Let’s start with a simple question:
Do customers, or even employees, care what you believe?
I think one of the biggest challenges I have had in my career is trying to maintain a perfect blend of optimism and healthy skepticism. It’s very easy in our tech bubble to talk the talk, but does anyone actually walk the walk too? In a world where companies claim that “it’s just business” when making decisions that impact both their relationships with employees and customers alike, I have always struggled with this cognitive dissonance. Does what a company believes and says they believe, what they state in their core values, ultimately matter?
Maybe customers just care about how often they frequent your site, how much they use your product, or whether you solve a problem. Or maybe it isn’t just that you have values you plaster on a website because it’s the cool thing to do, but because they actually feel like they share the same values that you live and embody every day.
At this point in my career I have already had the pleasure of working at my fair share of tech companies and I can confidently say it’s the latter, or at least a heavy combination of the two.
Take Zappos for example – there is a company who uses values as a sort of DNA for their own foundation both externally and internally. It informs everything they do and how employees behave. It also sets the tone for how they will continue to grow.
One very smart, and sometimes enigmatic, CEO that I worked for in the past used to always say, “You can’t change your DNA.”
It is quite literally the template for all the decisions you make as a company, the processes you build, and the people you hire. It is the seed that creates the culture you’ll live day in and day out.
Culture is not something you do, but something you are. It is not beers in the fridge, a kombucha tap, or the selection of artisanal trail mix in the kitchen, but the intangible environment through which your team feels empowered and valued. You live it every day.
Let’s consider Zappos again: Their core values are such an important part of their company that they slap them right on the side of the box for everyone to see. They’re confident enough to let everyone know what they should expect out of them and humble enough to be called out when they have not met those promises.
So, I’ll ask again — what is it that attracts great customers and amazing team members? Is it the words they slapped on the side of the box? Or is it the way employees espouse and embody those values every day from leadership on down?
One of my favorite Core Values here at Alyce is “Unwrap the Possibility.” This means we push ourselves and each other to be our best and constantly challenge the status quo. Now, you can see where this would clearly apply to any frenzied and fast-paced startup and why it would make sense for leaders to want people who push themselves. What gets lost in translation here, however, is how our leadership team constantly challenges the status quo internally as well when it comes to putting family and health first and achieving that ever-elusive work-life balance. It’s the holy grail of tech culture values that many state (especially on flashy job postings and marketing materials), but so very few actually get right.
I can shed a little light into why this was so important for me at such a crucial time in my life.
Warning: the following material may elicit pure joy and/or involuntary squeals.
Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
This past November, while in between companies, I became the very proud father of the overload-of-squishy-cuteness that you see above. It goes without saying that everything in my life had changed from that moment on. What drove me, inspired me, and influenced me had evolved and numero uno on my priority list was supplanted by a tiny human just over two feet tall that had us wrapped around her chubby little finger.
Pushing myself to be my very best – check. I was already embodying that value in my personal life to make sure I was the man and father my daughter would look up to.
So, you see my dilemma. I loved working at startups and tech companies and the fast-paced environment they bring, working for energetic and smart leaders, teaming up with other amazing people, and solving complex problems. I struggled with the insidious thought that being able to do all that and prioritizing family life were somehow mutually exclusive. Up to that point, they had been.
Unfortunately, many companies have values that sound pretty nice, but they can also be generic, disingenuous, or meaningless corporate buzzwords and phrases. They’re written on some new-hire presentation slide or poster on a wall and, there, they slowly wither away and die.
Let’s unwrap the possibility that they definitely do not have to be and that Alyce was the place to finally make it happen for me. I know, too easy, but I had to use it. I am trying to hone my dad jokes and puns after all.
The mistake most companies make is that the values are ultimately neither exemplified nor evangelized by leadership as if those things are just nice-to-haves that do not necessarily apply to them. The problem, in this case, lies in the fact that leadership is always an exercise of influence and setting the example. When values only live on a slide, there will always exist a void between those leaders and most of the rest of the team. Who wants another out-of-touch wish list that lacks awareness and empathy?
I remember sitting across from Greg, our founder and CEO, on a cold December day in Boston. The Alyce office was tiny, but not busting at the seams (yet). He spoke with conviction and energy, as many good founders and CEOs do. But there was something more there, something I had rarely felt in any interview, and it wasn’t from the lack of sleep from caring for a newborn. There was heart, authenticity, and empathy. He told me his vision for a work culture that embodies these values and one that would give me the ability to focus on my family. This was a person who understood my position and what I wanted in my next role. Fast forward a couple of weeks into my start at Alyce and I see Greg start to pack up and zip out at 3:30 PM on a random weekday. In my head: “I hope everything is ok.” Turns out he was just heading out to pick up his daughter from her day care.
No fuss, no excuses, no apologies, no judgement.
It may seem small, but this is one of those little moments that make those values seem genuine and sincere. Walking the walk.
In another memory, I was at Alyce for only about a month or so and was the only member of my department at the time. One day, Greg and our Head of Revenue, Daniel, pulled me into a conference room to talk to me about a key hire they were looking to make. This one was crucial for where we were as a company and the direction we would head in the coming year. Turns out, they were looking to hire someone I consider a good friend to head up the department. They actually wanted to know how I felt about it. “Huh?! You’re asking me? Quite honestly, you’d be crazy NOT to add him to the team!” Funny thing is, I know they were not actually asking me whether they should hire him or not, I wasn’t the one building the team, but they genuinely wanted to check in with me, make sure I knew, and honestly cared about how it could potentially affect me. Name another company that would ever make that kind of effort for one person that had been there for a month?
That’s just it, there was not one single lightbulb moment in particular that did it for me. It was the foundation built steadily brick by brick by each and every member of the Alyce leadership team and all of my wonderful teammates. Or maybe, if you have always lived on a coast like me, it is the slow swelling of a wave or the tide that slowly creeps up and you look around and realize, “WOW, I’m up to my neck in love and support!” Hmm, maybe a bad analogy, rising tides are no joke, but you get the picture. That may sound corny to some, but not to a new dad like me. I looked around one day, smiled to my wife, and said “I love this team!” For the first time I truly felt that we were talking the talk AND walking the walk: we were pushing ourselves and each other to be not only the best employees we could be, but the best humans we could be.
Jim Collins, an expert on company sustainability and growth, says, “Executives often ask me, ‘How do we get people to share our core values?’ You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. You must attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere.”
I mean, just look at the tagline on our About Us page under all of our beaming faces:
“Join us! You’ve got a lot to give—and so do we. From equity to mentorship to upward mobility and work flexibility, we invest in our most valued asset: our team.”
It’s safe to say people DO care what you believe, as long as you back it up. We have not slapped this on the side of one of our Alyce gift boxes yet, but we don’t need printed words to tell us what we all here already know, live, and breathe every day.
To this day I consider myself extremely lucky, and my family to be very grateful, that I found Alyce as a gem in a sea of cool and exciting startups. After hearing what Jim Collins has to say, it’s very humbling to think that Alyce was lucky to find me too.