Typically, ‘company values’ deserve the inverted commas treatment, and resemble the kind of adjectives politicians pack into their speeches – excellence, opportunity, openness, integrity, etc. Perfectly pleasant sounding concepts, but at best detached from the business proper. Often, company values are no more than a marketing bauble, submitted for an era in which we are frequently told that, for businesses, having values matters.
At 1E, this is genuinely not the case (I can say that quite honestly, because I work here, and recognize the values). 1E’s values are not about improving 1E’s image in the eyes of potential customers, or anyone else, they’re about what 1E’s CEO and founder Sumir Karayi is convinced has made – and will continue to make – the company a: successful, and b: an enjoyable place to work.
“We didn’t just make these up,” he explains. “I did an exercise, and I spoke to many, many people. Then I wrote them down, and tested them against a number of very successful people and not so successful people at 1E. In general, our very successful people tend to share these values.
“This makes sense because, generally speaking, relationships – whether they’re professional relationships or not – work best when people have shared values. It’s really hard to be best of friends with someone or work for a business, if the values they and you believe in are different. If you get four or five people, and each one of them has a different set of values, then how do you get people to work together towards a common purpose? It becomes a much harder way to grow the business, and makes it a lot less enjoyable.”
As for the values themselves…
To a degree, this one stands to reason. You can’t be expected to invent ground-breaking software without a significant amount of intellectual curiosity. However, as with all the 1E values, this one applies to the whole company, not just the software engineers. As Karayi explains:
“We’re looking for people who are always open to ideas, who are willing to explore those with their colleagues. Because as a culture we can’t be inventive and closed at the same time.
“The simplest way I would describe it is, is this a person any 1E employee would be happy to go out to the pub or the coffee shop or whatever with, and find the conversation interesting and enjoyable? Because if it’s not someone like that, then it’s highly likely they don’t ascribe to this base value we have. It’s by far the most important one for us.”
Subject Matter Expertise
1E always looks to hire people in the top quartile of skills. Nothing testifies to the company’s esteem for subject matter expertise like the way it went about building its software asset management team after deciding to enter that space. 1E hired the three people responsible for the only standards that existed in a space which had otherwise seen virtually no evolution in at least two years. Instantly, the company could point to a SAM team that was arguably a world leader in terms of expertise.
Karayi, however, is quick to qualify this particular value:
“Subject matter expertise should never come in the way of intellectual curiosity. Because there can be a conflict. And that conflict is, ‘don’t worry, I’m the expert I know best.’ We don’t want to hear it. Don’t say that here.”
For some companies, charitable sponsorship is basically impossible to separate from sponsorship per se. 1E’s fourteen-year commitment to the Manav Mandir Ashram Orphanage in New Delhi (one of a number of enduring charitable commitments) points to a different approach.
“When we first got involved with the orphanage the children had one teacher, who had no education himself. Initially we put in some teachers, and then over time we got the kids up into proper schools. Our first three or four kids are now at Delhi University, which is outstanding. They’re doing really well. We’ve just hired our first child psychologist there, to offer much deeper, pastoral care.”
Community, mind you, has two aspects – internal as well as external. As anyone who works at 1E knows, there’s always something fun on the near horizon, whether that’s a lunch and learn, quiz, wine tasting or simply a night out.
No Compromise on Delivery
At first glance, this value might sound one of those aforementioned standard company values – excellence, say. Though it does of course refer to 1E’s high standards, however, there’s more to it than this.
Karayi: “I really have this belief that everyone working for us is a professional. We want to treat everyone as a professional. What that means is, I don’t think we should be telling you when to turn up to work and when to leave. Instead, you understand how much work you need to get done, you get that work done, and there’s a lot of flexibility around that. But the relationship is based on promises. You have to agree with your manager, and with the business, what it is you can deliver. If we are going to have a professional relationship, it is going to be based on promises being fulfilled.”