There are a few things I can count on when I tell someone about what it’s like to work at Buffer.
If I stick to talking about what our social media scheduling tools do, I know I’ll probably have a fun conversation about the triumphs and challenges of social media.
If I talk about Buffer’s culture and values a bit, a whole different conversation emerges. I’ve gotten a wide variety of reactions as I explain our transparent salaries and equity, how we focus on positivity every day and our continual quest to improve ourselves.
But when I explain the “why” behind some of these crazy-sounding ideas, oftentimes heads start to nod and eyes light up. It’s a unique privilege to work at a company that is guided by a true culture and set of values, and to be able to share our culture with others whom we meet along the way.
Having some of these conversations made me realize that it might be fun to offer a guided tour of each of our 10 core values here on the blog.
Buffer’s 10 values
First, it might be handy to know where the Buffer values came from in the first place. In Buffer’s founding months, Joel and Leo read Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It had a huge impact on both of their lives—and on what Buffer would become.
Here’s how Joel describes the experience in a great post about the many books that have influenced his life:
“When I introduced my co-founder Leo to the book in the earliest few months of Buffer, he, too, was hooked and we had endless conversations and discussions around the stories and principles. He helped me grow as a person much more than I could alone, due to his excitement and interest of the How to Win Friends way. The result of this has been that we have based a large number of the values within the Buffer culture directly on the principles Carnegie proposes.”
Joel and Leo already knew they wanted to build a different type of company that focused not only on the progress of the product, but also the happiness of its users and team and personal growth during the journey. How to Win Friends became the conduit to this unique culture and is the source of many of our 10 values.
Now, here’s a bit more about each value, how we on the Buffer team try to live it and how it has affected our work and our lives.
1. Choose positivity
I think maybe this value more than any of the others might seem “too good to be true” when you think about a real-life workplace. Could everyone at Buffer really be happy every day? Well, not every day—and that’s OK.
What we can do every day is try to approach every situation with the most positive outlook and intentions, assuming the best of every person we come into contact with. And it turns out that when you do that, the rest tends to fall into place.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not fully recharged and truly happy throughout my workday, thanks to this cornerstone value and the way it shines through each team member. They all continually inspire me, and I’ve seen the ripple effect of this in every area of my life.” – Nicole
If you’ve talked with a Buffer team member via email or social media, you may have noticed that we strive to keep positivity central in all our conversations, no matter how small or innocuous the exchange may seem. I have to admit that early on in my time at Buffer, I didn’t always grasp the importance of this. I am grateful to have received feedback about keeping positivity top of mind because this value truly has the power to change your life.
“This one has changed the way I communicate with everybody in my life, in texts, emails and regular old conversions. I am particularly mindful about written communications, making sure nothing is lost in translation. I choose to stay positive in all of my communication and interactions with people now, being mindful that positivity begets positivity.” – Tom
Positivity in all things isn’t always possible, but striving for it in as many ways as we can creates an extremely harmonious workplace and a very happy group of people—both at work and outside of work.
“This had made a massive impact on how I live my life and my happiness level. I’ve become much more aware in how I look at the world around me, people I meet for the first time, how I communicate and how I approach any given situation. The general feeling of positivity in all team communication and also in Sqwiggle is a constant inspiration and I always start and end my day smiling and feeling incredibly grateful for being part of this team.” – Åsa
2. Default to transparency
Our value of transparency might be the one Buffer is best known for. Every team member can see every email that’s sent at Buffer. We’ve made public our salaries, equity, metrics, weekly improvements—even our latest funding round.
One of my favorite of our transparency projects is Leo’s recent dig into exactly where your money goes when you purchase a Buffer subscription.
