A mentor once taught me that there are three levels of management:
- 人管人: People manage people
- 制度管人: Systems and processes manage people
- 文化管人: Culture manages people
There’s a full Chinese quote for this espoused by a Chinese company – “人管人累死人, 制度管人烦死人, 文化管人管灵魂”. Loosely translated, this means “When people manage people, people get tired to death. When systems and processes manage people, people get annoyed to death. But when culture manages people, it touches their spirit”.
The highest level of people management is through culture. Unfortunately, many companies leave culture to chance. Culture is one of those things in a company that are shaped very quietly but quickly, accumulating through every conversation, every decision, and what we unconsciously choose to put attention on. And culture is hardest to change once it is formed.
On our second day of starting Red Dot, our core team had a conversation about our values and culture, which lasted 6 hours into the night. Before this discussion, we had done an individual reflection of our personal ways of working – identifying what makes us come alive, and what completely drains us of energy. And from that, we found common ground to honour each other’s working style so we can all be at our best.
We then did a powerful Culture Mapping exercise, with slight modifications. After mapping out outcomes and behaviors, we discussed various company practices we wanted to adopt based on these values, so that our culture is not incidental, or just something we put on a wall or talk about, but becomes intentionally lived.
What emerged was an exciting tapestry of 5 core culture values that now defines the essence of the Red Dot culture:
This was an interesting one that emerged after a lot debate. A couple of us had initially written “FUN” (in capitals) on the wall, as it was important to us that this journey was enjoyable and engaging, and ultimately fun. We then realized that “fun” is highly subjective, because different people find fun in different things – while our idea of fun might be to read a book or bring good people together, others might expect a party and booze.
Digging deeper, we discovered that what we valued was in fact, was Positivity – the practice of seeing the best in every person and situation, that invites possibility. Positivity is reflected in the energy we bring into the room, to the quality of our questions, to having generative conversations. Positivity is a stand we take in the world, and at its root is grounded in trust, caring, and gratitude.
Impact is the reason why we started Red Dot, and requires us to do what is right rather than what is easy. We like taking on bold projects, and enjoy working with partners with the same shared sense of ambition and integrity.
Impact might seem very exciting and loud on the surface, but in fact, requires a very quiet quality of inner cultivation and contemplation. For sustainable and meaningful impact requires deep personal and social awareness, to choose wisdom in our decision making, and to act from a foundational place of honesty and integrity. This might be the most difficult of all our values, but is what makes the journey most worthwhile.
Entrepreneurship is in our blood, and this value surfaced early. We are energized working with others who are not afraid to take risks, who don’t ask for the rules but who make the rules, who challenge the status quo, and who are ruthlessly resourceful, finding many ways to get hard things done, and in a smart way, not just by working harder. Tip: this is something we test a lot for in our interviews.
We hire people onto the team who are, or would like to be entrepreneurs, and offer Red Dot as a stepping stone in their journey, giving a high level of ownership and mentorship to discover what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and to take ownership of a part of Red Dot that is in line with their personal calling. It energizes us to see people grow and flourish into their own.
Curiosity is the birthplace of insight. A beginner’s mind requires humility: questioning our own assumptions, discovering our blind spots, and always be experimenting and trying things out. In a fast-paced startup, we find ourselves short of time to ponder, reflect, and contemplate. What has been useful is practicing “reflection in action” – the ability to reflect on one’s thinking while acting. Doing this intentionally and sharing our learnings as a team, allows us to look for the larger picture that lies beyond our individual perspectives.
We take great inspiration in building a learning organization from The Fifth Discipline – “Learning in this context does not mean acquiring more information, but expanding the ability to produce the results we truly want in life.” It is lifelong generative learning, and learning organizations are not possible unless they have people at all levels who practice it.
We expect every company to have a vision, but do we have a vision for ourselves? We ask for this personal vision at the start of every interview, because we believe it is important that we understand each other’s dreams and goals, invest in each other’s growth, and develop our own personal and professional mastery. We believe that a company only excels, when its people excel.
As a team, we implement the same practice of excellence using a system of Objectives and Key Results (called OKRs). This method was first practiced by Intel, popularized by Google, and is now the standard practice of many tech startups. We love it for its simplicity and agility (OKRs are reset every quarter with new information), and to communicate and monitor our goals and progress. Designing our own OKRs was a challenging but enriching process, as it forced us to think about high-value activities vs. just “checking off traditional KPIs”. It has helped us stay focused, be accountable, work smart, and get organized with a series of coordinated actions among us where the sum of our individual contribution is greater than the whole.
And yes, all our OKRs are fully transparent to everyone in the team, tracked on google sheets in real time, and it’s rewarding seeing our progress indicators turn from red, to yellow, to green!
Two months in, we’ve seen these practices go from our discussions and into our decisions, which is where these values really come alive – Do we take on this project? Do we hire this person? Can we find the courage to be honest with our client? These choices shape our culture, turn into stories that become baked into our institutional memory and legacy.
Also, little did we realize, that these five culture core values spell out the word “PIECE”, I guess that’s what it means to be a little PIECE of Red Dot! If you’d like to join our tribe, check out a few positions we’re hiring for.