Whether or not we want to believe Gandhi's words, we all have to admit we've seen them play out over and over again. Sometimes they play out wonderfully; you've seen this positive alignment in teachers you revere, parents who raise good kids, and leaders who inspire everyone around them. I'm certain you have seen it play out the other way too.
Several years ago, my cofounder James Goebel conducted an exercise to understand our beliefs and values as a team. He met individually with nearly every Menlonian and asked them a simple question:
"If you left Menlo to start your own company, what three team members would you take along with you?"
He listened as Menlonians spoke about the others on the team they most valued and why they would choose those specific few to go with on the precarious journey of entrepreneurship. He wrote down the words they used on note cards. Afterward, he looked for patterns and began simplifying the notes into a single artifact organized by guiding principles and critical behaviors—and visible actions that give us evidence that the critical behaviors are at work—which together make up what we 'value'.
From the team's answers, James identified three guiding principles, which clarify how we want to see ourselves and how we want the world to perceive us:
Create meaningful, sustainable, positive, human impact. Always demonstrate integrity and authenticity. Act in a way that expresses care, hope, love, and joy!
These guiding principles act as Menlo's decision-making guardrails. We can improve the speed of decision making if we consider that each decision we make is consistent with these guiding principles. If we behave consistently with these guiding principles, there isn't much need for checking in with each other to see if we are doing the right thing.
James also codified critical behaviors and visible actions that exemplified those behaviors. Behaviors are the general norms of how we intend to act; visible actions are the leading examples of those behaviors. Now remember, this is what Menlonians were seeing in each other. Thus, while these behaviors and actions were aspirational, they were also real. This is the list James came up with based on these conversations:
Be Responsible by working with focus, being transparent, acting with discipline, and practicing servant leadership.
Be Effective by using systems thinking, simplifying, making decisions, finding compromise, and acting proactively.
Grow by fostering inquisitiveness, determining intrinsic motivation, reading, teaching, and mentoring compassionately.
Nurture Healthy Relationships by assuming good intent, putting others first, displaying empathy, bringing enthusiasm, and actively listening.
Be Willing to Enter the Danger* by displaying passion and respect, engaging challenging topics with empathy, and embracing mistakes.
Deliver Life-changing Experiences by thinking holistically, understanding others' points of view, and passionately embracing hard work.
Embrace Diversity by hiring first for talents, recruiting widely and inclusively, and taking chances on people.
These are the very tangible things we value as a team. In total they comprise the real values of our team and therefore our company. We believe they are worthy of our collective pursuit.
Now, I would love to say we operate all day every day with each of these guiding principles, critical behaviors, and visible actions in mind. But this side of heaven, we must still deal with regular human beings who have challenges at home, don't feel well, get upset when they feel disrespected or unheard, and misinterpret the actions of others around them. In other words, we are a real team with real people.
Our mission to "end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology"—by returning joy to technology teams and the experiences those teams create for others—is an ongoing one. We will never be able to say our mission is completed. So it follows that we will never be done pursuing the guiding principles, critical behaviors, and visible actions listed above. Although they are not attainable by everyone, every day, they can serve as our guiding light to a better team and better work. Inch by inch, day by day, conversation by conversation, we can get closer to and better at living in accordance to our principles and working toward our mission. Even as we make mistakes, suffer setbacks, take three steps forward and then back one or two, we are always moving toward a better version of the world and our place in it.
Constantly and consistently moving forward by applying these values is the hard work of leadership. And it must happen while we are doing real work to make payroll, cover expenses, find new customers, keep current customers happy, grow our technical skills, find new people, replace those who leave or don't work out, and still find time to enjoy our lives and our families.