Our culture, our values and our purpose.
An amazing workplace combines exceptional colleagues working on tough problems together.
Kindness, like friendship, is a fundamental human need; it changes how we feel and gives us common ground for change. Impact’ is a better way of giving where your simple actions create positive impact anywhere across the globe. We want everyone in the world feeling fitter, while at the same time making those moments count for something meaningful, that make them and the world around them smile.
This document is about our unusual employee culture.
Like all great companies, we strive to hire the best and we value integrity, excellence, respect, inclusivity, and collaboration. What is special about Impact’, though, is how much we:
- encourage independent decision-making by employees
- share information openly, broadly, and deliberately
- are extraordinarily candid with each other and respect each other’s candor
- keep only our highly effective people
- avoid rules
Our core philosophy is people over process. More specifically, we have great people working together as a dream team. With this approach, we are a more flexible, fun, stimulating, creative, collaborative and hence a successful organization.
Many companies have great value statements, but often these written values are vague and ignored. The real values of a firm are shown by why, how and who gets rewarded, appreciated or let go. Below are our real values, the specific behaviors, and skills we care about most. The more these values sound like you and describe people you want to work with, the more likely you will thrive at Impact’.
- You make quick wise decisions despite ambiguity or lack of data
- You identify root causes to problems and move beyond just treating symptoms to actually eradicating the root out once and for all
- You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do
- You are good at using data to inform your intuition and form your opinion
- You make decisions based on the long-term, not near-term
- You are concise and articulate in speech and writing
- You listen well and seek to understand before reacting
- You maintain calm poise in stressful situations to draw out the clearest thinking
- You adapt your communication style to work well with people across the globe who may not share your native language
- You provide candid, helpful, timely feedback to colleagues
- You do all of the above with extreme humility, kindness, and honesty
- You learn rapidly and eagerly
- You contribute effectively outside of your specialty
- You make connections that others might miss
- You seek to understand our community members around the world, and how we engage them
- You seek alternate perspectives
- You say what you think, when it’s in the best interest of Impact’, even if it is uncomfortable
- You are willing to be critical of the status quo
- You make tough decisions without agonizing
- You take smart risks and are open to possible failure
- You question actions inconsistent with our values
- You are able to be vulnerable, in search of truth
- You inspire others with your thirst for excellence
- You care intensely about our members and Impact’s success
- You are tenacious and optimistic
- You are quietly confident and openly humble
- You seek what is best for Impact’, rather than what is best for yourself or your group
- You are open-minded in search of the best ideas
- You make time to help colleagues move forward
- You share information openly and proactively
- You create new ideas that prove useful
- You re-conceptualize issues to discover solutions to tough problems
- You challenge existing assumptions and suggest better approaches
- You keep it simple and keep Impact nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to make your creations easy to understand
- You thrive on change and excel when it happens. At the core, you are a change maker on Impact’
- You collaborate effectively with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures
- You nurture and embrace different perspectives to make better decisions
- You focus on talent and our values, rather than a person’s similarity to yourself
- You are curious about how our different backgrounds affect us at work, rather than pretending they don’t have any effect
- You recognize we all have biases and work to grow past them
- You intervene if someone else is being marginalized
- You accomplish amazing amounts of important work taking important actions daily
- You demonstrate consistently strong performance so colleagues can rely upon you
- You make your colleagues better
- You focus on results over process
- You are known for candor, authenticity, transparency, being non-political and above all kind and humble
- You only say things about fellow employees that you say to their face
- You admit mistakes freely and openly
- You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you
It is easy to write admirable values. It is hard to live them.
In describing courage we say, “You question actions inconsistent with our values.” We want everyone to help each other live the values and hold each other responsible for being role models. It is a continuous aspirational process.
In describing integrity we say, “You only say things about your colleagues that you say to their face.” This attribute is one of the hardest for new people to believe and practice. In most situations, both social and work, those who consistently say what they really think about people are quickly isolated and banished. We work hard to get people to give each other professional, constructive feedback on a continual basis. Leaders demonstrate that we are all fallible and open to feedback. People frequently ask others, “What could I be doing better?” and themselves, “What feedback have I not yet shared?”
