Level Up Development’s Culture
What do we do?
Organizations increasingly face new challenges and competition every day in the ever-growing and changing eco-system of the connected world. They come to Level Up Development for better communication and better planning for better results to achieve greater success.
The success and forward-thinking nature of Level Up Development and its clients is achieved through a truly integrated and collaborative group of experts from Service Delivery, User Experience, Robotics, AI, Software Development, Hardware Development and Quality Assurance. Organizations can think of our team as the Special Forces of the Digital World.
This document is dedicated to our unique employee culture that nurtures such a diverse group of experts. Like all great companies, we strive to hire the best and we value:
What is special about Level Up Development, though, is how much we:
- encourage independent decision-making by employees
- share information openly, broadly, and deliberately
- are extraordinarily candid with each other
- keep only our highly effective people
- continuously seek new ways to do things better
- avoid rules
Our core philosophy is a harmony between people and process. More specifically, we have great people from all expertise working together as a sort of special forces unit. With this approach, we are a more flexible, fun, stimulating, creative, collaborative and successful organization.
Many companies have value statements, but often these written values are vague and ignored. The real values of a firm are shown by the growth and dedication of it’s people; by the growth and success of the company. Below are our real values, the specific behaviors and skills we care about most. The more these values sound like you, and describe people you want to work with, the more likely you will thrive at Level Up Development.
• You make wise decisions despite ambiguity
• You identify root causes, and get beyond treating symptoms
• You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do
• You are good at using data to inform your intuition
• You make decisions based on the long term, not near term
• You are concise and articulate in speech and writing
• You listen well and seek to understand before reacting
• You maintain calm poise in stressful situations to draw out the clearest thinking
• You adapt your communication style to work well with people from any the world who may not share your native language
• You provide candid, helpful, timely feedback to colleagues
• You provide well thought out, helpful, forward thinking feedback to our clients
• Your words and thoughts help us move forward as a team
• You learn rapidly and eagerly
• You contribute effectively outside of your specialty
• You make connections that others miss
• You seek to understand how new technologies work together and they can be leveraged to better service our existing and new clients
• You seek alternate perspectives
• You say what you think, when it’s in the best interest of Level Up Development, even if it is uncomfortable
• You make tough decisions without agonizing
• You take smart risks and are open to possible failure
• You question actions inconsistent with our values
• You are able to be vulnerable, in search of truth
• You inspire others with your thirst for excellence
• You care intensely about our clients and Level Up Development’s success
• You are tenacious and optimistic
• You are quietly confident and openly humble
• You’d like to see a better world through the use of technology
• You seek what is best for both our clients and Level Up Development, rather than what is best for yourself or your group
• You are open-minded in search of great ideas
• You make time to help colleagues
• You share information openly and proactively
• You are able to put your needs aside to understand the needs of others
• You create new ideas that prove useful
• You re-conceptualize issues to discover solutions to hard problems
• You challenge prevailing assumptions, and suggest better approaches
• You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify
• You thrive on change
• You learn from your mistakes and share those experiences
• You seek to understand how to leverage technology to make everyday activities easier
• You collaborate effectively with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures
• You nurture and embrace differing perspectives to make better decisions
• You are curious about how our different backgrounds affect us at work, rather than pretending they don’t affect us
• You recognize we all have biases, and work to grow past them
• You intervene if someone else is being marginalized
• You understand that everyone has a specialty that is equally as difficult as yours
• You are known for candor, authenticity, trust, transparency, and being non-political
• You only say things about fellow employees that you say to them directly
• You admit mistakes freely and openly
• You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you
• You accomplish amazing amounts of important work
• You demonstrate consistently strong performance so colleagues can rely upon you
• You continually grow
• You make your colleagues better
• You focus on results
• You focus on making things that are reusable
It’s easy to write admirable values; it’s harder to live them. In describing courage we say, “You question actions inconsistent with our values.” We want everyone to help each other live the values and hold each other responsible for being role models. It is an aspirational and lofty goal which needs to be worked on continuously. Realize that something that is continuous is bound to have failures. Failures toward our common goal should be expected, praised and learned from.
In describing integrity we say, “You only say things about fellow employees to them directly.” In most situations, both social and work, those who consistently say what they really think about people are quickly isolated and banished. We work hard to get people to give each other professional, constructive feedback – up, down and across the organization – on a continual basis. Leaders demonstrate that we are all fallible and open to feedback. People should frequently ask others, “What could I be doing better?” and themselves, “What feedback have I not yet shared?”
