Subscribe to The Art & Science of Complex Sales

    What Happens When You Let Employees Name Your Company’s Values?

    New Call-to-action

    Soon after Membrain was started, we sat down and wrote out the core values we believed were central to who we are. Recently, we decided to ask our people to tell us what THEY think Membrain’s core values actually are. The results were pretty interesting.

    We Thought We’d Done a Good Job Defining Membrain’s Core Values

    Originally, as the founder, I chose two core values that I felt we could and wanted to live up to. Those original core values were:

    • Challenge the mainstream
    • Have a growth mindset

    Challenge the Mainstream: I wanted everyone in our company to be thinking outside of boxes, coming up with innovative and counter-mainstream ideas. Originally, this core value was called “go against the flow.” But our product helps people get into a state of flow and stay there, so we didn’t want to work against that and eventually chose “Challenge the mainstream” to represent this quality.

    Have a Growth Mindset: We also wanted everyone in our company to be thinking constantly in terms of growth. Not just growth of the company, but also personal growth. We wanted everyone to be striving to become more, gain more skills, learn more, be more every day. That’s why we settled on “have a growth mindset.”

    Not too long after this, we realized we needed to add a third core value:

    Be Professional: It seemed too obvious to state, originally. But we learned that not everyone acts like a professional. One of our goals is to elevate the sales profession, so we wanted to make it explicit that we expect everyone on our team to be professional at all times, and added it as a core value. For us, this means doing what you say you are going to do, and showing up every day ready to do what needs to be done in a professional manner. It also means that we don’t show up to a customer Zoom meeting eating snacks, or having dirty laundry in the background.

    But Apparently We Missed Something

    As our company grew, we invested deliberately in our culture by hiring a Head of People Growth. Nina Werner came on board in that role, and one of her early projects was to interview everyone on the team to understand the existing culture at the company.

    And as she did so, she began to sense that the leadership team had missed something when we created our original list of core values. I asked her about that experience, and this is what she said:

    “When people at Membrain described our culture, it was always with words like, ‘caring, being there.’ I’ve dealt with a lot of companies with different cultures, and some of them, especially from the US, are very cutthroat. Here, it was about being family, open-minded, friendly, and warm. That came up over and over and it was obvious that our core values needed to reflect what was already true about the company but that the leadership hadn’t officially named.”

    So the team decided we needed to add a fourth core value, and embarked on the journey to name it.

    One of Our Original Employees Became the Inspiration for the New Core Value

    Brenda McDonald came on board at Membrain early on, as a customer success specialist. She was an early contributor, doing all the many things that early employees must do to help a new company grow and succeed.

    As part of the work to identify and name a fourth core value, we asked employees to think about the kindness and friendliness at Membrain, and to name an employee who best represented those qualities. Again and again, Brenda’s name came up.

    “It took me by surprise, and was flattering and lovely to hear that,” said Brenda. “That’s just the way I work and the way I am with the team. For me, it’s about giving everything you’ve got, not holding back. And it’s not about the upsell, it’s about helping customers and helping each other, and growing and caring about each other and caring about the results, too.”

    We Had Missed Something, But What, Exactly, Was It?

    Now that we understood that there was a fourth core value already pulsing through our company, one we had not even realized we were already living by, it became a collaborative effort to actually name it.

    Our teams got together and brainstormed, talked, thought, discussed - and eventually it was our Head of Marketing, Johanna Van Doorn, who came up with the phrasing that everyone loved:

    Full of heart.

    “Business is more than just numbers,” Nina recently explained. “People think they can just play around with numbers in an Excel spreadsheet to get business results. But it’s more than that.”

    “When you really feel passionate about something,” said Brenda, “when you feel that you own something or are connected emotionally to something, that you really want to see something succeed, you’ll do anything to make sure you’re going to drive whatever it takes to get it where it needs to be.”

    I can try anything, test anything, and if I make a mistake, it’s okay.
    Brenda McDonald

    From the start, our leadership team has felt that. We didn’t create Membrain in order to clutter the market with more technology products and then trade it in for a big profit on Wall Street. We did this because we believe in it, we want to elevate the sales profession, and we care about the people who represent both buyers and sellers.

    So I was thrilled to hear the employees in our company expressing this out loud, and creating a core value to represent it.

    Nina says it’s also about how we treat each other: “A concrete example is the way we use heart emojis and how we talk to each other online. Honestly, in my first few weeks, I thought - this is a lot of hearts! And now I’m the one sending hearts to everyone, as a sign of how much we care for each other.”

    “We’re very open with being kind to each other,” Brenda adds. “We don’t hold back. I remember when my dad had just passed away, and I was in Ireland, and I was at a coffee table with my husband and I was looking at my work Slack, and my Slack was full of hearts and kisses and hugs and he was like - are these your work colleagues or what?”

    Of course, as CEO of the company, I’d like to think that I embody this core value that our employees identified, and I do try. But Nina says that among the leadership team, it’s Henrik who really embodies it most.

    “He just gives that heartfulness so freely,” she says. “And it’s not fake, he really does care that much.”

    Full of Heart and Full of Authenticity

    Nina and Brenda both are quick to say that full of heart doesn’t mean being fake. In fact, it’s not really full of heart if it’s not also authentic. And so it’s not about the specific expression. Some people on the team are more reserved - not everyone uses heart emojis with every communication.

    It’s about the caring that lies beneath the behavior, the genuine wanting to be helpful, wanting to see others thrive.

    Full of Heart Also Means Full of Courage

    Brenda reminded me of a time early on when she was new at Membrain, juggling all the customer success work, and also doing billing and other miscellaneous roles. At some point, we realized that there was a problem in billing.

    It was quite interesting to hear how she remembers the incident.

    She said: “I was sitting alongside the CEO and realizing I had made a mistake. I really didn’t know what was going to happen. But his reaction was - let’s see how we can fix this, let’s see how to solve it. He wasn’t worried that I had made a mistake, he recognized that our systems weren’t supporting the team in doing its best job. And that was instant for him, he didn’t blame me first - he just got to work fixing it. It gave me a fearlessness, to know I can try anything, test anything, and if I make a mistake, it’s okay. And I think everyone in Membrain feels that - that’s part of being full of heart.”

    Of course, I was happy to hear this story, because I do believe that when a team member makes a mistake, it’s not about pointing a finger, it’s about figuring out where the system failed. And I’m happy to know that my team feels safe and free and brave to try new things, to be courageous.

    Talking about all this with our new Head of Storytelling, Fen Druadìn, Fen told me that the word “courageous” in English comes from a Latin root meaning “heart.” So, thus, “full of heart” also means “courageous.”

    I couldn’t be happier about our new core value, and couldn’t be happier to know that it’s a core value we’ve been living by all along, from the very start of the company. I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to this piece by talking about the journey and sharing their thoughts about this company. I’m very proud to be part of a company that truly represents fullness of heart. And I’m happy I was able to introduce you to some of our team members in this post. Though we are still young and scrappy, with only 30 employees, we are growing - and I hope that no matter how big we get, we will always care about each individual in our company more than we do the numbers on our spreadsheets.

    I hope we stay full of heart.

    What about you - what core values is your company embodying that you perhaps don’t even realize? What would happen if you asked your employees?

    George Brontén
    Published July 13, 2022
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn