As a company that has services in high demand, one of the biggest challenges we face here at Blue Array is with scaling a team. Of course, it can be difficult to find people to fill the roles in the first place. But that’s not the real challenge.
The real challenge is making sure we find the right people to fit within our team.
Back in August 2016, when I first joined Blue Array, there were just five of us sat around a single bank of desks in a co-working space at Grow in Reading’s Green Park. Fast forward just over two years, and we have an amazing, talented team of 20 employees, camped out in a modern office space in central Reading. And we’re recruiting more intensively than we ever have.
Whilst the journey to this point has been amazing, increasing our staff numbers 300% in the space of two years has mainly been a challenge as we’ve always wanted to maintain the supportive, collaborative culture that we had when we were that tiny team back in 2016.
Not only that, we have big plans to keep on growing further. So the big challenge we face right now is maintaining our culture as we become, 50, 100, perhaps 150 people at some point in the next few years.
Why we decided to establish our values
Part of the interview process for anyone looking to join Blue Array involves diving into situational scenarios; essentially these ask candidates to explain how they would deal with issues that may typically present themselves working in our type of environment. I always find that the answers to these very open-ended questions are a great way to gain insight into someone’s behaviours, ideals and their own personal values.
I’ve always been a strong believer that the behaviours of an individual are just as (if not more) important then their technical skills and knowledge. Knowledge and skills can be acquired relatively easily. It’s often a lot more challenging to completely change the behaviours that someone has pre-instilled.
Great teams are built on trust, on strong relationships and the ability to collaborate effectively. There’s little point recruiting an individual with bags of experience and/or knowledge if they’re not going to fit seamlessly into our close-knit team.
So in July this year we decided that we should, as a team, try to define a set of core values that would unite us in a shared vision, identity and way of working.
How we established our values
As a team I think we’ve always been unconsciously aware of the values that are important to us. However, we felt it was important to:
- Get our shared values down in written form, as opposed to just being there ‘in the background’, and in turn make them more ‘official’
- Establish these values while we are still a relatively small company, so we can actively use them as part of our recruitment process as we grow into a larger team
- Ensure the entire team was involved in this process from the start, so everyone felt like they had a sense of ownership of the values
Alongside recruitment, our values will help guide our decisions in other areas of the business, and we want to make sure they are visible externally too. For example, they can help us with making decisions around which clients to work with, and with the career progression of our employees.
As mentioned earlier, we wanted to ensure that we involved every single member of the team in the process of forming our values.
However, I’ve always found that, when running big group sessions, some people prefer not to speak out loud. As I wanted opinions from every single member of the team, I instead opted to carry out a brainstorm using post-it notes. This allowed everyone time to think and perhaps, due to the anonymity, provide opinions that were far more personal to them.
So, after gathering the team in our breakout area I set a couple of tasks where they would each jot down single words on the post-it notes describing:
- What they felt Blue Array stands for, deems as important, and makes us unique (for 5 minutes)
- Describing traits they like in people they work well with, or characteristics of those people they’d like to adopt themselves (for 3 minutes)
When the time was up I then asked everyone to stick their responses around the office, including across the windows and the glass walls of our meeting room.
‘Clustering’ the responses
It was amazing to see the response and thought given to the task – over the course of the 8 minutes, the team created 209 individual post-it notes!
The team were split into two groups – group one were tasked with ‘clustering’ the set of post-its created during the “What does Blue Array stand for” task, and group two responsible for doing the same with the post-its formed from “People I like to work with” task.
Each group were asked to place the same/similar-meaning words close together to instantly form some common themes. One person from each group was then responsible for explaining to everyone else the themes that had been formed.
It was already clear to see that, despite asking for the opinion of approx 20 people, a number of common themes had emerged, demonstrating the shared feeling for working at Blue Array and the traits of people that the team enjoy working with.
This goes back to my earlier comment about us unconsciously sharing beliefs and values already, and hopefully shows we’ve done a fairly good job in recruiting people that can contribute to that shared culture!
Analysing the responses
After making sure photos were taken of each ‘group’ of post-it notes, I then added each of the responses (i.e. every word from each post-it note) individually to a spreadsheet, along with the group/theme it has been assigned to.
With the big list of words the team had created I formed a word-cloud to show all of the responses that had been created across both tasks…
It was clear that some common words and themes we already starting to shine through.
I then wanted to analyse the responses given at the ‘cluster’ level, so I aggregated the number of responses that had been given in each initial group.
With 15 potential values being formed here, and with definite crossover of certain groups, I merged the themes that contained similar sentiments to form larger clusters of responses.
This left us with five major groups to form our values from…
Defining our values
The largest combined ‘cluster’ consisted of words related to people, specifically about being friendly and supportive.
Here’s what the responses looked like in a word cloud:
Although the cluster contained a lot of words, it was easy to see the most common responses given by the team, and how they related to each other; particularly ‘Supportive’, ‘Friendly’, ‘Open’, ‘Empathetic’ and ‘Approachable’.
Using the words that stood out from the rest, the value was then created under the word that described this group best – Supportive.
The value description read:
“We are supportive and offer an environment that encourages the development of everyone around us. We ensure we’re always open, approachable with a friendly and empathetic attitude.”
