And with hyper-growth comes the challenge of alignment of not just action (what we do), but of mindsets (how we do it). Rapidly growing organizations often address this through a top-down implementation of process and systems that can establish control and predictability, but at the expense of stifling employee creativity, agency and engagement, and potentially stopping growth and innovation dead in its tracks.
Faced with this challenge, it was important to identify, articulate, and institutionalize a set of core values that would inform and guide the many daily decisions and actions of everyone across the company.
Using a process designed and facilitated by Ka Partners, we arrived at a set of six clearly articulated values. In this article, we want to share with you why CleverTap decided to articulate core values, what the process was like, and some of our key learnings.
CleverTap has been growing very fast. In 2016, there were 36 employees in 2 offices. As of this writing, there are more than 300 employees in 8 locations. Given this rapid growth and spread, our executive team recognized the need to start paying attention to company culture, and that a good starting point would be expressing core values.
However, at such a fast pace, it was difficult to prioritize this effort. One of the founders had even said, only half-jokingly, “Why don’t we just take Netflix’s values – they’re pretty spot on”.
Of course, our company had core values before the start of this project. The issue was that given the size and growth, it was impossible to be certain that everyone knew, understood and lived these values in the same way. Too much of an employee’s experience of these values relied on chance – factors such as tenure at CleverTap, the nature of their roles, and their office location.
And this is why Ka Partners’ approach to formulating core values immediately resonated. They framed an exercise to discover the values and non-negotiable behaviors that were already present, and therefore authentic to CleverTap. They didn’t just list aspirational values that ‘sounded good’ or were a ‘must have’ for any business – stuff like integrity or customer centricity.
Ka Partners suggested a process that did not just stop at articulating the values. CleverTap was clear that these core values would play an important role in guiding and aligning individual behaviours, creating a greater sense of engagement with the culture and identity among the employees, and serving as a lodestone when facing difficult decisions. This also meant that all important internal systems, whether hiring and onboarding or performance management had to be consistent and reflective of these values.
We worked through the three phases of discovery, alignment, and articulation, we relied on two main principles, namely:
Values are authentic, not aspirational, and
The values should represent all of CleverTap, across geographies, functions and levels.
Ka Partners kicked off the process by collecting information from across the organization. They conducted over 20 in-depth interviews with a mix of employees, ensuring that this group covered all geographies, functions and tenures. Using a repeatable but fluid protocol, this exercise was able to surface the behaviours and actions that animate CleverTap. Then, interviewees were asked:
a. Which of these behaviors and attributes were viewed as non-negotiable, essential for success at CleverTap, and how were behaviors recognized or rewarded?
b. On the flip side, what behaviors or attributes were frowned upon, and which of them were perceived to be holding back CleverTap?
These interviews provided rich data and formed the basis of the survey that was sent to the entire organization. The survey asked employees to reflect on their experiences and the usual behaviors in the organization. We stressed the importance of this survey and were able to achieve a near 100% completion rate to ensure input from the whole company.
Through this discovery process a clear picture emerged of the value ‘themes’ that were being widely reflected in actions and behaviours of the employees. At the end of this process, Ka Partners identified eight value ‘themes’ across CleverTap. Some were straightforward. A few would clearly require some unpacking.
Now that we had the ‘raw material’ from the interviews and surveys – a set of authentic themes expressed by the employees themselves – we had to shape these into a set of easily understood core values. The crucial step in this process was to have the broader leadership team (not just the founders):
– Arrive at a common and correct understanding of each theme and the key behaviours they entail
– Align on which of these themes should be institutionalized as core values
Ka Partners facilitated this alignment process over the course of multiple sessions in which:
We reviewed the data and insights from the interviews and surveys to understand how the themes had emerged.
We discussed the themes and their relationships with each other, finding for instance that some themes were in fact two facets of the same underlying themes.
We subjected each theme to a ‘pressure test’ to ensure that they were truly non-negotiable, and that they would not be sacrificed at the altar of convenience when faced with important strategic goals.
We took comfort that no crucial value had been left out by the process.
Given the size of the leadership team, the nature of the discussions, and the multiple time zones – the process was complex. At times, discussions became a little intense, reflecting the passion around the topic. Through these discussions, the leadership team arrived at six core values that they were each personally committed to and would champion throughout the company.
The final step of the process was to articulate each core value into ‘headline’ definitions and expositions. As in the earlier steps, Ka Partners provided useful principles that guided and facilitated the process. The main decisions were to decide which audience to address (internal or external) and which ‘voice’ to use. Given the primary goal of having values guide individual decisions and actions, a simple, direct ‘voice’ to address each individual at CleverTap was deemed most appropriate.
What We Learned During the Process
If you intend to develop and articulate core values at your company, we have a ton of lessons to share. Though maybe to keep this from becoming a novel, we’ll whittle it down to these 4 points:
Be clear on why you want to articulate your core values. If it is largely as a signal to an external audience, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity to align behaviors internally and create employee engagement.
The importance of having authentic values that emerge from the experiences of employees cannot be stressed enough. Starting the process with interviews and a company-wide survey not only ensured this, but also helped ground the exercise in objectivity.
The commitment and buy-in of founders and top management is a must. The whole exercise would have been pointless without this.
Consider an external partner to facilitate the process. We are all running at top speed, and it can be difficult to prioritize and follow through in a structured manner.Using an external resource can speed up the process. Plus, you get a referee for when the debates start heating up.
The CleverTap Values
If you need information, find it. If you need context, seek it.If you have a better idea, share it. If you are unsure, take a smart risk. Keep moving with speed and real intent.We don’t achieve anything by waiting. Act now, in the best way you can.
We trust you to do what you say, when you say, and to do it with heart. Credibility comes from being reliable.Seek to understand how your individual effort contributes to a better outcome for the company. Own that outcome. Do what it takes to improve that outcome through your action. Find a way to do better.
Ask the ‘silly’ question. “Because that’s the way it’s done” is not a valid answer. Question assumptions. Go deep. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be curious, always. We are successful because we do not hold back. We strive to invent and to push boundaries. We are not constrained by benchmarks or by what others believe is possible.
If you are not humble, you cannot be receptive to new information, ideas and ways of thinking. If you are not receptive, you cannot learn. If you are not learning, you cease to grow. If you are stagnant, you quickly lose relevance. Humility is a precondition for learning and growth.
Make it a point to help in any way you can. Ours is a shared aspiration, fueled by teamwork. When we help each other out, in small and large ways, we are more likely to find success, fun and fulfillment in what we do.
We make decisions all the time. Speak up and express your conviction with reason and passion. Listen to other ideas with an open mind. Once a decision has been made, always commit wholeheartedly to making it a success. Even if you had no part in making the decision. Even if you disagree.