GrantTree’s Purpose, Core Values and Principles

For us here at GrantTree, culture is really important. We want to share our Purpose, Values and Principles with you. Here’s a quick rundown:

Purpose

WE HELP THE COMPANIES THAT BRING THE FUTURE CLOSER

Values

  • We value growing through challenging work
  • We believe in delivering the most tangible impact we can
  • We believe that every person is worthy
  • We value the company as an entity of its own

Principles

  • Transparency over secrecy
  • No speed limit
  • Power over work rather than people
  • Be an entrepreneur, not an employee

Now, scroll down to read a full blown explanation of how we got here and what these things mean to us. Please do it. It will make Daniel happy!

Purpose

Purpose is the change that we want to see in the world. It’s our desired impact on someone else. All higher purposes call us to serve, to achieve something greater than ourselves. GrantTree’s statement of purpose represents a specific way that we want to change the world.

Purpose is not static. It changes over time. This was not GrantTree’s purpose 5 years ago and it will probably not be GrantTree’s purpose in 5 years. We are all able to sense the purpose of the company and we all have a responsibility to speak up when we believe that this underlying purpose is not being served (even if it seems to be, on the surface).

Our purpose is plain:

WE HELP THE COMPANIES THAT BRING THE FUTURE CLOSER

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This can be stated in a few different flavours which will be more appropriate in different contexts:

  • We help the companies that develop new technologies;
  • We help the companies that make the future happen;
  • We help the companies that connect technology with a better life for people;

Why do we do this? Because we see technological change (human, social technologies as well as software and hardware) as the driver to accelerate humanity’s journey to a future where all people can live with dignity. We want to see the future. We are excited by it. We want to see it as soon as possible. And so we feel called to help those who are making that future.

Do all our clients bring the future closer? Yes. Some do it in more obvious ways, and some in more humble ways, but we believe that technology is one of the ways towards the future and that it works in incremental steps. We help our clients progress from where they are. Every small step is part of our journey to the future.

As a result of our purpose, we are able to make decisions about the kind of work we choose to take on. For example, we would not provide services to companies that don’t bring a positive vision of the future closer in some way, nor would we choose to help them in ways that don’t help them with their mission of developing new technology, and we would not choose to develop our own technology unless it is to help the companies that bring the future closer.

Core Values

Our core values are the subjective choices of what we consider important at GrantTree, that define what it means that this place is “GrantTree” as opposed to somewhere else. This is in contrast to Principles, defined later, which are objective consequences of and handles on the world view that our values and purpose set out. Values are like lenses through which we see the world, they colour everything we perceive.

Values are all good. By picking out a handful of core values, we don’t discount all the others, but we do choose to emphasise those core values above the others because we believe they are the ones that best represent GrantTree. We make that choice because we believe that emphasising, encouraging and celebrating those values will make us a better company, and will enable people to make better decisions on behalf of the company, decisions that support and enhance our culture rather than being in conflict with it. Clear values also make it easier for people to decide whether this is the company they want to work with, and to know what they are committing to by doing so. In addition, understanding their espoused values makes people more free. 3

Each of these values is phrased first as a simple, (hopefully) obvious statement that summarises the core idea clearly and powerfully. However, it maps to a broader concept than can be fully communicated in a handful of words, so the paragraphs after the core value statement elaborate on different angles from which to approach this core idea, to help clarify it. Quotes from sources of interest provide further ways to dig in.

We value growing through challenging work

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.Kahlil Gibran

We celebrate work. We believe that work is fundamental to the human condition. We work because it connects us to one another. We work because it reveals to us who we are, by giving us opportunities to meet our shadow . We work because it is a path to making the world better, to fulfilling the collective needs of society. We work because it gives meaning to our lives. Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey – An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.