We believe we will learn faster and be better if we can make giving and receiving feedback less stressful and a more normal natural part of work life. Feedback is a continuous part of how we communicate and work with one another versus an occasional formal exercise. We build trust by being selfless in giving feedback to our colleagues even if it is uncomfortable to do so. Feedback helps us to avoid sustained misunderstandings and the need for rules. Feedback is more easily exchanged if there is a strong underlying relationship and trust between people, which is part of why we invest time in developing those professional relationships. We celebrate and honor the people who are very candid, especially to those in more powerful positions.
A dream team is one in which all of your colleagues are extraordinary at what they do and are highly effective collaborators. The value, satisfaction, and fulfilment of being on a dream team is tremendous. Our version of the great workplace is not comprised of sushi lunches, great gyms, fancy offices, or frequent parties. Our version of the great workplace is a dream team in pursuit of ambitious common goals. It is on such a team that you learn the most, perform your best work, improve the fastest, and have the most fun.
If you think of a professional sports team, it is up to the coach to ensure that every player on the field is amazing at their position, and plays very effectively with the others. We model ourselves on being a team, in addition to being a family. The only additional important difference that we always keep in mind is that — A family is about unconditional love, despite your siblings’ unusual behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.
One might assume that with dream team focus, people are afraid of making mistakes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We try all kinds of things and make plenty of mistakes as we search for improvement. The keeper test is applied as a judgment of someone’s overall expected contribution.
Within a dream team, collaboration and trust work well because your colleagues are both exceptionally skilled at what they do, and at working well with others. In describing selflessness we say “You make time to help colleagues. You share information openly and proactively.” We want new colleagues to feel very welcome and get all the support they need to be effective.
On a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks’. Their cost to teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of having decent human interactions, and we insist upon that. When highly capable people work together in a collaborative context, they inspire each other to be more creative, more productive and ultimately more successful as a team than they could be as a collection of individuals.
While our teammates are fantastic, and we work together very well, we know we can always do better. We strive to have calm confidence, and yet yearn to improve. We suck today when we compare to how great we want to become tomorrow.
Freedom and Accountability
There are companies where people walk by the trash on the office-floor, leaving it for someone else to pick, and then there are companies where people lean down to pick up the trash they see, as they would at home. We try hard to be the latter, a company where everyone feels a sense of responsibility to do the right thing every day to help the company at every juncture.
Picking up the trash is the metaphor for taking care of problems, small and large, as you see them, and never thinking “that’s not my job”.
Our goal is to inspire people more than manage them. We trust our teams to do what they think is best for Impact’ — giving them lots of freedom, power, and information in support of their decisions. In turn, this generates a sense of responsibility and self-discipline that drives us to do great work that benefits the company.
We believe that people thrive on being trusted, on freedom, on a shared purpose and on being able to make a difference. So we foster freedom and empowerment wherever and whenever we can.
In many organizations, there is an unhealthy emphasis on process and not much freedom. These organizations didn’t start that way, but the python of process squeezed harder every time something went wrong. As the informal, smooth-running startup starts to break down, pockets of chaos emerge, and the general outcry is to “grow up” and add traditional management and process to reduce the chaos. As rules and procedures proliferate, the value system evolves into rule following. If this standard management approach is done well, then the company becomes very efficient in its business model — the system is dummy-proofed, and creative thinkers are told to stop questioning the status quo. This kind of organization is very specialized and well adapted to its business model. Eventually, however, over a decade or a century, the business model will inevitably change, and most of these companies die, choked by their own doing.
To avoid the rigidity of over-specialization, and avoid the chaos of growth, while retaining freedom, we work to have as simple a business as we can, given our growth ambitions. We work to have a company of self-disciplined people, for whom both the level and the pursuit of excellence keeps rising as time passes. We work to have a culture where people discover and fix issues without being told to do so.
Here are some examples of how we operate with unusual amounts of freedom are:
- We share documents internally broadly and systematically. Nearly every document is fully open for anyone to read and comment on, and everything is cross-linked.
- There are virtually no spending controls or contract signing controls. Each employee is expected to seek advice and perspective as appropriate. “Use good judgment” is our core precept.
- Our policy for travel, entertainment, gifts, and other reimbursements is 5 words long: “Act in Impact’s best interest.” We also avoid the compliance departments that most companies have to enforce their policies.
- Our vacation policy is “take vacation.” We don’t have any rules or forms around how many weeks per year. Frankly, we intermix work and personal time quite a bit, doing email at odd hours, taking off weekday afternoons for kids’ games, etc.
- Our work-away-from-office policy is “work where you feel best”. We simply expect people to tell their team what they are working on proactively to ensure perfect collaboration.
