Defining Clearbit's company values
In mid-2018, Clearbit was hitting an inflection point.
Since our founding in 2014, we'd been running as a small, hyper-efficient, and profitable business. Just about everyone in the company would weigh in on new hires, and every new employee spent significant time with the entire leadership team to understand what our values were. This organic model started to show some cracks as we started to scale.
At thirty-odd employees, Clearbit did already have a real set of values, even if not everyone could verbalize them. In line with how we were building the company — deliberately and with a close eye on creating a culture we all wanted to be a part of — it was time to get official. The challenge: to codify and articulate our internal operating principles.
We've effectively tripled our team, while maintaining an incredibly high bar and preserving the culture we all cherish. Choosing and then using our values has been instrumental in that success.
Surfacing values, from the bottom up
We believe that values should be a reflection of the entire team, not just the CEO or leadership. So when we set out to formalize Clearbit's, we started by asking the team.
We sent out a survey to every employee, asking them to submit up to three values that they thought best described our culture. Of equal importance, we asked that they nominate the person at Clearbit they thought best exemplified that value.
We were expecting to see a wide array of suggestions and had anticipated that the responses would require some serious workshopping to produce a final set. Incredibly, from the over 70 value suggestions, ALL of them could be grouped into 7 themes.
- being customer centric / empathy for customers
- excellence / hard work
- honest communication
We took this list and reworked them to sound as Clearbit-y as possible, which ended up being really easy as we had dozens of variations pre-written by everyone who had submitted ideas. We also combined two of the suggestions, as excellence and learning are inseparable in our minds.
- Care (Give a shit). Empathize with customers. Take the time to understand their frustrations, needs, and desires.
- Craft (Master it). Own your craft. Never stop learning and improving.
- Team (Work together). Teamwork makes the dream work. Fill gaps. There’s no such thing as “it’s not my job.”
- Truth (Say it). Be upfront and candid. Say it like it is. Hold yourself and others accountable.
- Initiative (Be resourceful). Don’t wait for permission. Figure it out — or figure out who can.
- Fun (Have it). Don’t take yourself too seriously — life is short.
So how do we actually use our values?
Even the most thoughtfully-produced company values don't matter unless they're put into practice and used tactically. And when they're not actively referenced and applied across the company, they become an out-of-mind list that merely exists as a slide or rarely-opened document.
We built value testing into our hiring rubric and created semi-standardized questions that let us investigate without having to ask questions like, "are you a team player?".
Person of the week
Every week at our all-hands meeting, we highlight one value and a person whose actions best exemplifies that value. This regular practice helps new people get acclimated and gives shape to a list of values they see in their onboarding docs. It also regularly reinforces the values across the company, providing repetition around what they are and a nice moment of recognition and appreciation for team members.
We take feedback seriously here at Clearbit and have worked to weave our values into that process — both by celebrating when someone really is leaning into a value and recognizing the learning moments when we fail to (which we all do sometimes).
Values are alive!
Our list of values is a living document that will evolve and change as we do. A company culture inevitably changes, and our values need to grow with us. If the values don't align or resonate with the individual values of our team, it's time to change.
Having integrity with our values is what builds trust in our relationships, and because we believe trust is the most basic building block of any organization, we commit to checking back on an annual basis to make sure we have values that truly represent our culture.
It's easy to discount corporate values as just lip service and nice words to stick on the wall. However, when carefully created and implemented, values provide a constitution for your company culture, a true rubric that helps you hire, fire, promote, retain, and celebrate your team.