Although these companies develop their cultures as principled investments in their own business success, they also refuse to separate the people who make up the business from the business itself. Their big bet on a deliberately developmental culture is rooted in the unshakable belief that business can be an ideal context for people’s growth, evolution, and flourishing—and that such personal development may be the secret weapon for business success in the future.Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey - “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization”

We believe that individual growth is the engine that powers business growth. One leads to the other and one depends on the other and one cannot happen without the other. Good, thriving business is done by flourishing people. We believe this perspective is a core strength of GrantTree, that it has made our company stronger and a better place to work. It has been a driver of our success in the marketplace.

Greater awareness of how you make choices, what influences those choices, how power is manifested in your life – or not, and how you respond, say, to the way power is used by those whom you meet, will all contribute to living more fully, being more alive and being a more self-generating individual.Bryce Taylor - “Learning for Tomorrow: Whole Person Learning”

We believe that as adults, we can still grow and develop if we choose to, and that we can take control of that process, and that it is the most effective way to get what we want out of life. To grow in this way takes more than learning new cognitive skills, it takes the willingness to look into ourselves and question accepted truths. The main lens through which we see and understand the world is our own self, therefore learning to understand how that lens work is fundamental to our growth as human beings.

As a result of this value, we actively encourage people to take on challenging work that they are not yet familiar with, we encourage people to change roles (inside or outside of GrantTree) when they reach a plateau that means they are no longer growing in their current role, we actively work with people to help them decide their own path towards growth, and we explicitly reject the notion that it is good for the business to work with people who just want to get on with the job and who don’t want to change and grow, and we also explicitly reject the notion that growth is something separate from work, a luxury to be afforded only to the few when there are spare resources.

We believe in delivering the most tangible impact we can

Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.Archimedes

The world presents infinite challenges and yet we only have finite lives to solve them. We believe that to fulfil our potential, as individuals and as a company, we need to focus on finding ways to deliver the most tangible impact possible in whatever we do. We focus on the end result and strive to make the maximum difference to it.

In business and the world in general there are many promising changes that don’t end up amounting to much. We are drawn to working with industries that make a real difference to the world, and we seek to offer them clear, unambiguous value. We feel satisfaction when we know we have made the biggest difference possible to a customer. We love hearing that a customer was able, thanks to our help, to do something they could not have done before.

This value also applies to ourselves: when working with each other, we seek to make the most tangible differences we can to each other’s lives. We relish opportunities to make a big difference to each other.

As a result of this value, we focus on products that have a clearly tangible impact on our customers (e.g. getting them money), and we avoid funding schemes and lines of work that create chargeable work but don’t have much of an impact on our customers. We look for lines of work where we can do things substantially better than other providers. We evaluate every decision about our products and processes from the perspective of whether it will add value to our customers, not whether we can charge more for it. We actively look for and take opportunities to make a tangible impact on each other.

We believe that every person is worthy

Personalism and individualism must not be confused. Personalism gives priority to the person and not to the individual self. To give priority to the person means respecting the unique and inalienable value of the other person, as well as one’s own, for a respect that is centred only on one’s own individual self to the exclusion of others proves itself to be fraudulent.Thomas Merton - “The Way of Chuang Tzu”

We take for self-evident that every person is intrinsically worthy. We celebrate the unique contribution that all persons can make to the world. We recognise the paradox that this throws us into and look to embrace the learning and growth required to find ways to apportion our limited resources, time and attention so that we can have a tangible impact on so many worthy persons.

The polis was distinguished from the household in that it knew only ‘equals,’ whereas the household was the center of the strictest inequality. To be free meant both not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled.Hannah Arendt - “The Human Condition”

Persons are persons only in so far as they are persons in relationship. Without the other there is no I. Lost in the other, there is also no I. I and the other have to recognise ourselves as distinct and yet not separate; connected but not so enmeshed that we become indistinguishable. Only then can we become engaged on the task of assisting one another to move beyond who we currently are. Only then can we make more of a contribution as the distinct individuals we have the potential to become.Bryce Taylo - “Learning for Tomorrow: Whole Person Learning”

We believe that we work best together when we treat each other as worthy peers. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and they can easily be snuffed out in a hostile environment. We value diverse perspectives even, or especially when they are uncomfortable. We accept that working with a plurality of view of perspectives in this way is often more challenging, and we believe it is essential to enable us to grow, have a tangible impact, and achieve our purpose. We do not feel the need to reduce the richness of diversity to uniformity or conformity. We want to preserve it under the condition of mutual respect and cooperation.

