UI Breakfast Episode 127: Company values done right with Haraldur Thorleifsson
Today I listened to a powerful podcast episode about company values. If you have a podcast and want to do an episode about values, you should invite Haraldur Thorleifsson to the studio. If you weren’t going to do an episode on values, you should, just so that you can speak to Haraldur Thorleifsson about it. Not only is he as authentic as it gets, he is also extremely talented and humble — an awesome and all-too-rare combination, he has wisdom worth sharing, and a delicately impactful way of sharing it.
UI Breakfast’s host, Jane Portman, also asks all the right questions to create the richest experiences for her listeners. So yeah, I recommend you listen to it yourself. In the meantime, here are my takeaways.
While the episode includes interesting content on the concept of company values, the content that made the biggest impression on me was about the 5 values that drive the company culture at Thorleifsson’s agency. In my own words, they are:
- We’re all in it together: To create the best possible outcome, we have to work extremely closely with our partners. We have to see ourselves as on the same team as our clients, our colleagues, and anyone else who is a part of whatever it is we are trying to create. Now here’s the twist: Everyone in the world, essentially, is a partner. Think of humanity as a global set of actors who if they act like they are all in it together, like they are all a team, who work as closely together as they can toward optimal outcomes, could reach new heights in any realm. Of course, we cannot control how everyone in the world acts, but we can look at everyone in the world through that lens, and benefit from it.
- We’ll figure it out: Start with the assumption that there is a solution. Then go figure it out. This one resonates with me big time. Just this evening, for example, my daughter lost a bouncy ball she was playing with. She was hysterical that it was “gone”. But it wasn’t gone, right? It was just somewhere else and we didn’t know where. So let’s wipe our tears and start with the assumption that it is somewhere. Now all we have to do it find it. So we got down on our hands and knees and voila! I have also applied this approach in more complicated situations, like when realizing that in the same 3 hours one kid has a playdate, another has an extracurricular activity, the third threw up on you, you’re locked out of the house, the car won’t start, and your phone battery is dead. First of all — there is a solution. I have no effing idea what it is but I do know that a) it exists and b) it will involve alcohol. The adamant belief that there is a solution has kept me functioning in many a situation that could have otherwise been crushing.
- It’s never somebody else’s problem: You see trash on the floor but you’re not the janitor? Pick it up anyway. It’s never somebody else’s problem, Thorleifsson says. That’s part of his company’s culture. I have worked in companies like this and let me tell you, it’s awesome. I’ll never forget when I moved from a workplace that was very much not like this, to one that was, and there was a paper jam in the copy machine. Every single person who passed stopped to help. It didn’t matter their level of seniority — unjamming the copy machine wasn’t beneath any of them. In a healthy environment, it’s never somebody else’s problem.
- Bring the chocolate: This is a cute one about how if someone asks you to bring a cup of coffee, you should add a piece of chocolate — an unexpected, delightful, little something extra. That should be the approach to delivering to clients, and that should generally be our approach in life: whatever it was you were doing, add a sweet little something, it goes a long way. I like that. I like the idea of doing that for yourself as well. Most of us don’t treat ourselves well enough. The next time we do take a second for ourselves, it would be nice if we gave ourselves something that’s just a little bit extra. I’m sure it will pay off in higher spirits and renewed energy disproportionately to whatever that extra little thing is.
- Life is short, make it count: This one is pretty self explanatory and I totally get it. It might be a bit cliche, but it is completely real. I learned this lesson from my parents when just before their 24th wedding anniversary, my father’s brother was diagnosed with an incurable terminal illness. That year, my parents bought themselves 25th anniversary sized gifts because my uncle’s illness highlighted for them how short life is, and there’s no need to wait for happy things, especially for arbitrary reasons.
What it all means
Those are Thorleifsson’s agency’s values. Each company has its own values because it has a different character. Every company culture is unique. Values are important because they define that culture, they guide new recruits and serve as a north star for everyone. Without values you cannot articulate your culture and your culture is what sets you apart. Your clients will come to you and keep coming back because of who you are, if who you are is clear thanks to a mature set of values.
It’s similar to what I was saying in an article about job seeking and how just being yourself gives you a massive competitive edge for the right job, because the perfect fit for you, won’t fit the same way on anyone else.
One last thought, that also meant a lot to me, was that when it comes to the work we do, it’s not about the money, and it’s not even about loving what we do that makes it great. It’s personal connection that makes for a successful experience. I can’t tell you how much I get this. I love what I do so much. Writing microcopy genuinely makes me happy. But when I think about different companies where I was doing the same thing, it’s not that love for what I was doing that made my days great; it was the chemistry with the people I worked with. It was the people who I was in it with together, who figured it out with me, who truly felt that it was never someone else’s problem, who went the extra mile, and who made our time together count.
Listen to it for yourself. It’s worth hearing from your perspective, not just through mine, because it’s not really the type of content you just sum up dryly. It’s content that you should consume in your own way to get the most out of it.