The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Values: Our Guiding Principles

June 21, 2017

What makes a workplace great? Your knee-jerk response might focus on salary and benefits, but we all know it’s more than that. Do you feel challenged? Are you encouraged to grow? Do you have a say in your company’s direction? Do you feel like it’s your company? Do you like your co-workers? We’ve had the goal of being a great place to work for a long time, but that can mean different things to different people. We realized that in order to actually make it happen and in turn become a stronger, more impactful business, we had to figure out what “great place to work” meant to us.

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Through discussions with our leadership, work with our human resources team and a trusted advisor, looking at the practices of businesses we admire, and a lot of feedback from team members across the company, we put who we want to be as an organization into words with our seven Guiding Principles.

Each of our Principles helps us define what we’re working to be as a company, and what we want to mean to the people who work here. In short, they’re a set of guidelines to keep us all moving in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be differences of opinion expressed. In fact, the Principles are set up to empower folks around here to do just that.

Operations Team Lead Eddie Morales making custom boxes–and saving energy and packing materials–with our Box On Demand® machine

 

We know that becoming a great place to work is like scaling a never-ending mountain, always striving to get closer to the peak and recognizing there’s continued room for growth. We’re working on building a shared understanding of how we can work together and what’s important to us as an organization, and that’s helping us move up that mountainside.

As we climb, we’re following these seven Guiding Principles:

 

This list isn’t set in stone, but it is finally down on paper (and now officially on the internet). While some of the list stems from things that already run through our company culture, we’re definitely not doing them perfectly. In some areas, we still have a ways to go. But as we stay focused on our goals, we think even the more challenging Principles will become a part of who we are as a business. Together, as customer service specialists, operations team leads, marketers, merchants, and dozens of other roles across the company, we’re working to apply these values to our daily practices, refer to them when we face challenges, and evolve with them as our company grows.

 

Former US Labor Secretary Tom Perez visited UncommonGoods during his term to discuss “conscious capitalism” and the team member experience. Photo© US Department of Labor, 2016

 

One great thing about making our Principles official is that it gives us a common language we can use to communicate the things about our team culture that we’re proud to share. In other words, it really lets us own and celebrate what we do well. For example, we’re certainly proud that We Are A Force For Good. Having the freedom as an independently owned business to commit to making a positive impact on the world through supporting causes we care about is incredibly important to our team. Since our start in 1999, we’ve worked to create positive change. As a founding B Corporation, environmental sustainability and social responsibility are at the core of what we do. We print our catalogs on FSC-certified and recycled paper, we stand up for what we believe in, and we support non-profit partners through our Better to Give Program. We’ve received recognition for sticking to this Principle through awards like the 2015 Family Values at Work Game Changer Award and several Best for NYC awards. We’re honored to accept such awards, because they not only affirm that others support our mission to be a force for good, but also help us encourage our fellow businesses to take responsibility for their social and environmental actions.

 

Our Email Coordinator, Erin Starck, volunteering with our Better to Give partner, 826 National

 

We Are A Force for Good is listed first here, but the Principles aren’t in any particular order—they’re all equal parts of the same big picture as we plan for the future. Building For The Long-Term means being well-prepared for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead. We work to stay open-minded as we introduce new products, new team members, and even new departments—like our Product Management team, which grew out of the acknowledgment that we needed to better manage the features and functions of our website. Some Principles have already proven more challenging than others. One difficult area is We Own Our Roles, because owning a role can mean different things to different people, they can conflict and can change over time. To help get alignment, our leadership and HR teams are working with team members to define our roles and develop career paths.

 

UncommonGoods artists Carrie and Patrick Frost giving our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana Rollings, a hands-on glassmaking lesson

 

Living the Principles hasn’t become second nature overnight, but enthusiasm for them did spread through our team pretty quickly. We’re delighted that so many people openly embraced these values as a way to build stronger relationships and promote personal and professional growth. As we keep working to make the Principles a part of who we are as a company, we hope they not only help our current team make decisions that positively affect our company and community, but also speak to the thoughtful individuals who shop with us, sell their products with us, and consider careers at UncommonGoods. Now that we have an outline for what it actually means, we hope we can be a great place for those folks as well.

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