Keeping true to your branding and company values while working remotely.

Welcome to the second blog in our series with Bulb, the green energy company, bringing you interviews focused on areas like marketing and sustainability from experts at Bulb.

To begin, we explore brand and company values, hosted by Clem Hobson, Head of Brand at Bulb — in conversation with:

  • Marissa Ellis, founder of Diversily and the creator of The Change Canvas
  • Sam Brown, co-founder of Consequential
  • Cameo Choquer, Operations Manager at Applied

A note from Clem, Head of Brand at Bulb -

Hi, I’m Clem. I lead Bulb’s in-house creative team to create content and advertising for Bulb’s UK and international teams, while helping the company to be ‘Bulby’ at scale.

Bulb provides 100% renewable electricity and 100% carbon neutral gas to its 1.7 million members. Bulb was founded in the UK by two ex-energy industry employees, Hayden Wood and Amit Gudka in 2015. Bulb is a Living Wage Employer and a certified B Corp, working to demonstrate how business can be a force for good. Bulb’s been working with Ada’s List and recently sponsored their Annual Conference.

It was great to talk to Marissa, Sam and Cameo about defining company values and what makes them useful. At Bulb, we’ve spent time as a team defining what it means to be ‘Bulby’. We’ve got together — more than once — to agree and write down what’s important to us about our culture, and the skills and behaviours that go with it. This sort of thing can sound like corporate nonsense, but we’ve found these values really useful. They help us to decide what to do, and how to do it. And they’re part of how we interview, train and reward our team. We’ve tried all sorts of things to make sure our values are in action every day at Bulb (and not just sitting in a document). Today, I’m interested to learn from Marissa, Sam and Cameo about how they achieve that, especially while so many of us are working from home.‍

Clem — Bulb’s in-house creative team Lead

But before we get into all that, Marissa, and Sam and Cameo, do you want to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what you do?

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Marissa:

I am Marissa Ellis. I am a bestselling author, strategist and speaker on a constant quest to do things better. I am the founder of www.diversily.com and the creator of The Change Canvas, and other visual, business frameworks that are used around the world by global brands and start ups alike to drive positive change.

I help business leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers do better business; business that is purpose-led, human-centred with diversity and inclusion at the core. My highly rated strategic management methodology, uses The Change Canvas to connect strategy to execution and empower high performing, inclusive teams who deliver.

Marissa Ellis — Founder of Diversily.com

Sam:

I’m Sam Brown, the co-founder of Consequential, a strategy and innovation consultancy focused on responsible business and digital and emerging technologies. Alongside my business partner, Alex Mecklenburg, we support those who invest, accelerate and scale digital and emerging technologies to innovate and disrupt in ways that build responsible businesses and successful products while creating common good.‍

Sam Brown — Co-founder of Consequential

Cameo:

My name is Cameo and I’m the Operations Manager at Applied, which basically means I do a little bit of everything — from helping our managers grow their teams, managing office space, to helping our CEO manage our captable.‍

Cameo Choquer — Operations Manager at Applied

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Clem: 2020 has been a year of change. At Bulb, we were able to move to remote working in a day and I imagine you’re not strangers to flexible working either. We’re a tech-first company so we were able to keep supporting our members and our teams whilst working from home. How did you cope with adapting to new ways of working and living?

Marissa:

I have worked remotely for many years so it wasn’t too much of an adjustment for me. The big change was homeschooling at the same time! As a family we got our felt tips out and completed The Change Canvas to set us up for the new world of lockdown. You can check it out in this blog here. We talked about how we felt, what our goals were and what we could do. It proved to be incredibly useful, not just for me but for other families that did the same. The kids were appointed chief dishwasher emptiers in an effort to share the household duties. Plus, when frustrations hit, tempers rose or boredom struck we could remind ourselves about the promises we had made on our shared Change Canvas. In the same blog I also shared lots of other examples of how The Change Canvas was used to help organisations adapt by helping them to gather insights, understand the challenges they face, carve out a new vision and identify the concrete steps needed to move forward.

