Do the Right Thing

Most technology companies shamelessly value raw brain-power at the expense of social grace, common courtesy or any sense of style. As someone who wore head-gear for his entire adolescence, I’ve embraced this approach.

Starting out as an entrepreneur, I once tried to hire an engineer who was so engrossed in the brain-teasers we had given him that he never noticed my nose had begun gushing blood in the middle of our interview (I had actually walked into a wall while gesturing wildly to my partner and mouthing “Let’s hire this freaking guy!!!”).

But since then, I’ve come to learn that there is something far, far worse than people who aren’t Math Olympians. There are people who don’t do the right thing, or care about others. No matter how hard somebody works, if his values are messed up, he’s useless to us. In fact, worse than useless: he screws up the whole company’s reputation.

Liberace Bathroom

So Redfin is taking a more balanced approach to the talent-at-any-cost mentality that drives most startups, by emphasizing values too. Starting today, Terrell Owens couldn’t get a job here. This isn’t an easy change for me; I still spend four days every fall rifling through the Stanford computer science resume book looking for the 25 highest GPAs so I can beg them to work for us (Rebecca Illowsky, you made the wrong choice!). But what I like about values-based hiring is this: anyone can have the right values. It’s just that many don’t.

The choice is yours.

Lots of people work for just a paycheck, doing only what is expected of them, with none of the gumption to understand what’s really going on and to make things better. They view any form of idealism with suspicion or embarrassment, and they try so hard to be official and corporate that they can’t have a good time. Many call themselves professionals, but never profess to put their clients’ — or anyone’s — interests ahead of their own.

We want to avoid hiring those people. Which will be tricky, as Redfin has begun to grow very quickly, hiring agents in every market we serve.

So a few weeks ago, Redfin pulled together folks from across the company — real estate agents, field agents, engineers, executives, product managers, even customers — to talk about what we valued in one another. And then we talked about how we’d act if that’s what we really valued. Here’s what we came up with:

Fire Wow Rally Genuine Honorable
Fire in the belly to change the game Delight the customer Everyone is a leader Everyone sweeps the floors Do the right thing
Mission-driven: works for more than a paycheck High-standards: goes above and beyond to deliver the unexpected Inspirational: rallies the team, rallies for the team Caring: stops to help others; doesn’t just walk by Customer-first: always puts the customer’s interests first
Take-charge: acts like an owner, regardless of title Captivating: makes it beautiful Curious: digs into root causes; attacks the disease not the symptom Humble: never says “I,” admits mistakes Transparent: tells the truth regardless of consequences
Unstoppable: finishes the job; 99% done is half-done Fun: makes people smile Fearless: bets big, tinkers constantly, fails fast, measures results Balanced: sets and respects boundaries to stay happy and healthy Respectful: treats everyone with respect
Resourceful: makes more with less

Julie Brown and Ann Rhoades, who built the customer-service organizations at Southwest and JetBlue, flew out from New Mexico to help us get through our spats and funks.

The fur really flew. We put in stuff like caring and balanced that would never have occurred to an Ahab like me, even though I could have cried hearing colleagues say how far from those values we had sometimes strayed. We stuck with idealistic terms like mission-driven despite some concerns that it was kind of a wussy value for a company that needs to turn a profit (giving people something to believe in is the only sustainable way to turn a profit).

We ditched scrappy at the last second because it reminded people of either a cartoon dog or a drunken runt who starts a fight.

And we tried to avoid the usual corporate baloney, though anything that just hangs on the wall sooner or later starts to smell that way. The only way to keep it fresh is to call out the values every day, guiding how we hire, pay and promote folks within Redfin, how we build our website and serve our customers.

Hopefully, you’ll keep us honest. If a website feature isn’t beautiful, if it isn’t does make you smile, if we aren’t completely transparent with data, call us on it. If we don’t put the customer first, and rally to get the job all the way done, scream it from the rooftops (or maybe just send us an email). The reason we published our values is so we can be accountable for upholding them. That, and to hear what you think of ‘em too… have at it!

Thanks to all the customers and employees who helped us work this out. And thanks to Janelle Saylor for suggesting this Liberace photo to personify our headline values of Wow and Fire (or was it Genuine)?

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