You might think that such freedom would lead to chaos. But we also don’t have a clothing policy, yet no one has come to work naked. The lesson is that we don’t need policies for everything. Most people understand the benefits of wearing clothes at work and in life.
There are a few important exceptions to our anti-rules pro-freedom philosophy. We are strict about ethics and safety. Harassment of employees or trading on insider information are zero tolerance issues, for example. Some information security issues, such as keeping our clients’ payment information and our members’ data safe, have strict controls around access. Transferring large amounts of cash from our company bank accounts has strict controls. But these are edge cases.
In general, freedom and rapid recovery is better than trying to prevent error. We are in a creative business, not a safety-critical business. Our big threat over time is lack of innovation, so we should be relatively error-tolerant. Rapid recovery is possible if people have great judgment. The seduction is that error prevention just sounds so good, even if it is often ineffective. We are always on guard if too much error prevention hinders inventive, creative work.
Mothers want their kids’ safety and security all through life, even now when we are as old as we are today. But the best mothers overcome that emotion to let the kid fall off the cycle or burn his hand once or twice to help us learn and grow. Over-precaution leads to the creation of a fearful child, freedom creates fearless geniuses.
However, some processes are about increasing our productivity, rather than error avoidance, and we like processes that help us get more done. One such process we do well at is effective scheduled meetings. We have a regular cadence of many types of meetings; we start and end on time, and have well-prepared agendas. We use these meetings to learn from each other and get more done, rather than to prevent errors or approve decisions.
If you disagree on a material issue, it is your responsibility to explain why you disagree, ideally in both discussions and in writing. The back and forth of discussion can clarify the different views, and concise writing of the core issues helps people reflect on what is the wisest course, as well as making it easy to share views widely. The project-lead on that decision has the responsibility to welcome, understand, and consider your opinions, but may not agree. Once the project-lead makes a decision, we expect everyone to help make it as successful as possible. Later, if significant new information becomes available, it is fine to ask the project-lead to revisit the topic. Silent disagreement is unacceptable and unproductive.
Context Not Control
We want employees to be great independent decision-makers, and to only consult their project-lead when they are unsure of the right decision. The leader’s job at every level is to set clear context so that others have the right information to make generally great decisions.
We don’t buy into the stories of CEOs, or senior leaders, who are so involved in the details that their product or service becomes amazing. The legend of Steve Jobs was that his micromanagement made the iPhone a great product. Others take it to new extremes, proudly calling themselves nano-managers. The heads of major networks and studios sometimes make many decisions in the creative process of their content. We do not copy them. Instead, we believe we are most effective and innovative when employees throughout the company make and own their own decisions.
We strive to develop good decision-making muscles everywhere in our company. We pride ourselves on how few, not how many, decisions senior management makes. Each leader’s role is to teach, to set the context, and to be highly informed of what is happening.
We tell people not to seek to please their project-leads. Instead, seek to serve the business, be obsessed to make our planned path a reality and be maniacal missionaries of our mission. It’s OK to disagree with your project-leads. It’s never OK to hide anything. It’s OK to say to your project-lead or colleague, “I know you disagree, but I’m going to do X because I think it is a better solution. Let me know if you want to specifically override my decision.” What we don’t want is people guessing what their project-lead would do or want, and then executing on that guess.
New employees often comment in the first few months that they are surprised how accurate this culture description is to the actual culture they experience. Around the world, we live and create our culture together. In fact, we welcome all our people to contribute to our culture. For that matter, even this document is editable and feedback, comments, and suggestions are welcome from each of you.
We do not seek to preserve our culture — we seek to improve it, to evolve it. Every person who joins us helps to shape and evolve the culture further. We find new ways to accomplish more together. We are learning faster than ever because we have more dedicated people with diverse perspectives trying to find better ways for our talented team to work together more cohesively and effectively.
As we wrote in the beginning, what is special about working at Impact’ is how much we:
- encourage independent decision-making by employees
- share information openly, broadly, and deliberately
- are extraordinarily candid with each other
- keep only our highly effective people
- avoid rules
Some people are in pursuit of money, others follow fame. Some others lust for power. We, we are in a constant pursuit of purpose and excellence. The former three variables are a logical bonus on our path to chase the latter.
If you want to build a flying-maching, don’t drum up the people and drill them to gather resources, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach each of them to yearn for the vast and endless sky.