Engineering our Culture

by Thiemo Gillissen

TL;DR: We took some time off to rethink how we work and put together a manifesto — the operating system that powers our company.

2016 is going to be a big year for Fifteen Seconds. Our festival will be the biggest so far with 3.000 people traveling to Graz. Global leaders from brands like The New York Times, RedBull, BuzzFeed, Shazam and the Washington Post, to name a few, already joined our line-up of speakers. Behind all of this, is a team of eight working full-time.

Every once in a while, we try to zoom out of our daily-routines and tight schedules to look at things we can improve on a meta level. We found that a lot has happened since we founded in 2012. Back then, it was quite a different company. We’ve matured and we’ve learned a lot on the road.

We decided that it was about time to dedicate some energy on writing down things that seemed clear to us from the very beginning, but weren’t implemented at full into the DNA of the company. As new people joined our company, we found that this was notably missing.

What we came up with is what we call our Manifesto. It is designed as an internal document, but we thought it made sense sharing parts of it, as it could be valuable to others as well.

Our Fifteen Seconds Manifesto

What is a Manifesto?

By definition, it’s a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer. A set of shared beliefs, values and practices.

Why would we want a manifesto? Because culture happens. Whether planned or not, all companies have a culture. So why not create a culture we love?

We believe a healthy culture empowers and enables people to do their best work and helps the company evolve and achieve its mission. Look at this manifesto as the operating system that powers Fifteen Seconds.

Its purpose is to function as an on-boarding handbook for new employees, as well as a reference for the whole team.

Our core values and the 7 principles

We have developed seven principles that all pay into empowering every team member to take responsibility, which is our top priority. These principles are based on being able to embrace failure, reflection and self-improvement. At the same time, they showcase our expectations for working at Fifteen Seconds and we encourage every team member to constantly improve them. We also use these as metrics to evaluate and reflect on each one’s work on a regular basis.

We favor autonomy and take ownership.

Our top priority value in our culture

  1. Work smart.
    We expect you to work towards goals, not checkmarks on your task list. We want you to assess, prioritize and challenge your work on efficiency. Get stuff done, but be resourceful and always look for leverage.
  2. Write it down.
    Turn implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge, so everyone working with and for you can relate and challenge processes and solutions at any time. Our knowledge base is the team’s best friend.
  3. Never stop learning.
    Foster your skills. Take two hours every week to learn something new. Tell us about what you learned and how you can use the newly acquired know-how. A smarter you results in a better company.
  4. Accomplish home runs.
    Think and execute projects for the sake of the result, not the initial idea nor the journey. It’s not how you start that’s important, it’s how you finish.
  5. Make commitments.
    Reliability is at the core of our values and the basis for the firm’s and everyone’s individual growth. Do what you announce and always try to exceed expectations.
  6. Bring up solutions.
    Don’t ask someone else how to do it, rather come up with your best solution or recommendation and be able to debate it. Use good judgement, consider proven success and invest some time to research, then present it.
  7. Thrive for excellence.
    Go one step further and try as hard as you can to achieve things that feel, read or work great rather than good. Strive to do better, it will pay off.

What else?

Furthermore, there are things you can hardly embed into a system like the above, but are still crucial for us:

  1. We pay for values, not hours. You should be the judge when it comes to free time, vacation and time in the office.
  2. Life comes first. Work hard. Rest hard. We aim to create an environment worth living. Your personal well-being is important for the success in your role. We value waking up fresh over working that extra hour. Aim to be fully engaged in an activity, otherwise rest.

I’m excited to hear your feedback on this!

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Thiemo is 22-year-old self-taught, multi-disciplinary Austrian entrepreneur, he co-founded
Fifteen Seconds, a company that lives at the intersection of business, innovation and creativity, challenging the commercial future, hosting Europe’s most inspiring leaders at the annual festival for curious minds in Graz.