Sam:

2020 definitely marked the end and the beginning of a number of things for me. The biggest was starting the year working at Doteveryone — the responsible technology think tank — and ending the year running my own business. Starting a company during a pandemic has been quite an experience, to say the least. It was odd selecting partners without knowing what shoes they had on, or pitching to clients without having ever met them. For me personally, suddenly not having office mates to be chatty with between emails was a big adjustment.

Cameo:

Even before the pandemic the team spent 1 and sometimes 2 days working from home and a couple of people working fully remote. Our company culture was pretty well set up for working remotely so I think we’ve done well in transitioning to a distributed team. One of my favourite things that we’ve kept doing is using jqbx to share and listen to the same music, it’s definitely helped make us feel a little bit closer. That being said, I think a good number of us miss petticoat lane and grabbing a katsu curry for lunch in east London.

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Clem: At Bulb, we made a point of spending time thinking about our values and the culture we wanted to build right from the beginning. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt values? And how do you make sure ‘values’ are living practices and not just words in a document?

Marissa:

It has been said that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Whilst a great strategy is important for business success culture is what gives your business rocket fuel or drowns it. Cultivating the right culture that encourages the right behaviours takes deliberate effort, work and attention. Values help to unite people and provide a definitive guide around what is expected. Diversity is great for business and people who are very different to each other can unite over shared values. While your strategy and even mission can evolve and change, your values remain static and act as a grounding force that guides what you do, yet enables you to navigate change.

Living your values means digging deeper to define the good behaviour you want to encourage that supports your values, and bad behaviours you want to avoid that counter your values. Businesses that use The Change Canvas do this as a matter of course. The Change Canvas is a methodology for turning strategy into action. It consists of 5 boards on a single page where each board captures a number of key strategic elements that all businesses should know at all times (but many often don’t!). ‘Values’ is a key element of the ‘Reflection Board’. It encourages open conversations, always looking for ways to improve and keep yourself honest to your previous commitments.

Sam:

As Consequential, we talk a lot about the role of values in shaping culture and as a compass in crucial business decisions. So it’s not surprising it was important for us to role model this in our business from the beginning.

We’ve been very intentional about articulating our values because while there are a lot of people who see them as the thing that wraps itself around an organisation, we see them as being at the heart of how you operate. This is why values and the corresponding culture they create matter so much for achieving what you envision.

Being a value-led organisation starts with looking at how you design and conduct decision-making processes. Every decision you make shows your values, whether you mean it to or not, and so being intentional about that is how you make your values true. For example, if you value collaboration, every decision you make you should be modelling a collaborative decision-making process. You need to purposefully match your values to the way you operate.

This is the difference between values printed on the walls and values that are lived every day in your organisation.

Cameo:

Applied was founded on principles of behavioural science so we wouldn’t be able to get by without acknowledging that structures and processes play a huge part in how culture is formed and grows overtime.

I think because we started from a place of “how do we work right now, what are the behaviours and principles that make us Applied, successful, and authentic” it made it easier for us to talk about our values and how we live them everyday. We (obviously) care a lot about our hiring practices so I think that that is where our most of our values stem from . People are on boarded to our values from the minute they read the job description, whether they are hired or not. We also talk about our values explicitly in our weekly team meetings by shouting out colleagues (and ourselves!) and also in an ad hoc way through our appreciations channel on slack.

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Clem: Over the years, we’ve continued to shape our values as we’ve grown to give everyone at Bulb a chance to define what it means to be ‘Bulby’. How do you define and maintain company values within the workplace? And in your opinion, what makes a good culture at work?

Marissa:

I believe business should be about turning purpose into impact. I share a lot more in The Change Canvas Handbook. Often organisations move from financial targets to financial results. However forward thinking organisations realise the benefits of being driven by a purpose, that is not purely profit. They also measure success by their overall impact and not just their financial returns. Before you define your values you have to know what your purpose is. This gives your mission meaning which is incredibly empowering for everyone involved.

