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Windward Core Values: Create a Team of “A” Players

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Posted on 02/18/2016

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At Windward, we focus heavily on our core values because doing so makes us a much better company. Having core values holds all of us to a higher standard.

So I wanted to share publicly just what makes Windward’s core values what they are. Today marks the first post in a series of blog posts on this topic. And the first core value that epitomizes who we are is:

a players cut

This is easy to say but hard to define and challenging to enforce. Just what is an “A” player?

Regardless of the role here, we define an “A” player as someone who is entrepreneurial and innovative. We’re still somewhat small, but as we grow these traits will ensure that we remain a place where people figure out what’s best to do and then go make it happen. This is the anti-just-follow-the-system mode. It’s key to remaining an innovative and fast-paced company.

We also define being an “A” player as embracing and driving change as well as giving a consistently high performance. This again is a key part of being a place where we are constantly working to improve the company and to do everything as effectively and efficiently as we can.

Finding “A” Players for Each Job

Defining general traits is the easy part. Much harder is defining what is an “A” player for each job. A superb programmer could possibly have the emotional quotient of a kumquat and still be great at his job, while a superb salesperson needs an E.Q. that is off the charts to succeed.

Job by job, we need to determine what are the key attributes of an “A” player. We then set up our interview process to hire for these strengths.

We don’t hire to avoid weaknesses; we hire for key strengths. At a minimum we have 3 interviews, and each one hits the candidate from a different direction. We’re testing every way we can in looking for those key strengths. Two of the interviews are about 2 hours long because at 1½ hours people get loopy and start answering more directly.

The final interview is mine and I start it off by saying:

“In most interviews you’re on your best behavior and we’re on our best behavior. And we’re both trying to learn more about the other. But if you come on and you’re not a good fit, it sucks for you and it sucks for us. I can’t change what you tell us, but I will answer any question I am legally allowed to answer as honestly as I can.”

And I then proceed to do just that. I tell them this will be the hardest job they’ve ever had. I tell them they will be overloaded with work. I tell them this will push them past what they are capable of.

And I pay close attention to what they ask. If their questions do not lead to what the job is, what the work environment is, what the culture is, then they are looking for someplace to show up 9 – 5 and that’s it. But if they really want to understand what the environment is as well, that’s a really good sign that they’re a fit for Windward.

If what we are scares them off, then not pursuing work here is the right decision because we’re not the right place for them. The people we hire can get jobs elsewhere, so we’re unlikely to get someone who will say anything because they want any job. On the flip side, if this all seemed enticing to the applicant, then Windward becomes even more interesting to them.

When a Core Value Isn’t Met

Despite our intensive hiring process, sometimes we misjudge. It’s a lot rarer now than it was in the earlier days of the company, but it happens. And when it does, numerous people come to talk with me and tell me that someone is not the right person for the job. A group of “A” players will spot an outlier very fast, and even more critical is whether that outlier is trying to improve to “A” level or if they’re simply happy being a “B” or a “C” in the mix.

When this happens, sometimes actual core values are referenced. Sometimes it’s other specifics. But what’s amazing is how multiple people will all see this from different points of view. The core value is so ingrained in the organism of the company that the organism ejects someone who is not a good fit.

It’s rough for the individual. And it’s rough for Windward, especially in the cases where we have someone who’s close, so damn close, but they’re not there, and more importantly, aren’t willing to strive to get there. But if we didn’t do this, then pretty soon we not only would have numerous “B” players who were comfortable under-performing but then “C” players as well, and so on.

Core Values Are What We Are

Remember: core values are not what we want to be; they’re what we are.  For example, one of my goals is to make “Obsessing Over Ease-of-Use” a core value by the end of this year, but we can’t declare it a core value and make it so. First we have to make it something we all fundamentally strive for in everything we do, every day.

In my next post, I’ll discuss our second core value: Do Our Damndest to Delight the Customer.

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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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