It seems to be a trendy thing for a technology company to have a set of highly-visible, highly-marketable organisational values. But are they sustainable?

Atlassian’s “Don’t #@!% the customer is an example of a well-recognised catchphrase that makes a strong statement about what the organisation believes in, and it is a value that can effectively guide the decision making of its employees.

Other high-profile technology organisations that have their organisational beliefs available for the world to see include those of Facebook, Zappos, and Buffer.

I must admit that for a large part of my career, the idea of organisational values was a bit ‘touchy-feely’ for me, and whenever the topic came up for discussion, my first thought was something along the lines of, “that’s great, can I get back to work now?”

I guess in the early stages of a career, it’s usual to have other people making decisions for you, so the idea of values being a framework for decision making isn’t that relevant. When I did get into an environment where I had to make decisions all the time, then the importance of a set of coherent organisational values suddenly came into sharp focus.

Tyro’s set of values

Tyro does have a set of values, though for whatever reason, for better or for worse, we’ve never really seen the need to make a big deal of them outside of the organisation. They’re not as catchy as some of the examples mentioned, but there is a certain elegance in their simplicity:

  • Innovation and learning
  • Openness and transparency
  • Flexibility, caring, and work-life balance
  • Fairness
  • Respect

Now I haven’t always been a fan of this list. I could identify with some of them easily, but others simply didn’t seem very relevant to my day-to-day work. Most of all, I struggled to see how they related to each other; the thread running through them just wasn’t clear to me.

Recently, the Tyro alignment team (what would be called the “management team” in most other organisations) has been involved in a series of sessions aimed at working together more effectively (continuous improvement isn’t just an IT-thing here; it’s an organisation-wide mantra).

In one of these sessions, the discussion turned to our values. Most of what we talked about isn’t actually directly relevant to what I’m writing about here, so I’ll skip over that part.

What I wanted to write about were some words that our CEO, Jost Stollmann, closed out the session with. I was not the only person present who found them quite insightful, and it was suggested that Jost himself should write them up for distribution through the organisation.

Knowing that our CEO is a rather busy person, I thought I’d have a go at writing them up so that they wouldn’t be lost. It turns out that Jost did take the time to write some of it down (which you can read here), but he has since seen my interpretation and suggested that I also publish it.

Consider the idea of a technology start-up. The idea, as I understand it, is to build, as quickly as possible, something that enough of the target market wants that the organisation can become self-sustaining. Amazon is an example of a high-profile start-up that has achieved this. Other more modern examples such as Uber and Airbnb are well on their way there.

How do Tyro’s values fit?

Now let’s look at Tyro’s values and see which ones fit with the concept of a technology start-up. Innovation and learning? Yes, absolutely. Openness and transparency? Well, maybe, depending on the nature of the start-up. For instance, part of Uber’s value proposition is in providing transparency around fares and driver/passenger ratings. Many of the organisations that I mentioned above also have some variation of openness or transparency listed.

Flexibility, caring and work-life balance? No, that doesn’t really fit with the idea of getting something valuable built as fast as possible. There has been at least one high-profile example where the burden of success has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the employees.

Fairness? Maybe. Again it would come down to the nature of the start-up. Respect? No, not really. I see respect as the umbrella under which flexibility, caring, and work-life balance fall under.

When our organisation was started, the founders brought with them the experiences of their previous workplaces. The business proposition was to bring fairness to small and medium enterprises through, amongst other things, openness and transparency around things like fees and business processes.

They would achieve this through innovation and learning, in product, technology, and very much in everything that we do. And finally, wanting to avoid the employee burn-out that they had both witnessed and experienced in their past roles, they built a workplace founded on respect for their people, emphasising flexibility, caring, and work-life balance.

Jost noted that when he joined the organisation almost 11 years ago, the idea of a start-up that pushed so hard on work-life balance respecting the well-being and personal lives of its employees to such a degree was new to him, and in fact, to this day he is unaware of any successful, high-profile high-growth start-up that thrived with such an approach.

We do get questioned whether this is good business practice, from people preferring the “conventional wisdom” that employees should be motivated to work harder for long periods and that then you will achieve your business goals faster.

Yet, our organisation has been and is still unwilling to take on this advice, and has stuck to the idea that a happy, balanced and healthy employee is more aligned and productive over the long term. Were our founders right? Can a start-up be successful while still respecting its people?

It’s easy to forget our past successes, but I think that this is one of those times that they should be trotted out. We’ve built a profitable organisation going head-on against the “big banks”, an idea that outsiders have labelled crazy.

We’ve built a fast, stable EFTPOS acquiring system that processes a small but growing percentage of Australian card transactions. We’ve built a company of 250 people (and counting). And most recently, we’ve built a core banking platform and deposit product from the ground up in a little over 18 months.

We have these significant successes behind us, but there are so many more in front of us, and if we succeed, then we have proven that an organisation that cares about its people from day one can be highly successful in the long term. If we can make this work, then we will make history.

So now when I look at our values, I look at them like this. Fairness, and openness and transparency are what we bring to the market. Innovation and learning is how we’ll succeed. And flexibility, caring, work-life balance, and most importantly, respect, are a challenge that we’ve set ourselves, to prove to the world that we don’t believe that success has to come with a cost to our people.