Four people having a meeting around a table

The Frantic value journey - A travelogue

Any company that starts its journey with selecting their values, has one million templates to choose from. Not all values are created equal, and some values are easier to identify with than others. This is how we set out on our value journey.

Cast off!

As we set out on our value journey at Frantic, our initial set of values was coming from a very specific field. Frantic is comprised of people, thus we have chosen a selection that people can firstly relate to as human beings, and not so much as members of a commercial organisation centered around the division of labour, or as subject-matter experts.

When we had been going through a similar exercise a couple of years ago, we started from a quite similar set, but this time we added a couple of important differences:
Most importantly, we have now only chosen values with a built-in "do" component. ‘Excellence’ or ‘Exuberance’ didn't even make it to the short list. And we didn't want to start from "We are ...", because we know we will have to be many different things along the way of becoming the next Frantic.

Initially, we have differentiated between core values, aspirational values, permission-to-play values, and accidental values. In the process we soon found out that some of these distinctions didn’t make sense for us. In a nutshell: Accidental values will emerge spontaneously from the company culture (or so we hope), and whether a value is considered an aspirational value or a permission-to-play value, largely depends on the person looking at it, we've learned.

Different people in different stages of their personal and professional life can see the same value in different colours  - it depends entirely on the personal perception of their  sense of ownership and entitlement within the organisation, and we have found it as well depending on whether a person is rather outspoken, or rather introvert.

Set course!

That finding raised an interesting suspicion: if the same values would mean different things to different people ... could they as well change colour if persons were to apply them to themselves as an individual, or to themselves as part of a project team?

To find out more, we created a matrix view of our values. In the columns, we noted the four values we have chosen (Sami wrote about them last week here, and in the rows, we noted the different dimensions within the organisation: the individual, the project team, Frantic as a company, Frantic as a group of peers (and as part of the industry and society), and - last not least: as being involved with customers.

We then invited our fellow colleagues to start playing with our value canvas. The instructions were elaborate, yet quite simple:

1. Pick the value you care for the most, apply it to the organisational level you care for the most, and try to describe your take on what the application of the value to that particular level means for you in a few words.

2. Look at any of the neighbouring fields, and repeat your thought for this particular combination.

3. Rinse and repeat, and

4. See if and how your focus changes as you move through rows and columns at your own discretion.

5. Put today’s date on the canvas and store it somewhere safe. In a few months from now, repeat the exercise with a new canvas. Once you’ve filled it, compare it with the one you’ve filled today. See what has changed in you, and around you.

The results from this social experiment are, of course, not yet in. But we strongly believe that it is wise to empower people to make their own choices. People’s motivations are diverse, and they will change with experience.

Let’s go anchor!

Any value definition needs to reflect the principles you want them to help you establish. If you are a new player in a market, you may feel compelled to formulate your value along the lines of 'excellence', 'professionalism', ‘innovation’, or 'customer orientation'. If you have been around for a couple of years, you may re-focus on achieving even higher levels of excellence and professionalism. At Frantic, we believe in the core concept of “constantly reinventing ourselves”. We thus focus on the single thing that makes us different from our competitors: the people who come to work here every day, and the unique perspectives they bring to what we do.

In order to understand whether we got our selection of values right we applied a simple acid test. Borrowing a view from second-order cybernetics, we transformed our identified values (namely: ‘Respect’, ‘Teamwork’, ‘Continuous Development’ and ‘Playfulness’)  into second order terms by applying the value to itself, and by observing what changes through this operation.

A box with word Respect in one corner

Go try the same exercise with the value set that Enron used in the early 2000s. (‘Communication’. ‘Respect’. ‘Integrity’. ‘Excellence’). For some of their values it works quite well (‘Communication’, ‘Respect’), for terms like ‘Integrity’ or ‘Excellence’ it gets a bit trickier.

Why is that? Here’s what I think:

1. Any such modification of values that already contain a “do” component are creating a proper calling people can relate to, not just a more complex version of itself.

2. A value like ‘excellence’ describes the quality of an outcome as absolute. It is tough to distinguish between different levels of excellence.

3. Applying ‘excellence’ to anything but “everything we do” does not lead far. Applying this value to different organisational dimensions doesn’t lead to a change in perspective.

We believe that company values are a sensemaking device to come to better decisions. Decisions are made by human beings, so the Frantic values should reflect us as human beings, not preach to us about “purposes said to be stronger than you, or (...) reasons said to be wiser than you” (Dirk Baecker).


Avid lateral thinker and Frantic's Strategy Director, Michael loves to draw out complicated stuff on white boards, and to think about difficult problems.