Company values are important: they can define a company and its brand, help communicate corporate identity and keep everyone aligned with the agreed strategic directions. If done well, they have a direct impact on core activities, shaping the way everyday work is being done at the company.
We at Codecool have been trying to follow 4 simple values for years in our everyday work:
- Courage – to explore new things and push limits.
- Transparency – sharing information and expressing ourselves, not just when comfortable.
- Quality – in whatever we do.
- Fun – to also enjoy what you do, so that you become even better at it.
But words are just words. They may sound cool, and we may check out an invisible to do list with them as any serious organisation that should have a list of core values does. But if there is no action behind them, they mean nothing.
So the tricky part about values is not even defining them – especially that you better define them based on what you really believe in and what you actually do. It’s much more challenging to be always true to our values. How to apply them in different situations, with everyone and at all times. Even when it would be faster, cheaper or simpler to just not bother.
We follow our values in internal processes and ceremonies, among ourselves “in the background”, the way we talk to each other and do our daily work. We follow them when we meet external parties, like our business partners, and they experience them first hand, too, when they welcome graduate Codecoolers in their organisations. And that’s because we also follow these values when we work together with our students, in the way we facilitate their learning and help them restart their lives in brand new tech careers.
But how exactly do we apply our core values in our training and make them work for everyone impacted?
Let’s dive in.
1. Courage: We step out of our comfort zones
Having courage to explore new things and break conventions is very attractive, but failing can be scary. So pursuing new challenges comes with a price: if we want to stay true to ourselves, we can’t always go the safe way.
You can’t have innovation or deep learning without trying new things. And trying new things naturally comes with failing a few times first. On the upside: the earlier you fail, the earlier you can fix what went wrong, and with the smallest cost possible.
So we encourage learning by doing and learning from mistakes. We appreciate each failure together. We always give feedback and do a positive reinforcement on failures, as they are a valuable part of the process. For example: “It’s great, that you tried this option and found out that it doesn’t work. What have you learned from this?”
To achieve innovation and learning via natural failure, we focus on processes rather than outcomes. We aim to create a supportive, fail-safe environment, where real growth can happen, so we also focus our feedback on behaviour, not on personality traits.
For a start, our mentors (we call our trainers ‘mentors’) cultivate a growth mindset. This means that we make sure our students understand and fully believe that with a growth mindset, their skills and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Not by talent, luck, good grades from high school, or an IQ test’s result from last year. It depends on how much they believe they are capable of learning to code. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments. To achieve this, we rephrase “fixed mindset” statements. For example, instead of saying “I’m not good in solving math problems” we suggest: “You might not have found your way in solving this math problem, yet. But have you tried … ?”
Learning new things can be intimidating, too. Once in a growth mindset, we finally dare ourselves to move out of our comfort zones to change and to grow. When defining challenges for our students, we concentrate on the “learning zone“, or the Zone of Proximal Development. The learning zone is between the comfort zone and the panic zone – neither of which is a place for learning. In the comfort zone there is nothing new, but in the panic zone there’s way too much. In the learning zone, however, you have the right amount of challenges to tackle. The Zone of Proximal Development inside the learning zone is where the learner gradually moves from learning the first steps with support (of a mentor or peers) towards learning further steps without help (or without ‘scaffolding’).
During the learning process, we make sure to always go step-by-step (sometimes in baby steps). We start routinely questioning ourselves, our beliefs and ways. We turn old stones, reinvent the wheel, understand how and why things work or don’t work, and then most of the time come up with ‘lousy’ new ideas – or at times, with truly ingenious ones. And in the meantime: we analyse, we open our minds, understand how to tackle problems, grow our confidence and learn. We grow – and have a lot of fun in the process.
2. Transparency: We share and express
Transparency for us means more than just being honest. It means telling the truth at all times and sharing as much information as possible for everyone’s benefit – also with the learners during the learning process.
To support transparent communication, we first establish psychological safety, an atmosphere that facilitates mutual trust and growth. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone for admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea.
To achieve this we:
- strive to recognise our own tensions and notice tension in others, that distracts us from being present or feeling comfortable,
- communicate tensions in a way that doesn’t hurt others,
- give a context or a greater perspective about a decision or a behaviour to further enhance involvement and trust,
- organise ceremonies (sharing/syncing) outside our daily work for bringing up questions or information transparently about things experienced in various situations.
We basically set a good example by communicating transparently, also to encourage others to start communicating transparently, too.
We can use this principle in the following situations:
- We give upfront information about the trainings, workshops, etc. We don’t hide any useful information from learners. We tell everyone what will happen, when, how.
- We clarify rules, roles and expectations. Then we have a ground to say “no” to learners, if they ask something beyond our agreement.
- We consciously avoid having secrets or taboos. What, how and why the mentor/trainer does what she does? It has to be clear for everybody. For example “Why are we doing this exercise?” We give context to the learners – with careful timing of the information, so it helps their learning.
- We do regular mappings. We map out our day, the next hour, exercise and even the whole course for everyone in advance. Learners always have to understand the process and where they are in it.
- We express our feelings. When our mentor has any tension, they also express it freely. The mentor is not perfect, either, they are a human being with feelings, emotions. For example when learners don’t pay attention, the mentor expresses their feelings about the situation and then asks them to pay more attention.
3. Quality: We put extra work in providing real value
We pursue quality and craftsmanship in everything we do or expect from our students or partners.
