In the last four years, we have moved offices three times, welcomed hundreds of new partners onto our platform, and celebrated countless milestones in the development of our Collect app and deployments. Our team has also grown by leaps and bounds to over 50 members. The people who find their way to our team are extraordinarily diverse, yet they’re all motivated by the desire to power incredible impact while learning and growing from the people around them.
As our team grows, we are constantly re-thinking how to push the ways in which we work together. A strong company culture has always been core to us at Atlan. We’ve spoken about it widely, and we hold “culture fit” at the core of our hiring process. But as we scaled, the term “culture” became more and more ambiguous. It became difficult to assess candidates objectively for “culture fit” because every interviewer’s definition of “culture” was different. We increasingly saw the need to identify our true cultural values.
After quite a bit of reading about how companies define their cultural values, we came across this gem of a report from Harvard Business Review.
Leaders die, products become obsolete, markets change, new technologies emerge, and management fads come and go, but core ideology in a great company endures as a source of guidance and inspiration.Harvard Business Review
As the report suggests, values can’t be created. Instead, we needed to look back on the pivotal moments in our history — the actions that had defined the way we made difficult decisions or chose the way forward. We convened our most veteran teammates, and with the help of a “Mars Group” exercise, pulled out six values that we believe have shaped our growth and mission from the very beginning. With each value, we asked ourselves:
Can you envision them being as valid for you 100 years from now as they are today? Would you want to hold those core values, even if at some point one or more of them became a competitive disadvantage? If you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, what core values would you build into the new organization regardless of its industry?
Now we finally have names for the cultural values we’ve always been acting upon, and we keep overhearing them in daily conversations. Not to mention, they’ve found a wall for themselves in our office!
Most recently, I caught up with a few teammates to chat about what those values actually feel like at Atlan. Keep reading to see for yourself!
Bias for Action
First and foremost is a bias for action. Cited originally as one of Amazon’s leading principles, this belief also rings true at Atlan. When we see a problem, our instinct is to tackle it head on.
In a new member’s first week, she noticed grammar issues in our blog. She could have easily pointed it out as someone else’s problem to fix. Instead, she asked for the WordPress login ID and took it upon herself to fix the content herself!Prukalpa
We will always value people who believe in actions — those who think big and turn their dreams into work toward our goals. We encourage each other to push boundaries and carry out our ideas. Sometimes even a bad decision is better than no decision!
One thing that makes Atlan different from other places I’ve worked is the amount of time and space I’ve been given for personal growth. For a month or two I contributed very little overall because I was sitting with our website and learning how to build it. I didn’t have that much output then, but now I can run the website! I’ve learned 90% of what I do today on the job.Christine
Never Be Satisfied
Every day, our teams put their heads together to think about the impossible. We think big here, and the resolve to never be satisfied is one that we care deeply about maintaining. We refuse to get too comfortable in our skin. We push ourselves to do more. Individually, we trust each other to hold one another accountable to growing ourselves and our work exponentially, every single day.
One time, our team came across an opportunity to go above and beyond, but knew that it might come with consequences.
We had built everything they wanted, but we knew that one more feature would be of critical use to the client, [even though they had not asked for it]. As such, we decided to request postponing a meeting… because we needed extra days to complete the dashboard and knew how important this feature would be when included. Postponing made everyone angry, but when we were able to present the dashboard a few days later, [they] loved it! It was a big risk, but it paid off.Richa
I asked Gaurav what “success” at Atlan looks like. “Great, but brief”, he laughed, “because then you follow it up with another attempt or initiative.”
We may be doing something that is completely opposite to what we did yesterday because we’re still working things out, and that’s okay! It’s only by succeeding and failing that we figure out how to move forward.Gaurav
Gaurav’s right, for every success there’s probably a fail that came along with it. We support each other in taking the time to learn new tools and innovate, even if that means learning from the mistakes that come along with it. But that doesn’t mean we always agree with each other! In fact, our ability to foster an environment where feedback is freely and openly given is something that our co-founders stood by from the very start.
