The other day I was listening to Mark Zuckerberg on The Tim Ferris podcast talking about values and he made a really good point that really got me thinking.
Values have been important to Pooch & Mutt from day 1, they have always been integral to the business, but like many founder-led businesses, they weren’t expressed for a few years. The company values were more a representation of my personal values. I think this is pretty common with founder-led businesses and there are now agencies, like my friend Andy Witlock’s agency The Human Half that help get values out of founders’ heads and coded into an organisation.
When we first listed our values, a few years ago, I was challenged by the management team who basically said, “that’s all very nice, but what does it actually mean for what we do day to day?”. I thought that this was a pretty good challenge and threw it straight back to them (you could say delegated) to define and develop them. They did this, and we published them in a booklet, which also contained all of our plans for the year, which each member of Pooch & Mutt could keep on their desks.
We now present our values to each new starter. We explain how they work, that they are hierarchical and how the projects that we work on reflect our values. Each year we create a presentation for the whole company where we review projects that have helped us grow in the last 12 months and the projects that will help us grow in the next 12 months. These projects are checked against our values to make sure that we are living up to them.
Our values are: Trusted, Healthy, Innovative, Smart & Brave.
We know what they mean.
Trusted is self-evident, but in a big part related to how other companies in the pet space operate, for example selling “beef” products that only contain 1% beef and hiding behind labeling regulations, something we would never do.
Healthy is not only in relation to the fact that we make nutrition products designed to make pets healthier, it is also in reference to the people in the company (such as promoting a healthy life/work balance) and in relation to the company itself (ie healthy finances).
Innovative is a big part of what makes Pooch & Mutt distinctive from the competition, and this is where the hierarchy comes in. We won’t be innovative for the sake of it. The innovation has to be ‘trusted’ – we need to deliver real benefits to our customers and it needs to be healthy, obviously for the pets in question and also for the company’s financial health.
Smart was originally ‘data-driven’, but smart sounds better and encompasses more than data. It is about making the right decisions for the right reasons, and those decisions should be innovative, healthy and trusted.
Brave was core to how we operated from day one. It’s a big part of what we do, but it is intentionally last on the list, and very intentionally after ‘smart’. ‘Brave’ is very close to ‘Reckless’ and that is something that we definitely don’t want to be. There is no point in being brave if you aren’t smart about it.
I have always thought these were pretty good values. I am sure that there are better ones out there, which might look prettier on the wall of someone’s office (we don’t even have an office wall to put them on). And I am more than sure that someone else would re-write them so that they make an acronym – just because most companies’ values do make an acronym, but they have been good for us.
Now I am questioning them, and writing this as a blog so that I can question them with my team and that is all down to Mark Zukerberg. He made the point that a good value has two sides, the value itself and what you give up to get the value. His point was that something like ‘honest’ is a pointless value because who doesn’t want their company to be honest (except potentially all the big pet food companies hiding behind labeling regulations, and maybe Facebook about what they do with your data… but let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story!).
Facebook had the famous value “move fast and break things”. They’ve changed it now because fixing all the broken things was actually slowing them down. It is still a great example of what Mark Zuckerberg was talking about. They value moving fast MORE than the system being perfect, and if being fast means things get broken that is the cost they are willing to accept. Similarly, they have a value about focussing on long-term impact, and articulate that they value real impact in the long term MORE than getting short-term, small-scale wins. I can see how values having 2 sides is a lot more helpful to people in the organisation, to help them understand what really is important to the organisation.
This has made me reflect on our values and question firstly if we have articulated them well and secondly what we are giving up.
Some are clear. From the outset, ‘Smart’ or ‘Data Driven’ was always designed to keep my opinion out of the decisions as much as possible. As a founder/CEO you are everyone’s employer and this means it’s easy for everyone to overly value your opinions, something that some founder/CEOs take advantage of. I am very aware that I am very vocal and opinionated. We need the ‘Smart’ value so that we could make the right decisions based on data and so that we never have disputes about our opinions on what we should or should not do. We can potentially disagree with what the data is telling us, but that should simply mean that we need to find a different data point to work it out. This value is potentially better expressed as “Data is more important than anyone’s opinion”.
At this point, I am questioning some of the other values. I think that they are good and useful, but with something like ‘trusted’ I am not sure that we meet Mark Zuckerberg’s view of really giving something up. Yes, we give up the opportunity to deceive our customers like Mars (Pedigree, Cesar, Crave etc) and Nestle (Bakers, Purina, and now Lily’s Kitchen and Tails.com) do, but when the number of values we can actively promote to the team are so limited, is this one necessary? Isn’t it a given that we would be trustworthy? Isn’t it so obvious from how we behave elsewhere that we don’t really need to articulate it? I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that it is something that we should consider and that it’s probably a good challenge to the team and to any other values-driven company out there.
Like everything in life, the work is never done. You always have to evolve and move forward. This is just another small step in Pooch & Mutt’s constant growth and evolution.
Or in the words of one of my favourite humans ever, Alan Watts “You are under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago”.