How We Found Our Core Values

What do we stand for?

Many Companies have a page on their website where they talk about “integrity,” “passion,” “excellence,” and a bunch of other phrases that most people can agree are good to believe in. Sure they sound good, but sometimes they may feel empty and generic when they’re too broad. We at Coshx Labs reached a point in our company’s growth where we decided it was necessary to explore how we think of ourselves as a collective, what values are at the core of our company, and whether these values were worth publishing. Before we dove into what we stand for, we needed to agree on why company values mattered at all. Here’s what we think:

Why do we want a values document?

  • Hiring isn’t only about technical skills
    In hiring, we don’t only look for technical qualifications, we also look for the right company culture fit. When we commit to spending over eight hours a day working closely with people, we want to make sure our values are aligned. That way we can dig down into the work itself instead of spending lots of time debating how to work.

  • Getting the right people to find us
    Not only would a document on company values make our job of hiring for culture fit easier, it may help bring the right people in the door. If people on the job hunt see our values and get super excited to work with us, we want to hear from those people.

  • Managing tough decisions
    In working through tough situations with projects or clients, we want to be clear about how we work. Setting those expectations upfront ensures that we are all on the same page when it comes to decision making and communication. It can be really hard to make a decision in a tense situation, but having a core values document that we created with clear heads can help guide us in a way that is consistent with our beliefs.

  • Personal feedback
    In any company, it can be hard to voice your feelings about what you don’t like at the office or with a coworker’s behavior. If everyone seems happy about the way things are going or the way work is being done, you don’t want to be the one to start trouble especially if you don’t know what to do about it. However, a values document creates a neutral mediator that all interactions and behaviors can be measured against and can help bring everyone back on track. It also creates a transparent standard for performance evaluations.

Why now?

Coshx Labs has been in business since 2011 and in all that time operated without a formal values document, so how did we get this far? We each bring our own set of personal values to the team and it worked out well. We haven’t felt the difficulty of finding the right people because we’ve had the luxury of developing our small team slowly and carefully. Our company is small enough that we can give a lot of time to personally vetting each new employee, but if we continue to grow, that won’t be as easy. We needed a better system in order to continue growing and ensuring quality work.

##Finding our values
First, we decided that a company-wide discussion would be too difficult to handle and would limit the number of unique voices, esp. because people can dominate a group conversation without knowing it. Instead we tried pairing everyone up to have 1-on-1 conversations about the direction they want to see Coshx headed. As a deliverable, we asked each group to come up with and propose three values statements at the end of their conversations.

However, we had one more layer of complexity that we wanted to account for. We have team members in San Francisco, CA in Charlottesville, VA and in New York, NY as well as one team member in Serbia. We wanted to make sure to limit the number of pairs in which both people worked in the same location because we thought it would help get more perspectives in the mix. So we built this simple google doc application to randomize our pairings to mix things up.

Randomizer and Survey

After compiling over 30+ value ideas into a spreadsheet, we got to work grouping them by common themes. In order to easily visualize all the values floating around, our designer, Johnson Chen, wrote them up on sticky notes. By doing this, we could get a better sense of how each proposed value related to the others, or how far apart they were conceptually.

Sticky Notes on Whiteboard

After several iterations and discussion about what belongs where, we had organized our values and translated them onto a digital values board. We found that the data lends itself quite easily to six distinct categories.

Our Team Values Digitized

After understanding the grouping of the ideas, we attempted to create succinct values and short definitions for each group. We collected these in the spreadsheet below.

Category Value Definition
Trust Building trust builds trusting relationships Being honest in your actions and the way you speak promotes a clear dialogue between you and others. Whether they be fellow Coshx members or clients, being up- front with your abilities and confidence level lets people peek into the real you. It’s not about being perceived as a strong individual—it’s about creating a human-to-human connection.
Transparency creates trust
Execute & Collaborate Collaborate to execute strong intent While small in stature, our team has a diverse skillset that delves into many domains. Asking each other for insight is key to doing the best work we can do.
Leverage each other’s expertise for optimal execution
Diversity fosters creativity
Ownership Own what you are responsible for Commit to the tasks you agreed to. Communicate intent clearly so there would be no misunderstanding. If a client doesn’t understand, help team understand. If you need help with the task, initial ways to get help.
Take initiative when opportunity arises
Own it and deliver
Own it concisely and deliver with precision
We partner with people, not robots
Respect Courtesy goes a long way
Professional courtesy goes a long way
Learning Reflect on your actions together Learn from each other’s expertise and encourage each other to be better. Reflect on past actions to better prepare for future obstacles.
Evaluate & Learn

After presenting our first try at distilling the core values to the rest of the coshx team, we asked for feedback about the direction, the organization, and the content. We got a lot of great insight from the team about what the core of each value was and we got to work writing a succinct paragraph for each of the values. Once we had narrowed down the phrasing to be more straightforward, we needed feedback to see if it resonated with the team. A google form was created and sent to each member of the team to rate each value from one to five based on:

  1. This value reflects my own personal beliefs
  2. Coshx demonstrates this value
  3. This value is important to our success as a team

We got a lot of positive feedback so we knew we had something to be proud of. Aside from the comments about an extra or unclear word, the feedback was mostly “I feel these map to my own values very closely. I was surprised. Nice work!” The number distribution from the google form strongly backed up that sentiment. However, there were some sticky issues.

One of our concerns was that the value statement about transparency made some people a bit uncomfortable. After having a discussion about it, we all decided we were a better company with that in our core values. We probably never would have gotten everyone on board about that idea had we not gone through this process.

It was also clear that a few people weren’t feeling appreciated for their work, and we were able to dig a little deeper in those cases. As a team centered company, employee appreciation and employee satisfaction are crucial to our success. These activities helped us find out where we were failing members of our team, who until now didn’t have a place they felt comfortable sharing what they saw as the flaws in our culture.

Finally, we decided that the column “Building Products” is less of a value and more of a business process. Instead of tossing out that whole category of ideas, we decided to later use it to create documentation on “how we work.” Keep an eye out for that.

After a few more iterations and lots of team feedback we developed our team values document. We’re all really proud of it, and it has already come up in a bunch of discussion about how to proceed with clients in sticky situations, what to prioritize on a few projects, and it has served as a good reminder to show our appreciation for all the hard work everyone puts in at Coshx Labs. Without further ado, here are our core values:

Coshx Labs: Core Values

Transparency creates trust

We are honest in our conversations and collaborations, and we express ourselves graciously, especially when the truth is challenging. That means whether building products or building relationships, we address limitations up front, ask for help, and hold ourselves accountable for all our decisions and actions.

Finding expertise in collaboration

Every member of our team contributes a unique skillset—whether it be domain knowledge or soft skills—to our company. Asking each other and our clients for insight and keeping an open mind helps us do our best work together. Collaboration makes students and mentors of us all.

Ownership means taking initiative

Each member of the team is empowered to take personal responsibility for group success. We don’t wait for questions or problems to arise before considering what needs to get done and taking deliberate action. We work with clients, not as freelancers, but as partners with a shared passion and sense of excitement.

Celebrate success, work through challenges

We celebrate when a team member excels and we support each other when things get tough because that’s what it means to be a part of our team. We earn respect when we keep calm and ask for help in challenging situations.

Always an opportunity to learn

Every question raised is an opportunity to grow, and every challenge is a chance to rise to the occasion. We learn from the past to prepare for the future. We are constantly learning new technology to be better professionals, and sharing that knowledge helps us become a better team.