Being straightforward is not only encouraged but expected. At the beginning of 2017, we decided to implement quarterly 360 reviews — a feedback process that allows team members to receive feedback from their peers, colleagues and team leaders, and complete a self-assessment of their work during the previous quarter. But at Atlan, there is an understanding that if you’re not continually and proactively giving feedback — especially when it’s time sensitive or in reaction to an incident — you’re actually doing your teammates a disservice.
I can take up anything, go to the front-end team or any department I want, and be genuinely aware of the fact that my feedback will be taken in the right spirit… it’s very inclusive.Astha
Christine recalls a time when she spent two hours debating with Prukalpa about the company’s next steps. She says Prukalpa “took it in stride” and instead of shutting down the conversation, said “Let’s talk about it.”
At Atlan, we can challenge anyone about anything as long as we have reasons.Christine
Being straightforward is key at Atlan. To solidify this value, the team went back and forth debating the idea of “transparency” versus “straightforwardness”, and turned to the guiding questions from the HBR article to help resolve this debate. While the two cultural values certainly overlap in the quest for open and honest communication, we realized that transparency implies disseminating information, regardless of context or consequence.
Like many tech companies, we use public Slack channels to increase the transparency across our teams and frequently hold AMA sessions with our co-founders. But we also understand that there are times when holding confidential and/or sensitive information will critical. Being straightforward with the information and ideas that we do share, however, was something we could commit to no matter what the situation.
In addition to encouraging the free flow of ideas and opinions, another expectation is that we are all giving 120% — making sure that our current work is executed to the best of our abilities. This means not just repeating a mundane process, but raising the bar each time we do it. It means taking the time to think about how we can work smarter and faster, how we can save time, and how we can make each others’ lives easier.
What’s important is taking full ownership of what you do, no matter what it takes.Vipul
As a newer member of the company, Himanshu noticed this value in his teammates immediately:
Going that extra mile, putting in that extra hour of work … is what life is about and that is where the excitement and challenges lie! This is what differentiates who we are.Himanshu
Problem First, Solution Second
Recently, there was about a month of time when a small potted plant was circulated around the office. Propped up in the dirt was a sign that read “THE BIG PICTURE”. This is a phrase you’ll hear often at Atlan.
Whenever we start a project or kick off a deployment, the first thing we all talk about is the impact that [it] will have; the value that it will bring to a community…We talk about the bigger picture instead of going straight to what the contract says or what the client says, or what the monetary value of the project is. [Starting this way] sets the base for a project and [reminds us] who we’re actually working for.Ankita
Problem first, solution second is how we like to approach things. The new features that our engineers build are a direct result of what our users need — from the data auditors on the ground without internet, to the decision makers in the central government who want clear insights.
Our clients may have a pretty good idea of what they want, but we take it upon ourselves to dig a little deeper into the why. If our platform or our solution fulfills the contract but doesn’t actually solve their problem or the challenge they’re trying to address, we haven’t done our job.
Lastly is the value of one team. This comes into play both in and out of the office. We take the time to get to know each other — often over meals or games of Captain’s Ball — because we know that forming those personal bonds makes us a stronger company.
I’ve never seen this kind of empathy in a workplace. If a person did not come through on a deliverable, the understanding is that would be a bigger priority behind their delay, because the benchmark is to always deliver what you’ve committed to. In another workplace, I would get a message saying, “Why isn’t this on my desk?” At Atlan, it’s, “Hey, I’m guessing you’ve been caught up with something else, let me know when you can get it to me.” That keeps all of us going. When you know the other person trusts in you that much, you want to go the extra mile to deliver.Mukund
Every company goes through ups and downs, but we come together to face challenging times head on, and we’ll use every opportunity we get to build a more resilient team.
When we are working on something, we put our heart and soul into it, so once we actually achieve something, the happiness that comes is amazing. The entire team celebrates and shares in it, everyone participates in that success, not just one or two people.Ankita