We Just Had Our Values Day and So Should You

fredrikJune 1, 2016

This May, we held our second annual Firsthand Values Day. Taking the whole team offsite for a day to talk values might sound like a fluffy excuse to avoid work. This year’s Values Day however, was probably the most productive workday we’ve ever had. Here’s what went down and why your team should have a Values Day too.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Any manager worth their salt knows this maxim to be true. Strategy without execution is worthless, and execution requires a culture where people are capable, motivated, and aligned to do what needs to be done. Creating a high-performing culture isn’t easy, but it starts with defining the skills and behaviors required for people in your organization to do well. These should be the skills and behaviors you value. They should be what you hire for, promote for, and fire for. These are your values.

Why We’re Down with GPP

At Firsthand, we live by three core values: Generosity, Proactivity, and Problem-Solving. Generosity, because we build platforms that depend on the generosity of alumni who volunteer their time as mentors, but also because we’re a small team and everyone needs to help out where needed. Proactivity, because making real strides towards our big, hairy, audacious goals requires the ability to properly plan, pre-empt, and prepare. Problem-Solving, because we’re never going to get there if we aren’t able or willing to solve difficult problems. At Firsthand, “Are you down with GPP?” isn’t just a reference to a 90’s rap song. It’s our cultural compass. 

How We Set Up Our Values Day

We didn’t want just any teambuilding event. We wanted purpose. We wanted to generate excitement and alignment around values. And we wanted it to be fun. So we rented a summer house two hours away, big enough to fit everyone. Getting a nice house got everyone jazzed. Renting it mid-week and off-season made it affordable. We also made our own food, which helped the team bond and further kept our budget in check.

The program consisted of three interactive 90-minute sessions, one for each of our values. Beyond that, we kept the program light. We wanted people to relax, connect, and come back energized. We had a different team leader facilitate each session. Each facilitator chose a topic and an exercise relevant to their value. For the exercises, we split into cross-functional teams so that people who normally didn’t work together could interact.

Caleb, our head of Customer Success, covered Generosity. He chose the topic Radical Candor, how to care but be direct when giving feedback, to illustrate how we could be more generous at work. To teach this concept, we played a modified version of the game Celebrity. Every player got a celebrity’s name posted on their forehead and had to guess who they were by receiving radically candid feedback as that celebrity.

Craig, our head of Engineering, covered Problem-Solving. In his session he addressed a topic that had been bugging us for a while. In a small open-office setting, how could we maintain vital information sharing and office banter without killing everyone’s productivity with constant interruptions? To address the issue, Craig split us into groups to come up with ideas. The result, which we’ve now implemented to great effect, is Focus Hours. For 90 minutes every morning and afternoon, we stay quiet, let each other focus, and hold off on the questions and observations we’d otherwise be blurting across the room.

I led the Proactivity session. I asked everyone if they had up to a week to eliminate or radically reduce a task they repeated often, what would it be? The result was a host of great ideas. Our customer success team estimated that an automated update email for each account would take a day or two to build, but save us a couple of weeks of manual reporting per year. More frequent reporting would also make our clients happier. Our engineering team estimated that upgrading their code deployment process would take a day or two, but save us at least two weeks per year and reduce deployment related crashes.

Overall, each session produced specific and actionable ways for us to be more generous and proactive problem-solvers. The meals and banter in between created an informal environment for relationships to strengthen and trust to build. The most valuable result however, was a team that came back excited and aligned around the skills and behaviors essential to our success. That’s Values Day. When are you having yours?