“I love the transparency value because of how it supports the self-improvement value. It could be very easy to keep these efforts to ourselves. Instead, by being transparent with each other about our self-improvement, it amplifies all of our efforts and allows us to truly embrace and lean into conversations about improving our routines, hobbies and character. This transparency allows us to encourage each other and base our conversations, and thus our culture, on self-improvement. It also means that we can open up these conversations to all friends and followers of Buffer and hear their improvements as well!” – Carolyn
We continue to practice this one by actively seeking out new insights into our processes, team and ideas that we can share with you here on the blog and elsewhere. (Got ideas? I’d love to hear them!)
Why do we do all of this? I think Joel sums it up quite well with this quote:
Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork.
That trust is not just for us who build Buffer; it’s for anyone we touch—whether you use our social media tools, read our blog, participate in our community or are just hearing about us for the first time.
Our latest journey into finding better, more productive ways to work together revolves around bringing our “whole selves” to work—our passions and side projects, our family, our pets, our obligations and joys, all of it! This change is likely to guide us into as-yet-undiscovered areas of transparency, and I look forward to sharing them with you here!
3. Focus on self-improvement
On a practical, day-to-day level, self-improvement is the value that I believe has made the biggest difference in my life since joining Buffer. Without a genuine want to improve one’s self, it’s nearly impossible—or at least really hard—to make real progress on the rest of the values.
The biggest way you might see us practicing this value is through the weekly document we share in which we list our improvements for that week, often with notes of encouragement from other teammates underneath.
We also support one another in our self-improvement goals in our daily pair calls. Having someone to talk to every day about your goals and challenges is great for accountability, and for a bit of extra encouragement! It’s amazing how often my pair partner has gone through something very similar to what I’m working on and has a unique vantage point to offer advice and cheer me on.
While we each work on our specific projects, there are a few self-improvement goals that are nearly team-wide. Upon arrival to Buffer, each teammate receives a Jawbone UP and a Kindle Paperwhite, among other unique office perks. These are a great way to keep up with our exercise, our sleep and our reading habits—all of which support both the values of self-improvement and working smarter, not harder.
It’s such a privilege to be given the freedom and responsibility to improve your mind, body and spirit in the course of your work journey. And the Buffer crew is an inspiring bunch. It’s not at all uncommon to see folks working on learning new languages, running marathons and writing books (yes, books plural!)
“When I started at Buffer I was so inspired by the culture of self-improvement, I dug in and did things I’d been wanting to do for many years. I took French lessons to revive my high-school language skills and took my first ever piano lesson! It was amazing to have the support and encouragement of the team and finally make these long term dreams come true! I spent an incredible week in Paris this Summer, and being able to talk to people in French was great!” – Dave
I used to look at people who had accomplished amazing things (often at young ages) and marvel at how they did whatever inspiring thing they did. Now I realize that I (and anyone!) can do inspiring things, too, through building good habits that turn into achievable goals. I feel that Buffer’s value of self-improvement is very much to thank for this epiphany.
4. Be a no-ego doer
The value of removing ego from your work makes a very big difference in the way we go about our work at Buffer. Leo wrote a really great, inspiring post recently about ego that’s worth a close read as we explore this topic.
One of the best examples I can offer up of how we strive to work without ego is in the process of the “5 Whys,” a question-asking technique used to root out the underlying cause of any particular challenge.
In the process, you repeat the question “Why?” five times, each time drilling down further to the core of the problem. When all the “whys” have been asked, the solution tends to become surprisingly clear.
At Buffer, we have conducted 5 Whys for many sorts of situations: when a tool breaks unexpectedly, when our blog search traffic plummeted, even for a challenging conversation that could have gone better.
When I first started at Buffer, I had the absolutely backwards idea that I hoped to never be involved in a 5 Whys because it would mean that I had probably messed something up pretty bad and would be in big trouble.
But after almost a year here, I can say there are quite a few things that I have messed up pretty bad, and I’ve learned to view them in a completely different light because of our “no ego” value and the 5 Whys process.