We have a team made up of friendly people who are completely willing to support each other through difficult situations – and that’s not just our in work problems, but also issues that extent outside of the office. And whilst we have our ‘heads down’ moments in the office where it can go very quiet, nobody is afraid to approach anyone else if they need to ask a question or get some advice. The best thing, particularly for a quickly growing company, is that there’s no politics or competition amongst staff, and everyone genuinely wants each other to do well.
I then repeated this process for the four other clusters. Here’s the words within the cluster for ‘Communication/Confidence/Skills/Dedicated’:
The standout word here was Confident, which helped form our next value (with the addition of other words from the cloud):
“We are confident, though not arrogant, in our communication to clients and each other. Our confidence is formed through years of combined experience and a shared ambition to be the very best in the industry.”
We know we have some amazing SEO specialists working for us, and the recommendations we create can genuinely have a major, positive impact for our clients. For that reason, there’s every reason for us to be confident when we speak to our clients, and actually, they almost always prefer us to be that authoritative source of information and guidance that they have enlisted us to be. At the same time, we are aware of and accept our limitations, and are therefore always humble and are comfortable admitting our mistakes – arrogance is not a trait that we want to adopt.
The next group looked at the words given in the ‘Honesty/Transparency’ cluster:
The value formed for ‘Honest’ read:
“We are honest with our clients and with each other. We build relationships formed on transparency, trust & integrity which extend beyond revenue or profit.”
This is undoubtedly one of Blue Array’s most important values – we have always believed that honesty, openness and transparency is far more important than making more money. For example, if we don’t believe there is an opportunity for a client to genuinely benefit from an increase in our time, or if there’s a particular strategy that might boost our revenue but isn’t going to reap a reward for our clients, then we would rather not go down that route. This is the only way we can build long-lasting relationships. Honesty also extends to our colleagues, and we’ll happily provide constructive feedback to each other if we feel it’s beneficial, or admit our own weaknesses in a bid to increase our knowledge.
Next we looked at the ‘Specialists/Experts/Innovators/Thought Leaders’ group. Whilst the standout word here was ‘SEO’, this didn’t really relate to a value per se.
However the second biggest word, Focused, did, and tied back well to how we position ourselves as a business, being that SEO is all we do. For that reason we have used the following to describe this value:
“We are focused obsessively on SEO, believing it’s far better to be specialists, not generalists. Only offering best-in-class SEO expertise makes us unique and sets us apart from other agencies.”
We have always believed that it’s better to offer our clients an amazing, specialist service rather than try and be a jack of all trades. Our aim is to be the very best at what we do and despite the clear temptation in terms of expanding the business in other areas, we never plan to diverge from our core offering. We often find that the people who want to come and work for us have realised the same in their own careers too, and know that it’s going to benefit their own development to be an expert in a particular area.
The final cluster of words related to ‘Collaboration/Learning’:
This cloud contained a real mixture of words, though the two that really shone through were ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Collaborative’. The words from this group were used to form the fifth and final value:
“We are collaborative, believing we work best when sharing our learnings and experiences with each other. We work in collaboration with our clients on sustainable, ongoing SEO strategies that achieve long-lasting results.”
This is a value that represents who we are internally and externally – internally we have a culture of knowledge sharing, learning and development. We are only as strong as the sum of our parts, so we make sure we are using our collective knowledge and experience to teach each other. Externally, we achieve the best results when we’re able to work collaboratively with our clients and essentially be an extension of their team. We work with marketing teams, developers, copywriters and other experts to ensure our SEO recommendations are implemented correctly and in a timely fashion, which in turn has a positive impact on their organic performance, along with their revenue.
So what’s next?
One thing I was very conscious of was the fact that actually creating our values was the easy part. The more challenging aspect is making sure that we continue to live and breathe our values every single day – with every piece of work we deliver, or in every conversation we have with our clients or each other.
The fact that everyone contributed to the creation of the values certainly helps with that sense of ‘ownership’, however there are a number of other things we’ve done to reinforce how serious we are about ensuring our values are adhered to:
- We’ve introduced an ‘Employee of the Month’ (which we’ve affectionately named BABS – ‘Blue Array Brilliance Scheme’). All employees are allowed to vote for one person on the team each month (who isn’t their direct line manager/report) that goes above and beyond in demonstrating one of the core values. This culminates in the winner of BABS being announced at our end of month all-hands team meeting. Below is Tom Pool winning our first Employee of the Month contest (looking incredibly proud with his crown and mug!).
- We’ve adorned the walls of our office with giant posters, with each poster declaring one of our values. These visual prompts act as a reminder to everyone, every day, about the values and behaviours that we have collectively agreed to live by.
Other initiatives, such as our ‘Blue Array Sessions’ (where we come together for a type of knowledge sharing ‘Lunch and Learn’, though not always set for lunchtime), as well as regular meetings and ‘peer reviews’ between our SEO Managers and SEO Executives help promote collaboration, honesty, support and confidence amongst the team.
Of course, this underpins a large part of our recruitment and interview process – if you’re coming for an interview with us any time soon, expect us to be throwing some questions based on our values your way!
You can find out more about Blue Array’s values here.