Trusting our values during a difficult time

In early February of this year, the entire Backbone team came together for a two-day summit. Our goals were pretty simple:

  • For us as a team to identify and discuss our core company values.
  • For us as a team to discuss a refinement of our vision, mission, and strategy — both in context of 2020 and beyond.
  • For us as a team to align around and deeply understand our chosen customer focus.
  • For us as a team to understand how we can and should use all of these things to make decisions at an individual, manager, and company level.

It was a fun two days. There were presentations on our focus for 2020, team whiteboarding and brainstorming exercises, hard questions — and an interview with a customer who joined us to share her perspective. As a team, we cooked paella, drank wine — and survived a sudden snowstorm that dumped several feet of snow on Boulder in the middle of our sessions.

Looking back at that summit now, from the basements, bedrooms, and chaotic family rooms where our teams sit each day on Zoom calls, we feel so lucky on the timing of that gathering. Not just for the chance we had to be *together* before this pandemic, but for the clarity that we created in our time together. While we continue to benefit from all the items we discussed during that time, it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) the work we did on Values that rings the most true at this moment. It is a very different world than it was two months ago, and we as a company, as team members, and as individuals have been forced to redefine how we thrive and succeed.

Our values have been an elemental part of those conversations and our decisions, and as such, we feel it’s useful and right to share them publicly, so that our customers, partners, and even competitors understand who we are. These values are beacons — guiding lights we steer by and that we strive to make decisions by. If we can’t use them now, in challenging times, then they aren’t worth much.

Our values, distilled from team conversations, rigorous debate, and an honest assessment of where we have both succeeded and failed against them in the past, are as follows:

  • Put customers first: We necessarily measure our intended actions against the impact they have on our customers, our employees, our company, and our shareholders. We put the Customers first in that conversation and give them the most weighting. That weighting doesn’t mean we won’t say “no” to customers when we have to, or that we subject everything to a customer’s request. It means that we make understanding and solving their problems, as people and as partners, our most critical measure of success.
  • Align and commit: We talked a lot about this one, as we firmly believe that challenge and debate is critical to building a great product and serving our customers. And in our definition, that doesn’t change. We make space for, and respect, disagreement (especially when data-driven!). At the same time, we as an organization cannot function if team members or separate teams are moving in different directions. So once a decision is made, we commit and move forward. This value carries certain underlying conditions — most importantly, clarity around our vision (the thing we are trying to achieve long-term) and crispness around our roles (the places we empower teams or individuals to own final decisions). In ratifying this value, we admitted we need to do some work to ensure we each are clear and aligned in those places.
  • Trust in our team: We trust and empower each team member to make independent decisions within their roles that help drive our business forward to accomplish our goals. Similar to the previous value, there is a high dependency here on clarity in our objectives, as well as our roles (eg what decision a person should make). We have to trust people not just to make decisions, but also to know what decisions they shouldn’t make without others (or at all).

It can be hard to nail down how deep or specific a company’s values should be. There’s no lack of literature or blog posts on it! At the end of the day, what counts is that the people working at a company feel like they can use these values to make decisions. We feel pretty confident about our ability to do so, and with more practice, we’ll keep getting better at referencing them specifically during difficult conversations.

This pandemic has been tough on our customers, on our employees, and on our families. A situation like this is the right time to challenge ourselves to live up to our own stated values. Now that you — our customers, partners, and investors — can see them clearly stated, we hope that you’ll help hold us accountable to them. 

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