We believe we will learn faster and be better if we can make giving and receiving feedback a less stressful and more normal part of work life. Feedback is a continuous part of how we communicate and work with one another versus an occasional formal exercise. We build trust by being selfless in giving feedback to our colleagues even if it is uncomfortable to do so. Feedback helps us to avoid sustained misunderstandings and the need for rules. Feedback is more easily exchanged if there is a strong underlying relationship and trust between people. This is part of why we invest time in developing those professional relationships. We celebrate the people who are very candid, especially to those in more powerful positions. We actively help people learn how to do this at Level Up Development through coaching and modeling the behaviors we want to see in every employee.
Special Forces are people organized into small, versatile teams, called Operational Detachment Experts (ODE). Each member of an ODE is an expert in his or her Project Operational Specialty (POS.) Their specialized training and expertise allows them to operate independently within the group towards a greater project goal.
We leverage this analogy because anyone who is part of our “Special Forces” is generally expected to exercise more initiative, self-reliance, maturity and resourcefulness than any other division. They are also revered by their peers as an elite group.
The value and satisfaction of being part of our Special Forces is tremendous. Our version of “the great workplace” is not carpaccio lunches, lounge areas, fancy offices, or frequent parties. Our version of “the great workplace” is creating and training multiple special forces teams in pursuit of ambitious common goals, for which we will spend heavily. It is on such a team that you learn the most, perform your best work, challenge yourself daily, improve the fastest, and have the most fun.
To have an entire company comprised of special force teams is very challenging.
Unquestionably, we have to hire well. We also have to foster collaboration, embrace a diversity of viewpoints, support information sharing, and discourage office politics. The unusual part is that adequate performers will not do well here and that is why we have a 120 day acceptance period. We use this to continuously look for star performers. If you think of a professional sports team, it is up to the coach to ensure that every player on the field is amazing at their position, and plays very effectively with their teammates. We model ourselves on being a team, not a nuclear family. A nuclear family is about unconditional love, despite, say, your siblings’ bad behavior. A special forces team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that your teammates are always there to help you through the best and worst of things. Unlike a Nuclear Family though, we are not here to dwell on the drama of misunderstood actions.
We have no bell curves or statistical rankings. That would be detrimental to fostering collaboration, and is a simplistic, rules-based approach we do not want to support. We focus on managers’ judgment through the “keeper test” for each of their people: if one of the members of the team was thinking of leaving for another firm, would the manager try hard to keep them from leaving? Those who do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are promptly and respectfully released from their responsibilities. We can in turn spend that time on finding someone for that position that makes us an even better and closer team. Getting cut from our team is very disappointing, but there is no shame. Being on a special forces team can be the thrill of a professional lifetime.
Given our special forces orientation, it is very important that managers communicate frequently with each of their team members about where they stand so surprises are rare. Also, it is safe for any employee at any time to check in with their manager by asking, “Hey am I making the cut?” In the tension between honesty and kindness, we lean into honesty. No matter how honest, though, we treat people with respect and encouragement.
One might assume that with a special forces team focus, people would be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, it’s the opposite. We try all kinds of things and make plenty of mistakes as we search for improvement. The keeper test is applied as a judgment of someone’s overall expected contribution.
Within a special forces team, collaboration and trust work well because your colleagues are both exceptionally skilled at what they do, and at working well with others. In describing selflessness, we say “You make time to help colleagues. You share information openly and proactively.” We want new colleagues to feel very welcome and get all the support they need to be effective.
People like loyalty, and it is great as a stabilizer. Employees with a strong track record at Level Up Development get leeway if their performance takes a temporary dip. Similarly, we ask employees to stick with Level Up Development through any short-term dips. But unconditional allegiance to a stagnant firm, or to a merely-adequately-performing employee, is not what we are about.
On a special forces team, there are no “brilliant jerks.” The cost to teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that. When highly capable people work together in a collaborative context, they inspire each other to be more creative, more productive and ultimately more successful as a team than they could be as a collection of individuals.
Succeeding on a special forces team is about being effective, not about working hard. Sustained “B” performance, despite an “A” for effort, gets a respectful talk. Sustained “A” performance, even with modest level of effort, gets rewarded. Of course, to be great, most of us have to put in considerable effort, but hard work and long hours are not the only way we measure or talk about a person’s contribution.
Being on a special forces team is not right for everyone, and that’s okay. Many people value job security very highly, and would prefer to work at companies whose orientation is more about stability, seniority, and working around inconsistent employee effectiveness. Our model works best for people who highly value consistent excellence in their colleagues and challenging work.