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Windward Core Values: How We Communicate Matters

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Posted on 03/17/2016

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Editor’s note: Windward’s CEO, David Thielen, is writing a series of blog posts on company core values. This is the fifth post in the series. Click here for the first, “Create a Team of ‘A’ Players.”

This final core value is a subtle thing that is incredibly powerful:

communicate cut

The graphic above pretty much sums up our core value: listen and speak carefully and respectfully, and don’t beat a topic to death.

But the most important part of this topic comes out of things that are not explicitly stated above but are a natural fallout of how we state this core value and, more importantly, how we operate.

Reward Success… or Punish Failure

First is this – you can reward success or you can punish failure. You can’t do both.

If you punish failure then it doesn’t matter how well you reward success, because people are focused on avoiding failure and they spend their time with their heads down and covering their ass. If someone does something incredibly brain-dead then yes, you need to ask WTF. But aside from that, look at failures only for lessons that can be learned with no blame or punishment — and then loudly reward success.

This gets people focused on doing what’s needed to succeed.

How to Deliver Constructive Criticism

Second is that constructive criticism is delivered and that’s it. We do not bring it up the next day or at review time because they’ve already heard it.

This approach takes some getting used to because new people will hear direct feedback on things they can do better, and by the standards of most companies, they’re in a lot of trouble if they’re hearing things that often. But everyone here quickly learns this is not an indication of being in trouble; it’s that they’re just getting ongoing immediate feedback.

Once the above clicks in for people, they get very comfortable with this approach. And it keeps everyone here focused on improving and succeeding.

Get to the Point

And then there’s my personal favorite: GTTFP. At work we don’t have time to screw around, and so we have a focus on keeping conversations as short and on-topic as possible. But it’s more than that. We don’t waste time with a shit sandwich when we need to provide individual feedback.

Also, before meetings people think through what they’re going to say so they can lay it out in as concise and clear a manner as possible. (And one big benefit is we avoid employees falling asleep in meetings.) One thing that helps with all this is that we do not allow phones, iPads, laptops, etc. in meetings unless it’s for the meeting itself (i.e. to take notes). That gives everyone an incentive to focus on the meeting and complete it as quickly as possible.

Making Good Communication Work

Key to making all the above work is everyone must be professional, and by professional it means that we treat one other forthrightly and with respect. It means everyone actually listens and processes what the other person is saying. It means we focus on what the right solution is without worrying about ownership.

And all of the above absolutely requires leading by example from the top. This is a very fragile thing because groups of people can so easily fall back to blame and recrimination and CYA. Of all the values, this is the one I have to most keep front of mind to make sure it continues to be core to our company culture.

Where Core Values Lead Us

Core Values are what we believe in and having them makes us a much better company by holding all of us to a higher standard. In my next post, I’ll discuss why we have these core values: To Make People Happy.

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Author: David Thielen

Dave, Windward's founder and CEO, is passionate about building superb software teams from scratch and dramatically improving the productivity of existing software teams. He's really proud that he once created a game so compelling (Enemy Nations) that a now-professional World of Warcraft player lost his job for playing it incessantly on company time. You can read more from Dave on his personal blog, and at Huffington Post.

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