In this post, we are “open-sourcing” and discussing our culture documents. You probably found this page because you’re either 1) applying to a position at Spiff, 2) considering an offer from Spiff, or 3) thinking about building your own culture at your own company. If you are applying or considering an offer, we hope this will excite you about the prospects of working at Spiff. If you are thinking about building your own culture, we hope you’ll take what you like about our approach and leave what you don’t. But in all cases, let us know what you think. Thanks to Molly Clarke and Lauren Barber who wrote this with me.
We have audacious goals here at Spiff. We want to be in a class of our own in terms of our product and market (we call this achieving escape velocity). We believe achieving escape velocity requires a one-of-a-kind culture. If it were easy to do this, every company would do it. So we work hard to foster a unique and powerful culture here at Spiff.
Spiff’s culture is different in the following ways:
- We have no Core Values
- Instead, we have a Definition of Victory and a Leadership Mandate
- We don’t expect you to “share our values” but we do expect you to help us achieve victory and to be a leader
- We look for “culture adds” not “culture fits”
- Our culture seeks to benefit the “whole person” inside and outside of work
- We only hire engineers and artisans (you must be both not either-or)
- We are an idea meritocracy (we call it the Socratic method applied to business)
- We are master listeners
- We believe a market-leading culture is one of the best forms of compensation
- We target top-level compensation in every position at Spiff
- We are obsessed with elegant thinking and pace of innovation
- We strive for ethical leadership and ethics is a first-order consideration for every decision we make
- We offer unique benefits to our team members like Company-Wide Commissions, Legend Days, and SpiffUp.
- We look for people who are willing to “betray our culture” (in the right way)
We believe culture is rich, diverse, complex, and mysterious. It exists at the intersection of group and individual consciousness. Because of that, we have several culture docs at Spiff (hyperlinks to source documents or blog posts where available):
- Intro to Spiff Culture
- Spiff’s Super Secret Plan to Achieve Escape Velocity
- Leadership at Spiff
- Elegant Thinking at Spiff
- Ethics at Spiff (this is a really early draft)
- Your Career Path at Spiff (this is a really early draft)
- How Spiff Learned to Stop Worrying and Love It’s Competition–link coming soon
Even though we have no Core Values, you will probably notice One Unifying Attribute of all Spiffers: they are extraordinarily good at what they do (leaders) and they are humble (learners). Einstein captured the humility we seek when he pointed out:
As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.Albert Einstein
The 5 Whys
My Dad played a game with us kids around the dinner table growing up. He called it “The 5 Whys.” As a student of philosophy, he knew if you ask a person “Why?” 5 or so times in a row, you’ll stump them. E.g., What’s your favorite food? Answer: Modo Black Sesame Mochi Donuts. Why? Answer: I like sweet and moist things. Why? Answer: … I don’t know; I just do. The good news is that if you ask yourself “Why?” long enough and you strive for thoughtful responses, you’ll typically learn a lot about your deeper self.
When I started Spiff, I asked myself why I wanted to do another startup. Several answers sprang to mind: the chance of making a lot of money, the thrill of competition and invention and a few more. But as I asked more Whys, I came to one deeper answer: adventure.
Welcome to Your Spiff Adventure
New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!Arthur C. Clarke
I start companies because I love the adventure of doing impossible things with amazing people.
In our New at Spiff training, I always read this (apocryphal) quote attributed to Ernest Shackleton, the famous 19th century Antarctic explorer:
I love this quote because it summarizes how I feel about a startup journey. It won’t be easy. At first, it seems impossible. But we will do it and it will be worth it. Don’t join Spiff for an easy ride. Join it because you are ready for the toughest and most rewarding adventure of your career.
The 5 Goals of Spiff Culture
Before we wrote about Spiff culture, we thought hard about what we wanted our culture to do for it’s customers–our people. We came up with the following 5 Goals of Spiff Culture:
- Inspire your best work at Spiff, your magnum opus
- Give you tools and ideas to help you achieve your best work
- Show you how Spiff is unique, different, and (we hope) better than other companies
- Inspire you to help cultivate our unique culture at Spiff–our secret to being distinct and great in the market
- Create a transformational experience at Spiff for every person
Spiff Has No Core Values
At Spiff, we don’t have a set of core values. Do we want honest, hard-working, smart, insightful, caring, kind, creative, courageous people that put clients first at Spiff? Yes! Of course. And there are lots of other qualities we could add. We have values and ethics to be sure. But we don’t identify a set of core values and we recognize that different people have different core values.