Once this is clear you can then go about defining the values that you will always stay true to. Your values should guide your mission, inspire behaviour and unite people. Your values should reflect your philosophy and beliefs as a business. Brainstorming what you believe in and what really annoys you is a great place to start to draw out what is important. You should settle for 3–5 different values that cover different aspects to paint the picture. For example, trust, honesty and integrity are all too similar. They should also be genuine. Having a value of trust and then losing your clients trust through your sales practices is not helpful for anyone.

A great culture is one where diverse people can come together, feel like they all belong and thrive. It is about creating an inclusive environment where everyone is motivated, inspired and is able to contribute to the best of their abilities to drive team success. One of my favourite workshops that I run is called the Emotions of Change and it helps teams uncover the unspoken emotions that underpin the way they work. It encourages honest conversations, deeper relationships and a shared sense of what good looks like; all of which are ingredients for building a great culture.

Sam:

You can change your business plan, but always remember; culture is sticky. It sits within the humans of an organisation. And it should, because at the end of the day what your company creates is about humans.

Knowing this is how you start to define and maintain company values within the workplace — by thinking about how you are going to work with the people you hire to model and build the culture you want. The right team is a huge factor in success, and you should strive to be building one that’s aligned not only with your vision but with how you want to achieve that vision.

Your values tell everyone within the company what’s acceptable or not, signals what to do when faced with tough business decisions, and creates a sustainable culture.

Good values and a good culture puts people at the centre of the company, and knows how to design for diversity of beliefs and behaviours on the one side and for alignment in decisions and actions on the other.

Your values also determine the experiences people have with your organisation because they create coherence and consistency. They articulate how to consistently deliver something that connects with people and communities beyond one interaction or one product. This is the differentiator that will ultimately make your business sustainable.

Cameo:

Adopting values was really big for us last year. We updated our values as a team where everyone had a chance to input their ideas — what rang true for us in our current values and what we thought needed an update. What became really evident is that we wanted our values to be accessible, by leaving out jargon and metaphors. It was an exercise in figuring out what the fundamentals were for getting things done, making decisions and staying true to our mission.

Cultures will vary from company to company. As we’ve all learned in the last year, things can change pretty fast. I think a successful culture is one with a really strong mission/vision where the culture can adapt overtime. I don’t think culture can stay the same. This is a question we’ve had more than once from candidates “how do you plan on ensuring that your culture won’t change as you grow and scale” Well, it can’t and I’ll never promise that. If our culture doesn’t change and adapt as we grow, I think we would be doing a disservice to our team.‍

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Clem: Like lots of companies, we’ve tried hard to think about ways to keep our team connected and share ideas. We’ve introduced online events, learning sessions and even remote run clubs and chess clubs as well as our weekly team meetings. As we continue to work remotely, how do you maintain creativity at work?

Marissa:

Here are a few things that I encourage in the teams I work with: Mixing things up. Doing things differently. Inviting different ideas. Encouraging everyone to contribute. Seeking lots of different inspiration and diverse inputs. Creating time and space.

Sam:

How do you define creativity at work? A big question with many answers, but for me, creating space for critical questioning is one of the most important ways to ensure there is room for creativity in any role.

In working collectively, there is often an underlying assumption that good intent always leads to good results. As Consequential, we believe that good intent paired with critical questioning and embedded foresight leads to good results — and within this, the safety to explore potential consequences and to have the support to escalate and co-create solutions.

In a post-pandemic business world, creativity in the form of critical questioning will be more important than ever as ‘command and control’ leadership no longer works the same way. It’s our hope that this creativity will be paired with a motivation for positive impact.

Cameo:

Creativity is so important! Historically we’ve run mission days and workshops that get people thinking outside the box. However, workshopping with digital post-its doesn’t always expose people’s artistic side. So, we pushed the boundaries a bit in December and made the team do a workshop where they had to redesign our job board using MSpaint. I think the restriction of using MSpaint was fun albeit a bit extreme so we’ll definitely be trying a different tool this year!

