With Freedom, Comes Responsibility – The SSI Culture Code
An article by Eveline Hadewegg Scheffer, Semco Style Institute
People’s behavior has fascinated me since I was young. I’ve always been curious about why people do what they do and what makes them click. At times, I find myself people-watching just out of curiosity. At my workplace too, I tend to observe people’s behavior and question what makes them behave the way they do.
For years, I was amazed by the number of rules, procedures, and control mechanisms within organizations. These organizations ask their employees to leave all common sense at the door and blindly follow instructions from management. This system just didn’t seem to align with the way I thought and my belief system.
A few years ago, I discovered Semco Style and found so many similarities between this philosophy and my own point of view. I believed in working from a place of trust, working with a team for the best results, and having the freedom to chart my own path to success. On the same note, making use of the talent, knowledge, and expertise within the team to get better day after day. Above all, learning from and along with each other!
I started working at Semco Style Institute (SSI) last year, which I found to be a challenging, yet exciting step. At my previous company, some measures were taken towards self-management, but I was curious about what a fully self-managed organization would be like. I was really looking forward to the idea of working in an environment where there was freedom to develop yourself, to do the things you are good at, and to work as a team towards a common goal.
The start of my time at SSI was no walk in the park. With all the opportunities that come with freedom, how do you know which ones to grab and which ones to let go of? When you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you also say ‘no’ to other things. How do you know where to draw the line? When exactly do you reach success? How is that success measured? These were some of the questions that ran through my mind during my early days at SSI.
SSI has been around for five years now, and in those five years, a lot of experimentation has been done. The lessons learned along the way have been converted into practices and everyone has worked very hard to make the philosophy and content as accessible as possible to all country partners, affiliates, certified consultants, and program participants. So much so, that this philosophy is ingrained in all our minds.
While working with various clients, I was able to find my footing relatively easily. This was the result of the transparent culture at SSI, as well as my own prior experience. However, I could not shake off that gnawing feeling that I wasn’t creating enough impact in the organization. I wasn’t sure what was expected of me and whether or not I was going about things the right way.
These are possibly the same thoughts anyone entering a self-management environment might have. After all, it isn’t easy to grasp the culture, DNA, and philosophy of an organization at the get-go. Hence, I and some of my team members dove into our own ‘library of practices’, and chose to combine two of them to create our own ‘SSI Culture Code’. This Culture Code helped us understand and align better with SSI’s philosophies.
The first practice we included in our code was the ‘Boundaries for Action Framework’. This particular framework helps in creating clarity about what is expected, how it can be achieved, and what needs to be done if someone crosses a boundary. The second practice was the ‘social contract’, which is a tacit agreement between members of a group to behave in a certain way, with certain privileges and duties. While these frameworks weren’t applied at SSI officially, I was certain that it was just what we needed to bring more clarity to all employees — new and old.
At SSI, we see the paradox between freedom, ownership, responsibility, and extensive guidelines, but we also know from experience that you can take on responsibility only when there is adequate clarity.
With freedom comes a lot of responsibility, and with our Culture Code, we aimed at creating a balance between the two. The goal was to achieve our purpose while making use of all the talents team members brought to the table, and working together. The document is not meant to be a ‘paper tiger’, but rather a statement on how we can work together, what we want to achieve and how we can have the biggest impact on performance and happiness. This was especially important while working with hybrid teams, with team members around the world, covering multiple time zones.
Our Culture Code starts with our mission — to shape the future of work. We define our transformation strategy based on a simple business philosophy:
“Give people the freedom, and over the long haul, their successes will far outnumber their failures.”
Creating Our Culture Code
The first step in creating our Culture Code was our practice ‘Boundaries For Action Framework’. The framework consists of these four sides:
1. Result: A limited number of KPIs that are frequently measured and directly influenceable.
2. Quality: Internal requirements, minimum standards to meet
3. Legislation: External requirements
4. Behavior: What kind of behavior can help us as a team achieve desired results?
To get to our desired results quicker, we aligned on the KPIs we wanted to achieve, such as revenue, number of (new) clients, and launching our Ecosystem. We agreed on using some systems, such as Slack for communication, and SharePoint for our documents. Behavioral agreements were made to ensure positive energy even in the face of negative outcomes, taking responsibility for our tasks, and being transparent about progress.
The second step was our ‘social contract’. The contract is all about aligning individual goals with those of the team or organization, so as to really understand what values and beliefs your colleagues stood for. We shared our aspirations, ideas, and our visions for the future. We also talked about our financial expectations and how each and everyone can contribute to helping the company move forward.
These two frameworks helped us develop our Culture Code in line with the core values at SSI — impact, performance, happiness, democracy, common sense, and aligned self-interest.
Examples of topics addressed in our Culture Code include, for example, the flow of our team meetings. We work with Miro (a digital whiteboard) to keep track of the workflow, the results, and goals. On the board, we have a section for our team meetings where we can enter our inputs/items for the upcoming meeting. Our Culture Code includes another extremely vital element — happiness. A ‘mental health day’ was included every quarter where we do a meeting-free day once a week.
I can go on and on about the document, but I will leave the questions to you. This interactive and action-oriented document reflects who we are and what is important to us, and so, we would love to share it with you.
Want to know more? Let’s chat!