For a start, we significantly increase quality of learning outcomes by maximising learning time efficiency through guidance, support and motivation provided by our pro mentors. As opposed to self-paced learning, instructor-led course students are much more likely to finish their studies, and to end up with usable, practical knowledge and skills they can actually implement later in a work environment. They also have much more fun.
One way Codecool mentors engage students and partners for even better result is empowerment. As a start, we define quality together and how exactly we’ll get there.
We follow the principles of subsidiarity – which may sound complicated, but it only means that we tackle problems on the lowest level where information is available to solve them. Meaning that if there is a solution available for the students already for a certain problem, based on their previous project experience, then their mentor will encourage them to find the solution themselves and will not hand it over to them.
Solution focus is a technique we borrowed from Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. It requires future-based thinking and resource consciousness and builds on the notion that “the solution doesn’t care about the problem”. Instead of analysing the problem, we analyse the preferred outcome together with available resources, and derive the possible ways to get there from “top down”, rolling it out backwards from the desired state of final outcome.
The agile methodology is a no-brainer go-to toolset to use in software development context, and we use it extensively, too. We actually go as far as to build our learning schedules around agile ceremonies, and have our students demo their projects in front of real-life “clients”, represented by our hiring partner companies every Friday, from week 1 in their learning journey.
We also believe in efficient, goal-focused meetings and learning sessions. We respect each other’s time, arrive on time and keep timeframes at all times – but that’s only one side of the story.
We start every meeting with a check-in round where we discuss how everyone feels, so that we can “arrive”, that is put outside problems behind by acknowledging them and sync the mood of the team. This may sound like an overkill or waste of time, but skipping it is just not worth the 10 minutes it saves. People tend to focus and participate more actively and efficiently after this short routine, and the time saved indirectly is a lot more than how long the whole thing takes.
We also do a check-out in the end, to share how we feel then and if there’s anything more to share, to make sure we maxed out our time spent in the meeting together.
Apart from these generic meeting routines, we also do short attendance meetings each and every morning with our students. At this meeting everyone (including mentors) answers one simple, casual random question generated by a bot (like what’s the one TV show that always makes you laugh, or who is you favourite superhero and why). We don’t react to replies, we just share and listen. The purpose is to kick-off the day on a positive tone and consciously bring in the human element into our work and learning every day, which is also a key tool for building a teal organisation with high standards for quality.
And last, but not least, we build on the 4 principles of doing by non-doing, which in our case is basically a coaching attitude pursued by mentors. The principles are the following:
- We don’t know the one single truth: The mentor/trainer doesn’t know the truth, only shares knowledge by her experience. Everyone can challenge the mentor’s or others’ thoughts, ask open questions and start a constructive debate.
- We don’t judge: We give specific feedback on behaviours, and we don’t apply labels to people.
- We don’t take over responsibility from others, especially from learners: The one who is working hard is actually learning by doing. If the mentor/trainer works hard, it means they learn a lot themselves, but not necessarily the learners. For example that’s why the mentor cannot touch the keyboard of a learner as a rule. We also say: learners should spend most of their time practicing, communicating, elaborating on a task. The main responsibility of the mentor/trainer is to facilitate learning, but the ownership is with the student – they own their own learning, for the best possible result.
- We don’t give solutions: We don’t tell the tricks and give final answers. The learning process is more important than the final answer. Our approach is coaching – we help the learners with questions, guidance, motivation.
Some people intuitively interpret ‘non-doing’ as something passive, laid back or lazy. But if no action is needed, then doing anything may already be ‘overdoing’. In fact, sometimes action can do more harm than good.
If we are growing a plant and we have created the right conditions for growth with healthy soil, sun and water, there comes a time when the very best way to ensure the growth of the plant is simply to leave it alone. More water, more sun, more fertiliser won’t help, in fact, too much of any of these may stifle the growth of the plant. We remain attentive, connected to the plant’s needs but for the time being, doing nothing is just what is needed.
We do our best not to kill our plants, but let them grow and reach their highest quality.
4. Fun: We make sure everyone enjoys the ride
Choosing Codecool is a life-altering choice for both our day-time course students and our colleagues – so we always put fun high on the list of priorities. If you enjoy something, you’ll become better at it. It’s that simple.
We do believe that learning and work can and should be a fun, light-hearted, and possibly a flow experience, too. We don’t take ourselves very seriously either. We make sure to be able to laugh at ourselves as much as possible.
Our students learn technologies and new skills via life-like, but still playful and fun project assignments, instead of boring, heavy textbooks and frontal lectures.
A fun learning experience will bring a better end result because of the positive association:
- We experience how we all (including the mentor) are just human beings. We all make mistakes, and we laugh at ourselves, together.
- We focus on the journey, the experiment of learning something new. This adventure, the discovery can be very enjoyable, genuine fun.
- We share interesting small details, fun facts, all related to the topic.
- We do more interactive, practice-oriented sessions, and fewer frontal sessions and presentations. Learners will remember the “experience” most: when they were moving, talking, practicing, laughing, etc.
That’s basically it – and of course a lot more. But listing all the ‘secret’ ingredients of our learning method and routines is just not possible in one article.
We know that every company is different, and your values at your company must be different, too – not better, nor worse, just different. Hope you found this insight to the Codecool values and our ways of working with them inspiring, and that we made you think about yours.
What core values do you have at your company? What do you do to follow them every day?
Stop and think about them sometime, and find more creative ways to be true to them. It will be well worth your time.