We trust our people as leaders to achieve our goals in the best way. Part of being a leader is figuring out what is needed most to help achieve the mission and becoming or securing that thing.
We don’t believe “5 key values” will apply to every situation. Sometimes one value is all you need. Sometimes you need 10. The same virtues that worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow for a new problem.
Instead of core values, we have a Definition of Victory and a Leadership Mandate.
Definition of Victory
At my first job out of college, I worked for a consulting firm. That firm often talked about a Definition of Victory. Think of it like a detailed mission statement where you steep in what it will feel like to achieve your mission. This is how we describe our Definition of Victory at Spiff.
We believe that people are happiest when they are motivated. Spiff drives motivation through effective, real-time, data-driven commission software.
We’re building a future where:
- Many more people receive incentive compensation
- Incentives are immediate (including payouts)
- Machine learning optimizes incentives, behaviors, and plans
- Money isn’t the only incentive
- Setting up incentives is easier than running payroll
- We pioneer low-code financial automation
- Every complex financial process is automatable
Internally, we are looking to build world-class leaders in every position and achieve something we call Escape Velocity. The idea of Escape Velocity is so important to us that we have an entire culture document dedicated to it (please read “Spiff’s Super Secret Plan to Achieve Escape Velocity”).
We also actively track (with metrics) our success at creating unforgettable adventures, unparalleled career development, and life-long friendships for our team members. We care so much about our team members we have an Alumni network that allows us to keep in touch with former Spiffers even after they leave Spiff.
Spiff’s Leadership Mandate
Spiff only hires leaders and aspiring leaders. Leadership is a wonderfully complex concept but have a working definition here at Spiff:
Leaders create rapid, deep, widespread achievement of a bold shared purpose. Our bold shared purpose is to motivate business people with software and to build a new class of software in the process (a low-code platform that is 10x better than Excel for commissions).
At Spiff, we expect everybody to act like a mini-CEO in their sphere of responsibility. When I think about my job as the CEO of Spiff, I think about 4 things:
We expect every team member to think about these 4 categories with regard to their job:
- How can I help establish a clear mission, vision, and definition of victory for my role?
- How can I help build the right team and sub-culture for my role?
- How can I ensure that my team has the necessary resources to succeed?
- Finally how can I remove bottlenecks and drive growth?
Leadership is such an important concept for us at Spiff that we have another culture document solely focused on leadership (you can read Leadership at Spiff here).
Peter Thiel, who is a much more brilliant thinker than I am, pioneered the concept “Competition is for Losers” in his must-read book Zero to One.
We respectfully disagree. We think you generally have to fight for most markets worth winning. Even if you have weak competition, you will need to fight against inertial forces, norms, habits, and against team members’ weaker selves to achieve victory.
That’s why we use a metaphor from rocketry to describe our strategy for winning. We call it achieving Escape Velocity.
Achieving escape velocity for a rocket requires technical prowess, tons of fuel, and a ridiculous amount of efficiency.
As mentioned above, we believe achieving escape velocity is arduous. So we have a 26-page presentation which we continue to revise that captures the Principles we believe foster achieving escape velocity. We loosely patterned this document on Ray Dalio’s Principles. We’ll try to write a follow up post on those principles when we get some time.
Culture is more than vision, values, and missions. It includes norms, rituals, shared language and symbols, etc.
We’ve created a set of norms (again always subject to revision) that guide us at Spiff:
- We believe in repeated games, so live as if you will need to be in a long-term relationship with everybody you work with.
- We never forget who keeps us in business.
- We solicit perspectives from everybody on the team.
- Great arguments, thinking, reasoning, and data should win, not seniority or experience. Experience and seniority can, and often should, result in being able to create great arguments, thinking, and reasoning, but these should stand on their own.
- Always be open to and grateful for feedback and actively seek it. When delivering it be respectful–bold, honest, even hard hitting–but always respectful.
- Hire people that are smarter and better than you are, be grateful to work in an environment where others are often smarter and better than you are.
- Feedback, promotions, and pay should be a continuous dialog, not an annual conversation.
- Diversity of opinion, thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences is an inherent good.
- Nothing can ever compensate for not working with great people, which is why we hire very carefully.
