Table of Contents
- Ryan Roslansky is the CEO of LinkedIn.
- He shares the internal process his team took while updating their culture and values.
- Roslansky says they’re important foundations that guide companies through change and uncertainty.
As we start to come out of the Great Reshuffle, it’s important for every company to be thoughtful and revisit their Culture and their Values. It’s not easy, and it’s not something to take lightly.
We just went through this process at LinkedIn, and after sharing it with our company last week and being encouraged by employees to tell the story more broadly, I wanted to share our journey.
We first codified our Culture and Values 13 years ago and they are, without a doubt, LinkedIn’s greatest competitive advantage. Culture and Values are the foundation for building an enduring, successful company. They’ve helped us attract thousands of new employees, re-attract hundreds of boomerang employees, and are what led to our approach to hybrid work. The company has also never performed better.
However, LinkedIn has changed quite a bit over the past 13 years. And the world has changed immensely for everyone over the past two years. In the face of all of this change, we’ve adapted and evolved; across the platform, across our business, and across how we work.
One of the most frequent topics I’ve heard internally over the past two years is whether we need to adapt our Culture and Values.
At first, every time I heard someone bring this up, I thought to myself “What? Why would we do that? Our Culture and Values are our greatest competitive advantage. I don’t want to touch a word.”
But I kept hearing it over and over. So I set out to learn from other CEOs, from our founders Reid Hoffman and Allen Blue, and from our previous CEO Jeff Weiner.
When I’d explain the agita I was feeling in changing a foundational part of the company, I repeatedly got the same advice: while I was correct in my hesitancy to change something so fundamental in the company, my hesitancy was misplaced.
Your Vision (your “why”) is something that should rarely, if ever, change. But your Culture and Values (your “how”) need to constantly be evaluated.
And that made sense to me. Our Vision, “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce,” has never been more critical or important. But it’s irresponsible not to revisit the how.
In going through this process, I had to really reflect on why I had been so hesitant to start this work. I first joined LinkedIn in 2009 when we originally codified our Culture and Values. It was the only Culture and Values I had ever known. The only LinkedIn I had ever known. A company I love, helped build, and that means so much to me.
And now as the steward of our Culture and Values, I need to make sure we are staying true to our foundations while helping our company move to the next chapter.
So we kicked off the work. We started with the critical step of establishing our principles: under what conditions should a company revisit their Culture and Values?
We settled on three principles:
- Are our Culture and Values still applicable in the current environment? If something has changed in the world that renders them out of date or useless, you need to revisit them.
- Do they help us achieve our Vision? Do they help us achieve the “why”? If that’s not happening anymore, it’s time to revisit.
- And last–but certainly not least–do we cite them frequently and with clarity? If they aren’t used, we don’t talk about them, and aren’t clear about what they mean, why have them in the first place?
We took these principles, and set out to listen and learn. And across thousands of pieces of feedback, we learned that in many ways, our Culture and Values have stood the test of time, and that much of what we put together in 2009 still resonates today. When applying the feedback to our principles:
- Are our Culture & Values still applicable? Turns out in some cases they are more applicable than ever.
- Do they help us achieve our Vision? Yes, and again, in many cases even more than they did when we created them in 2009.
- Do we cite them frequently and with clarity? Turns out, not always. And in some cases there was misinterpretation happening.
So we had our task at hand: we needed to ensure we had clarity. The feedback around clarity centered around three areas for improvement:
1. Clarifying Culture vs. Values
It turns out, LinkedIn is fairly unique because we separately declare our culture AND our values. Most companies create a list of values, and those values then define an unwritten culture.
In our case, we define Culture as the collective personality of the company. Who we are as a company – and perhaps most importantly, who we ASPIRE to be. And we believe in purposefully talking about it.
Then, we define values as the principles that guide our day-to-day decision making.
But when asking for feedback, the most consistent response across our company was that there was a lack of clarity between our Culture and our Values. We had a bulleted list of tenets for Culture, and another one for Values. Our employees didn’t understand why there were two lists. What’s the difference? Why are they both written as lists with different objectives?
So this was our first opportunity for clarity and enhancement. Rather than a list of cultural tenets, we’ve taken the spirit of our culture and codified it in an aspirational statement that is simpler to feel and understand.
Every word in this culture statement matters:
- Aspire: We set the bar high — not only should culture always be aspirational, but by starting our culture statement with this word, it’s a reminder that we set the bar high as a company. We play up.
- Trusted: Building on what used to be integrity, we moved to trust. Trust is bigger than integrity. Trust is foundational to how we work. By fostering trust with one another, members, customers, and partners, we all succeed. “We trust each other” is our strategy for working together in this new hybrid world. And trust is so critical to who we are, that two years ago we made it a foundational operating priority for the company.
