Unlocking the Right Values at Simple Energy

A few years ago, things did not look good for Simple Energy, a tech firm driven by the mission to help create a sustainable future in a variety of ways. The young company had, according to CEO and co-founder Yoav Lurie, spent a large sum of capital in ways that weren't effective.

"We hired a bunch of people we shouldn't have hired," says Lurie, "we didn't let go of folks who were no longer adding value; we weren't focused on building a sustainable business." In retrospect, the reason for this is clear: "the values were a misfit."

Not long before this low point, Simple Energy had brought in a marketing expert to craft an expressed set of values. These took the form of single sentences that were placed on the wall on big vinyl stickers. The problem was that these values were confused and confusing.

Lurie tells us, "People were confusing what was a value with what wasn't; they were recognizing people for things that actually were not values." Ultimately, Lurie says, "the values weren't able to do the things that values should be doing, which is being the key guidepost to two things: one is hiring decisions and two is any kind of decision that has no clear answer." In the latter case, Lurie says, it's the values that answer the question.

Holes in the Wall, Rapid Growth

Lurie and other company leaders knew they had to hit a reset button. First, they literally tore the old values down, leaving holes as testament to their inadequacy. They then took the time to brainstorm, consult, and ultimately develop effective goals. Lurie and his co-founder used as their biggest crucible, "what could we one-hundred percent believe in?"

Here's what they came up with:

  • High-performance happy
  • Communicate actively
  • Ownership
  • OneTeam

Values exist to help make decisions, but making money along the way is OK too.

With a clearer gameplan and and end to the confusion, the mistakes stopped and profits spiked. In a 3-year span since the values revolution, the company expanded its revenue by nearly ten times. Lurie projects that this year, Simple Energy will "do North of 40 million in revenue."

Lurie says, "When our investors ask us, 'wow, how do you manage to have this business outcome...?' we're like, 'it's the values.'"

As for what's in the values:

RowingTogether_simpleenergy

High-performance happy means that happiness comes from working toward a goal; since the firm is mission based, employees are expected to be very much on board with the mission and to be emotionally invested in it.

Communicate actively involves creating communication with the recipient in mind.

Ownership is about everyone sharing responsibility and accountability and being very results oriented. Lurie says they sometimes call this value "give-a-ship."

OneTeam_simpleenergy

'OneTeam' is the proposition that the company is highly interdependent and that this means the whole company. Everyone has to interact comprehensively throughout the organization, rather than creating fiefdoms or silos.

One Baby At a Time, People

Simple Energy isn't playing wiffle ball here. Their mission is ambitious and serious, and they give it the intensity it deserves. (In all fairness, though, their "Our Team" page does have a lot of pictures of dogs on it.) The intensity of team members is illustrated by a compelling story Lurie told. A software developer threw a lot of himself into an application that would become core to the company's biggest product. The task was difficult, but not only did this team member meet the requirements, but he also wanted to make sure that the application generated a lot of transactions. He thus made trips into the customer services department late at night to check on the app's performance.

Not long after this, the developer's wife was about to give birth to their first child. He stepped down from the company, saying "I can't have two babies." The man took a job at another company where his projects wouldn't be babies to such a high degree and take too much out of him. Yet, that didn't stop him from popping in on "a lot of Fridays" to see how his product was doing. Well, eventually circumstances aligned perfectly for him to come back and be the rightful guardian of his product.

So, that's ownership.

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Scalable Recognition

As for recognition and celebration of victories, Simple Energy likes to keep them frequent and small. It regularly holds tiny launch parties at which the physical objects in the room--cupcakes, tiny cups for champagne, the speaker for the i-phone for music--are small.

Digitally, the company does a lot of communication via Slack, and has Disco integrated into it. While Lurie says it had been "a chore" to get team members to use previous third-party systems, Disco is "an integrated part of (Simple Energy's) workflow." That's because Disco was a tool that, as Lurie puts it, looked like what employees were already doing.

try-disco

Unlocking the Right Values at Simple Energy
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