How we updated our values (whilst being side-swiped by COVID-19) – Part 2

Scott Rogers

Scott Rogers

Product (special sauce) additive. Thinker and creator. Most comfortable with sleeves rolled up.

This is a multi-part series about how we updated our Values. In Part 1, Adam wrote about how everyone at Cogent had a voice in refining our set of values, and how some values were retained, others slightly modified, and one new value was added. Cogent’s next chapter would be underpinned by five values:

  1. Transparency
  2. Wellbeing
  3. Inclusion
  4. Meaning
  5. Evolution.

Meaning as a value came through as one of the most important to our team, but its definition was the most ambiguous. In this blog, I’ll talk about how we went about implementing Meaning, just as COVID-19 was thrust upon us!

5 Steps We Took To Implement Our Meaning Value

Step 1: Define the outcome 

Values have a strategic priority at Cogent, and in order to make our work visible to the wider company, we developed a strategic theme called ‘Live our Values’. A team was established to manage this priority and we reviewed progress at fortnightly strategy meetings. The Live our Values strategic priority was one of four business-wide priorities, and with at least a quarter of the entire focus of the business, its importance was clear. 

After some further thinking and discussion, our priority was set: 

Deeply embed and live our value of Meaning into the DNA of Cogent alongside our other values.

We already use CultureAmp to understand how staff think about Cogent’s commitment to its values, so we decided to measure success by a >90% score for Meaning. A lofty goal indeed!

Step 2: Understand what Cogent’s values mean to our people

Our values don’t exist in isolation from one another and given we had just completed a refresh we wanted to understand what Cogent’s new values meant to our people. We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to have their questions answered and thoughts expressed.

As a company of mostly remote people working for clients across Melbourne, giving everyone the opportunity to engage meant we took a remote-first approach. We established a series of deeper conversations, held over a two week period. These were open sessions dedicated to each value, hosted by the Live our Values team that anyone in the company could join – to simply listen, voice thoughts, ask questions or participate in the discussion. There was no agenda; we were happy to take the conversations wherever it needed to go.  A Slack channel was set up and each session was recorded so that anyone could asynchronously engage with the conversation.

Step 3: Explore what Meaning means to our people

Stories are a powerful way to understand people’s motivations, psychology and emotions. We were interested to get to the core of why people do what they do. We thought that by exploring what projects people have found meaningful, it would help us to craft a definition of Meaning for Cogent. 

Throughout November we asked People Managers to chat to their teams to elicit stories of meaningful work. As this was new territory for everyone, Kath developed an interview script to help scaffold the conversation. The conversations were recorded and transcribed for analysis by the team. Everybody in the company participated, leading to a deep understanding of each other and what is meaningful for Cogent people when it comes to working. We treated these stories as gifts; we were grateful for everyone’s openness and willingness to share. 

Areas of influence and topics

The diversity of topics was broad, and we realised we could plot the topics based on influence covering 5 main areas: Me, Team, Cogent, Clients, Impact/World/Users. Within these areas of influence, we defined many themes that would form the basis of ideation. 

We did a short pulse survey that showed our current score was sitting at 65%, the lowest score for any of our values. We had a long way to go but we were confident that a 90% score by the end of the financial year was an achievable stretch.

Our data set was rich. We were blown away at the depth of data that we had at our disposal. We talked about our findings at our Christmas Company Meeting and were now ready to figure out how we could embed Meaning into the DNA of Cogent when we returned from our Summer break.

Step 4: Ideate and execute in parallel

There was no doubt that the team were excited about what we had learned prior to Christmas. We had ideas swirling around our minds, and ideas were coming in from others in the company. Since our people were so integral to each step along the way, we made sure to give frequent updates about our progress. We had a simple comms plan, but we also wanted to show that tangible progress was being made as a result of their involvement. 

Throughout January and February, we continued to talk about our progress at company-wide meetings. We developed a Values Manifesto. Initially an internal document, it’s now published on our website for everyone to see and helps showcase what it’s like to work at Cogent.

In parallel to the frequent comms and the creation of the Values Manifesto, we explored the themes and ideas on how to embed Meaning – this is always the fun part. We ran workshops to explore all that we’d learned, to brainstorm ideas and figure out what to focus on, what to throw out and how we might actually get it all done.

At the time we were looking at the Live our Values strategic theme, another team within Cogent was exploring the social impact sector, and we realised the obvious overlap. We felt like we really were living our value of Meaning and that even while we were still ideating new ways to embed Meaning, it felt embedded and it felt like we were living it.

Step 5: Adapt!

Then COVID-19 hit. We had only just completed our ideation phase, but our approach to parallel doing and thinking  proved beneficial as the outside influence of COVID-19 became more and more real.

Strategic priorities were re-assessed to make sure they were relevant to our new circumstances. ‘Live our Values’ was as relevant as ever. What needed to change, however, was our focus. We changed tact and brought attention to Wellbeing. The whole company was working remotely, and the impact on personal and work lives needed to take centre stage. The objective of our team shifted to ensuring our people felt support by Cogent during these challenging times.

The importance of Meaning didn’t go away. Now, more than ever, Cogent wanted to do all we could to help.  A new strategic priority was established to Make a Difference. Our many years of work in the health and social impact sector would help create opportunities for Cogent to be involved in some incredibly meaningful work. And we knew that Cogent people would jump at the chance to work in this space.

Values really do underpin our work at Cogent. Meaning as a value guides the work we do and the way we go about it – just like the values of an organisation should.

We’re currently working alongside a world-first taskforce who synthesize COVID-19 research and data, to deliver up-to-date, evidence-based guidance to front line healthcare professionals.  We’re also working with Smiling Mind who provide tools to support mental health, particularly in young people.  The use of their app has increased by over 165% during the pandemic, and we’re helping them develop a mindfulness education platform to be used in schools across the country. You can hear more about this in our Cogent Conversations COVID-19 mini-series episode with Sarah La Roche, their COO.

Implementing and embedding Meaning has become very tangible, just not in the way we expected it might.

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