We believe that part of this recognition of each other’s worth includes also accepting our limitations. We are not equal, or equally capable. Worthiness does not translate in everyone getting to do whatever they want. It does translate in principles of equality of opportunity (i.e. access to the opportunities) and equality of attention (i.e. access to attention).

As a result of this value, we place great emphasis on interpersonal, affective competence skills and on providing support for people to learn to see things from multiple perspectives. When we face conflict, we encourage each other to find a third view, a perspective which enables fruitful and lasting resolution. We reject the easy blame narrative where “the other” is responsible for our problems, and embrace the more complex perspective where we all play a part in the creation of problems and resolution of every conflict. We reject systems of governance which imply that some people are inherently and permanently superior to others, preferring those which recognise that each one of us carries the potential for to make a great impact. We demand of each of us to be willing to strive to maintain productive work relationships with everyone else. We expect that systems of reward and feedback are accessible and transparent to all, even if not everyone will get the same feedback or the same rewards.

We value the company as an entity of its own

…the key is about separating identity and figuring out ‘What is this organisation’s calling?’ Not ‘What do we want to use this organisation to do, as property?’ but rather ‘What is this life, this living system’s creative potential?Brian Robertson, Founder, HolacracyOne - Reinventing Organizations

We believe that GrantTree is not merely a legal and commercial property to be used as a means to achieve certain aims, but it is itself an entity with its own concerns, voice, purpose, etc. We believe in treating that entity like we treat each other, giving it attention, listening to it, and helping it to flourish.

When a corporation organizes, it is “incorporated.” That word derives from Latin roots and literally means, “to create a body.” I believe that organizations are bodies in more than metaphorical terms and they are more than just physical bodies; they are bodies that house living beings in every sense of the word. Even American and British court systems treat them as “persons” with the same rights as any individual.Norman Wolfe - “The Living Organization”

Though we do not reject the tools that it produced, we do reject the old paradigm of the organisation as a machine. We consider it a living entity of its own, made of us, our values, our relationships, our energies and talents combined to create something that is imbued with life. We recognise we create this space together. We believe GrantTree has its own life, its own soul, its own life force. Though it is not alive in the same way as us, there is an emergent property of our work here which looks like a person of its own, with purpose, direction, awareness. We value GrantTree as a living entity and seek to protect it and help it thrive.

We value GrantTree as a living entity especially because of how we have created it and how it has evolved. When looking back through the history of GrantTree we see that it is not inevitable or on any set course, but a willful entity full of surprises and unpredictable twists, a source of newness in our lives.

Men and women are what their relationships allow them to become.Bishop David Jenkins

We value the space that the company creates for us and also see that we are the ones who create that space. We recognise that there is a circular “strange loop” at play here. The company creates the space for us to thrive as individuals, and we as individuals are the ones creating the space for the company to do this. The GrantTree values enable the individual to thrive, but those values are made possible by all of us, and our behaviour, as a group, is made possible because GrantTree provides the space where we can live those values.

As a result of this value, we frequently discuss “the business” and its needs and purpose, finding it a fruitful line of thinking when making important decisions. We avoid and condemn actions which hurt the business for the personal gain of any member of the company. We bear in mind the long term health of the business when making decisions, mindful of preserving and improving the space for ourselves and others. And we keep that mindset even when we are leaving the company.

A strange loop arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started. Strange loops may involve self-reference and paradox. The concept of a strange loop was proposed and extensively discussed by Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and is further elaborated in Hofstadter’s book I Am a Strange Loop, published in 2007.”4

Principles

Our principles are guideposts for translating our core values into practical decisions. They are not separate from the values: they are consequences of and shortcuts to the values. A decision that sticks to our principles is very likely to also be in line with the values. As the principles are simpler, more tangible and more digestible, this is intended to enable quicker decision-making and discussions.