- Caring: We historically had collaboration in our culture. For me, care is greater than collaboration, because collaboration is tactical and utilitarian. Care is a proxy for compassion. And when you start from a place of caring for each other, strong collaboration becomes a given.
- Inclusive: Everyone can thrive. When people with diverse backgrounds work together, we generate better ideas, create more inclusive product experiences, increase customer value and promote equity.
- Fun: We live in an intense period of time. We build mission critical products. It’s important we make room for joy and levity, or else we will all burn out. Life is too short to not make room for fun, especially when we spend so much time working together.
- Transformational: We continuously grow, learn, and transform. Not only for ourselves, but for our company and the world.
Last but not least, we added a valuable and aspirational line to the end: “…and through our platform for every member of the global workforce.” Any time we’d talk about our Culture and Values over the last 13 years we’d add this line because it’s not only how we operate inside of LinkedIn, it’s the thinking we bring when we build products for the members and customers using our platform. It made sense to codify it, and this was the perfect place to add this line and tie it all together.
What I love about this is that it keeps the spirit of what is so special about who we are, but raises our level of ambition to meet the moment we are building towards. And it creates a clear distinction between our Culture and our Values.
2. Clarifying “Relationships Matter”
The second most consistent feedback we received was around our previous value of “Relationships matter.” It’s the idea that professionals are most productive when they work together and care about each other. However, this value created the most space for confusion and misinterpretation internally. And it could be a dangerous misinterpretation. If relationships matter, does that mean we can’t disagree, that we shouldn’t make difficult decisions, or that the path to rising in our organization is based on popularity?
The answer is a resounding no.
What was most important in the creation and intention of this value is that we care about and trust each other. Trust and care is fundamental to who we are and how we operate as a team. And by focusing on trust and care, we then build strong relationships with one another, which nurtures our culture and helps our company thrive.
So, we kept the essence and clarified the intent by renaming this value to “We trust and care about each other.”
Ultimately, the long-term value of a company is about the speed and quality of the decisions that are made. When we start from a position of positive intent with trust, we can make quicker and better decisions. And when you truly care about someone, you can start to have difficult conversations proactively, avoid unintended consequences, and get in front of potentially very costly mistakes.
And it’s important to remember that care isn’t conditional. And it’s most important in situations where you aren’t naturally aligned. If someone is in over their heads, care means you step in and help them, coaching them in a constructive and compassionate way. Care does not mean not having difficult discussions or making difficult decisions. It’s actually the opposite. Because you care, you have hard discussions, you make hard decisions, and you are always there for one another.
3. Clarifying Two Values and One Non-Value
Our last area for clarity related to confusion among two existing values, and confusion around a phrase at LinkedIn that most believed was a value, but actually wasn’t. Stick with me here…
Two of our previous values were “Take intelligent risks” and “Inspire excellence.” While the idea behind each of these is powerful, they weren’t helping people make decisions, and caused more confusion than clarity. How do you define what an intelligent risk is, and if it’s intelligent, is it actually a risk? Similarly, excellence is hard to define, and it’s not always the goal – as a team, we want to focus on progress.
As we thought about how to bring clarity around these we had an aha moment. There’s a phrase cited frequently across LinkedIn as a value, but that actually was never codified as one. “We dream big, get things done, and know how to have fun!” (more about the history here). This phrase exists everywhere across our company – from mugs, to t-shirts, to walls across our offices. It’s often cited as a reason people join LinkedIn. It’s become core to our DNA, and many employees say it’s their favorite value. Except it was never actually a value – until now.
When we thought about all these pieces together, we went back to the essence behind “take intelligent risks” and “inspire excellence.” The intent of taking intelligent risks is dreaming big, and the intent of inspiring excellence is getting things done. And we do it all while having fun. So it made complete sense to make one of our most beloved values (which wasn’t actually a value) official.
I ran this idea by Jeff Weiner for his feedback, and his first reaction was that this was cheating. These are three values, not one. Except the power of this venn diagram lies at the singular intersection. We value people, efforts, and teams that sit in the intersection of “Dreaming big, getting things done and knowing how to have fun.”
With that framing, we both agreed this becomes one of the most powerful, aspirational, and logical moves we could make.
With those three opportunities for clarity addressed, and the rest of our values remaining unchanged, we ended up with our enhanced Culture and Values:
At the end of the day, a company’s Culture and Values is not about the words on the walls or on the company swag. It’s about the thousands of decisions they make as a team on a daily basis using these shared values. It’s about how they aspire to make the world a better place even in the face of all of this change.
I encourage other leaders to revisit their company’s Culture and Values. It’s an opportunity to make sure they’re relevant, applicable and as clear as possible in this new world of work.
Ryan Roslansky is the CEO of LinkedIn.