The Holstee Manifesto, written by Dave Radparvar, Mike Radparvar & myself many years ago.

Why turning values into tangible practices matters, especially for communities.

Over the last few months, my perspective on the role of values within an organization has shifted, and much of it has been influenced by conversations with my friend Michel Bachmann — thank you Michel!

Values are powerful

For the last 15 years I have come to realize the tremendous power of building organizations, and especially communities, based on strong values.

This view was informed by my experience building Sandbox, where I have always felt and continue to feel that our values are a key differentiator from other groups. When I hear people talk about what makes Sandbox special for them, the often talk about how it makes them feel, how people show up, how people treat each other. That didn’t happen by accident: we the co-founders over the years tried to consistently role-model a certain behavior and infuse values into the group. But for a long time, the values weren’t written down and mostly a fuzzy feeling. Only recently, current members co-created a new Sandbox manifesto and turned it into a beautiful video:

And I was even more influenced from building Holstee. When we started the company, my two co-founders – Dave and Mike Radparvar — and I sat down and we tried to capture what success would mean for us in non-monetary terms and we captured it all in the Holstee Manifesto. We imagined the manifesto to act as our guiding Northstar, the reminder of our strongest beliefs and principles.

The Holstee Manifesto: Lifecycle Video (from 2011)

Little did we know that it would also become our best brand building tool: so many people and organizations have reached out to Holstee over the years and connected with us in many ways: as fans, supporters, brand ambassadors, customers, advocates, co-workers, story tellers, …

Clearly, having strong organizational values is powerful.

From values to practices

But what I have come to realize is that defining your values, writing them down and making them very present in your organization is only the first step.

The second step is to take those values and turn them into practices:

  • How can we live our values in an ongoing, repeatable, tangible way?
  • What action can we take everyday that reflect our values?
  • How can we create avenues and roles for other people to live the values in small, simple, tangible ways?

This matters for long-term & scale

Both at Sandbox and at Holstee, we role-modeled and lived these values, which then infused other parts of the organization. But as I think about how to create organizations, and especially communities, that do not depend on the spirit of any specific co-founders or leaders, it is so crucial to codify the values in practices. This will allow the values to spread much further and to stay consistent over time.

Practices matter, because they will help provide answers to the following questions;

  • Values are text, abstract, words. What do they mean in real life action?
  • How will the values continue to thrive once founders have left?
  • How will the values reach people that will never meet a person from the organization’s core?
  • How will I know — as a new member — how I’m supposed to show up?
  • How can we allow the values to scale and exist over time?

I’d love to hear what you think about this — and I’m curious to learn about any examples of organizations that have turned their values into strong practices.