In a way, anything can be a principle so long as it is useful for decision-making and makes the values and purpose clearer and simpler to use. This means there could be an infinite number of principles, and each person will find different principles to be more helpful. To keep this document usable we will try to have no more than a dozen Principles. Please feel free and encouraged to define your own personal principles as shortcuts and clarifications to the values and discuss them with others. This list is just a starting point to help now.

Acting against one of our principles is possible, but should only be done when there is a convincing reason why in this context it is superseded by a more direct application of a core value.

Transparency over secrecy

Through observation of its impact, we have found that transparency is a powerful catalyst for all our values. It accelerates growth by revealing problems that would otherwise have remained hidden, makes challenges of the work more apparent, and enables everyone to participate in finding solutions. It supports tangible impact by making it more apparent when work is not having that impact. It encourages more wholesome relationships by removing the corrupting influence of secrets on peer relationships.

In practice, we expect to see transparency applied in a number of ways (but also in many others – this is not an exhaustive list):

  • In the design of our systems and processes: everything from pay to lists of work in progress is open by default, and will continue to be designed in this way;
  • In our willing vulnerability to share critical challenges that we and the company are facing even when they are still half-formed and we don’t have a solution to them yet;
  • In our openness for people to observe meetings which are not directly related to their work;
  • In our willingness to share work in progress when it is not yet finished since it is at this early stage that it presents the most opportunity to grow for both ourselves and those who choose to engage with the incomplete work.

No speed limit

Je suis jeune, il est vrai, mais aux âmes bien nées, La valeur n’attend pas le nombre des années.Le Cid by Corneille

Transl: “I am young, it is true, but to well born souls,
Worth does not wait for the number of years.”
Note: we are all well born souls.

This principle is a consequence of our commitment to growth. To maximise growth, there should be no speed limits built into our systems. If someone wishes to grow and take on more responsibility, the system should not get in their way (though this is not the same as a laissez faire attitude where anyone can try anything and no one cares). As much as possible, bearing in mind also the well-being of the company as a whole, people should be encouraged and supported in taking on opportunities for personal growth and challenges.

In practice, we expect to see this principle applied particularly to systems that impact authority over decisions, and also to the decisions themselves. We also expect this to be applied in our pay systems, which should not freeze or slow down people’s growth but instead should be flexible enough to recognise that people can grow.

Power over work rather than people

Most organisations are organised as hierarchies of people. This leads to all sorts of problems for us: it makes impossible the peer-to-peer relationships we seek, it results in treating pieces of the company (and people) as a form of property, it cuts off many opportunities for growth and it is thereby likely to reduce our impact. We find that instead of assigning authority over people it is better to assign authority over work.

In practice, we expect to see this principle applied in everyday decisions, which ought to be about work rather than about people, and in the structural design of the organisation, which will avoid static hierarchical relationships. We do expect to see decisions made by others which impact us (perhaps in ways we initially resist), but we expect those decisions to be about the work rather than the people.

Be an entrepreneur, not an employee

A key difference between entrepreneurs and employees is that entrepreneurs don’t wait to feel comfortable and to have permission to engage in a piece of work. They dive in and try to get it done. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail, and in either case, they learn and use that knowledge to try again, something even more ambitious. Without wanting to make entrepreneurs seem like some sort of holy grail, there is something good about the entrepreneurial spirit of getting stuck into doing worthwhile things even when you don’t know how to do them. This principle tends to lead to more tangible impact and to more personal growth through challenging work.

In practice, we expect to see this principle in the day to day decisions about what work to engage in. The encouragement (which has been followed by many, but not everyone) is to be willing to get stuck into any piece of work when you think that it has a good impact, even if you think you may not be ready for it yet. Get some support if you need it, and jump in and do it.


  1. …and, implicitly, ourselves too, but it starts with a perspective broader than just ourselves

  2. …Implicit here is that we look towards a future that is better for humans, in line with our values, not just any future.

  3. Not all change is good or desirable or acceptable.

  4. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_loop