- Always let people stretch into new roles. If you aren’t sure they’re ready for them yet, give them a chance to prove you wrong. But on the other hand, if they don’t prove you wrong, give them helpful feedback, level with them, and make the necessary changes.
- For every project, task, or meeting, you should always have a clear definition of victory.
- Don’t tolerate disrespect, discrimination, or harrassment in any degree – report it immediately.
Above all else, our guiding principle here at Spiff is to always be human, which means to be kind.
We Give Everyone a Voice
We believe in the power of each person’s unique voice. Artists often talk about “finding their voice.” At Spiff we strive to help every team member find their voice.
At Spiff, we never cut people off. This may seem specific, but hear me out. At Spiff we believe in the following:
- Good listeners don’t cut people off.
- Great listeners actively listen – following along with them and thinking through their arguments and thoughts. They have an ability to play back what they heard, such that the other person feels completely understood.
- Master listeners engage in a creative process where they strive to help the other person express themselves better than they could on their own. If they disagree, they strive to help the other person make their best possible argument before asserting their own.
Creating a culture of people who really know how to listen not only facilitates a respectful, psychologically safe work environment, but it gives everyone a voice and encourages different perspectives.
Having said that, we value efficiency and adhere to the two-minute rule. You should be able to make a point and allow a response generally in under two minutes.
At Spiff we have five primary rituals that happen each and every week. These rituals continue to grow and evolve to fit the needs of the team but they’re important staples in the Spiff organizational culture. Here is our current weekly line up:
- Daily goals: James Clear once said, “If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” That’s why we believe in daily goals at Spiff. Achieving one goal a day means achieving five goals a week. Constant improvement builds incredible teams.
- Monday morning stand-up: First thing monday morning the entire company gets together to hear from different departments within Spiff. This standup often covers important announcements, birthdays, achievements, metrics updates, and more.
- Team stand-ups: Getting together as a team serves the same purpose but on a smaller scale. Team standups are a great way to check in with each other, maintain transparency, and ask for help when needed.
- Wednesday morning show-and-tell: Every Wednesday one or two Spiff employees get to talk to the entire company and share information about who they are as a person outside of Spiff. This one plays a huge role in establishing the importance of being human. Spiff employees get to really know each other and that helps to foster a compassionate, empathetic environment of people who really care about each other.
- Demo Friday: Lastly, we have Demo Friday which is exactly what it sounds like. Different members of the company present new features and functionality within our product to the rest of the company. This helps us all keep up to date with changes in the product and arms every single department with the information they need to be successful.
Compensation at Spiff
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Spiff blog post if we didn’t talk about compensation. After all, it’s what we do best as the leading sales compensation software. So, why is compensation so important?
It is our belief that, in order to recruit and retain world-class talent, we must compensate our employees in a unique and world-class way. We define compensation broadly to include:
- Cash, salary, and benefits
- Commission–everybody at Spiff receives a commission on every dollar of revenue we bring in
- Working with and learning from other world-class leaders
At Spiff, we’re happy to have compensation conversations regularly, especially for our highest performers.
We also offer other unique benefits through SpiffUp. Spiff donates 1% of its revenue to SpiffUp, a team-directed social good organization. We’re proud of the good we’ve been able to do together at Spiff.
We also offer “Legend Days.” Every year we pick 1-2 team members to receive Spiff’s highest “civilian” honor: the Spiff Legend Award. Each Spiff Legend awardee gets to choose a day off for the entire team that recurs every year that they remain at Spiff.
And we eat our own dog food here. Every person at Spiff receives commission on every deal we close. We believe more companies should do this because it creates a revenue motivation culture.
You may have guessed that I studied classics and philosophy as an undergraduate. In Homer’s Oddyssey, the goddess Athena takes the form of a man named Mentor to provide guidance to the youth Telemachus at a critical point in his development. This is where the word “mentorship” comes from.
Athena/Mentor tells Telemachus to make himself a “name and a story.” I like to think about that for every Spiffer:
- What will their name mean to their colleagues, to their loved ones, to those who come after them?
- What story will they create with this amazing life we all share?
I love the challenge of living life every day thinking of the name and story I want to create for myself.
So you too then! Join us! Come to Spiff and we will help you make a career-changing name and story for yourself.
Please download our complete Intro to Spiff Culture and, as always, we appreciate any feedback you have.