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Clem: What advice would you give around building a brand that’s true to company values?

Marissa:

The most important thing is that it has to be real. You can’t fake it. This means living your values, not writing them down somewhere and forgetting about them or even worse putting them up on the wall for all to see and then ignoring what they mean. It means building a meaningful brand that really takes a stand. It means challenging yourself to find out who you are as a company. You need to go deeper than product capabilities or even your vision and connect to a deeper purpose. It is critical that your values are an integral part of your brand and you demonstrate this in all that you do — both internally and in your market. You will differentiate yourself if your customers share your values. The better you communicate your ideals and beliefs the stronger you will be.

Sam:

Building a brand that’s true to a company’s values is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Culture is a living form, it’s not stagnant, it’s constantly evolving. Every milestone shapes a culture, every injection of cash shapes a culture. Every new person joining the organisation, partnering with the organisation, or investing in the organisation will bring their own values and behaviours into the organisation. Within that constant motion, brands that focus on meaning something to people and creating impact and positive change are more resilient.

Cameo:

Don’t try to be cool. It’s exhausting — exclusivity is lame and it puts the majority of people off. You have to constantly turn to your mission — why do you exist in the first place and how can your branding reflect and speak true to that? I think of branding as how the outside world recognises, understands, and experiences what your company is trying to do. Word of mouth trumps everything so pay attention to those small details — from your job descriptions all the way through to how you invoice your customers, it will pay dividends in the long term.‍

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Clem: Whilst it’s been a difficult year globally, to say the least, the changes we’ve seen have also opened up new opportunities. At Bulb, some of our learnings from working remotely have given us the opportunity to do things even better, like with our onboarding and hiring processes. What are some of the learnings you’ll take with you into the new year?

Marissa:

Just as my kids are still emptying the dishwasher I think a lot of great new habits formed during lock down should be encouraged. Like caring about how people really are, measuring progress not presence and recognising that being in the office 9–5 is not the only model for success.

Sam:

People want to see how businesses support their communities and contribute to making the world a better place.

I believe that the values of a business should ultimately be deeply connected to the values of its community. As Consequential, we want to benevolently challenge businesses to ground their decision-making and the process of innovation in the interest of communities.

Cameo:

Remote requires a little bit more prep and a little bit more writing. As we have a lot less face to face time going remote, we’ve learned just how precious our team meetings are. That being said we made quick decisions, tried out a few different ways of working across the team, and while some have worked and some haven’t, I think it’s made it really clear how crucial it is to have a team who champions iterative processes and can adapt to change.

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Clem: And with those learnings in mind, what advice would you give to people launching their own company?

Marissa:

Recognise that change is constant. Establish a systematic process for connecting strategy to execution and build a cadence to review and course correct constantly. Start by reflecting on your purpose and values and the culture you want to build. Don’t put this in a drawer. Come back to it regularly. Build diversity and inclusion from the start. Make sure your vision is compelling, clear and solves real and painful problems. Prioritise what you will do first and be just as clear about what you won’t do. You will lose your way if you lose focus, direction or try to serve too many different audiences. Celebrate often. Keep iterating and remember your greatest asset in your business is people, so treat them well.

The Change Canvas is free and provides a framework to help you do all of this.

Sam:

Start with your vision and your values, and let everything else flow from there.

Build reciprocal relationships with the communities you want to work in. Building genuine ties with a community creates vested interest on both sides — because when a business is active in solving a community’s issues, the community can become active in helping to sustain a business.

By paying attention to the interconnectedness between your business, its operations, your product, and the impact you’re having in the world you can create strong values that will build something that lasts.

Cameo:

Decisions have to be made, some really easy, some difficult. Growing a healthy business is an iterative process and it’s really important to surround yourself and build your company with people who understand that. Not taking decisions and being in limbo can leave people feeling like they’re treading in water. One of our values is to ‘own and drive change’ and I think it really speaks true to this.

Moving women in tech forward. Together.