How do you make sure that people can talk about hard things in your company? How do you ensure that your company values are lived and not just framed and put on a wall somewhere to rot?

WeMaintain, the company I now work for, has created a unique socio-cultural set up to solve this. In short, the values and other expressions are “weaponized” for daily use. This setup is unique enough that my coaching antennas went crazy when I saw it for the first time in action. , But let’s backtrack a little. Let’s talk about the onboarding process.

The onboarding

First of all, the values (care, grit & uniqueness) are a central part of that process. They show up over and over in many discussions. By the time you are through that process, you have heard at least a dozen people tell you about their interpretation and why it is crucial for them.

Then you are asked to read the book „Leadership and self-deception“ by The Arbinger Institute and learn the expression “being in the box.”

Finally, like in the book, you meet with the company founders to talk about all this.

During this discussion, they encouraged us to use those three terms and expressions in our daily work. Here are examples of sentences you might hear:

  • “It wasn’t really ‘care’ to act like this”
  • “I think you could have shown more grit in this situation.”
  • “Don’t settle for ‘common’; use your uniqueness!”
  • “Am I in the box about him/her when I talk like this?”

The fascinating part

What I find fascinating about this is that it makes starting a challenging discussion way easier. If I go to a colleague and tell them “what you did was not respectful,” it might connect or not. This person might go right away into “defense mode” and not listen to what you say.

Inserting a company value in the feedback is gorgeous. Since we have talked a lot about those values before, it adds weight to what you say. It is hard to dismiss the input without implying that you are ignoring the value. And that would be a faux-pas. I feel that people receiving hard feedback this way tend to be less defensive at first, which is fantastic!

And it is the first time I have seen such behavior firmly anchored in the company culture!

PS: yes, it requires having values. I’m looking at you M. 😡