Because the purpose of the 5 whys is never to place blame on a person, but rather to uncover the root cause of why something unexpected occurred and to create the right framework so that the same issue doesn’t happen again (for everyone).
And when you look at it that way, discovering mistakes is a great thing to do. The more I discover, the more and faster I can improve.
It’s a small example of how removing yourself—your fears, your pride—from the work you do leads to a better, more productive experience for you and everyone around you.
“This one feels really special to me. I see this one a lot from our engineers who build really cool features, quickly fix up bugs for our customers or build something to help out just one customer. I feel so lucky in my role to get to spread the good news and be on the receiving end of joy for features our engineers have crafted. I am humbled by our engineers dedication to our customers!” – Mary
When we work with no ego, there is no fear of failure, no turf wars, and no need to cling to an idea that isn’t working just because it has your name attached to it. In fact, your name is never attached to any idea at all, so it can be freely adapted, expanded or improved upon by anyone!
5. Listen first, then listen more
Being a truly great listener is a topic that could fill a million blog posts. It encompasses so much: Being truly interested what is said (without focusing on what you’ll say back), listening for the deeper meaning of what has been said, asking the right questions to move the conversation forward and so much more.
“I thought I was a good listener before exploring this value! It’s such an amazing experience to approach conversations with the goal of understanding, both factually and empathically. I’ve also noticed something really special happen as I’ve shifted my language away from instructive or absolute words like “definitely” or “certainly.” Not only do I find it much easier to shift my perspective when I am wrong, I’ve seen other people take the opportunity to jump in with their own unique perspective and teach me a new (and usually better!) way of looking at things.” – Patrik
I quite agree with Patrik here. Even though my background is in journalism, where listening and asking questions is a hugely important skill, I have learned so much more in my time at Buffer as I watch all my teammates dive deeply into the practice of this value.
It’s also really cool to see how the various values begin to bleed into and affect one another at this point. For example, one great way to practice listening is through ego suspension—for example, giving up that great story you long to tell in exchange for asking more questions of your conversation companion instead.
Gratitude (another Buffer value we’ll get to in a bit) tends to make it much easier to forget your own ego and needs and focus on really hearing the other person. So this value has a ton of other values hidden within it!
One of the biggest inspirations I can think of when it comes to living this value daily is the work that our Happiness Heroes do and the spirit in which they do it. The gratitude they display is always amazing to behold, and it creates the kind of empathy that brings us so close to all our wonderful customers.
A tiny peek at Buffer’s Tone Guide offers a great example:
6. Have a bias toward clarity
Working hand-in-hand with great listening comes the value of clarity. This one is mostly focused on how we communicate with other team members, customers—really, with anyone!
“This has been a big one for me, and is strongly related to empathy. Since I’ve been at Buffer I have been more mindful in trying to see things from the point of view of others, and then basing my communication with them from there. I have found that a lot of friction we have communicating with people is caused by misunderstanding and not understanding the context and situation they are coming from. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can communicate more clearly.” – Michael
I have to admit that I struggle with this one a bit from time to time as one of Buffer’s Content Crafters. It’s easy to think of writing as finding the perfect unique turn of phrase, or chiseling out a catchy, witty headline—essentially, being clever. I had worked on being clever for a long time (though I’m not sure if I ever actually achieved it!) before coming to Buffer.
What I eventually discovered is that focusing on clarity in one’s writing and communication is incredibly liberating. Once the urge to be the wittiest, cleverest person in the room was no longer a concern, I felt more free be vulnerable and share more of myself in my writing, and I discovered that that can be a powerful way to make a connection with our audience.
On a more practical level, focusing on clarity greatly reduces the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding between people, be it teammates of Buffer community members. Since Buffer is a product used across the world, and we are a fully remote, global team, it makes things much simpler—and therefore, happier—to focus on clear communication.
7. Make time to reflect
What a privilege it is to have time to reflect as a team-wide goal and company value.
Have you ever been so busy with small, sometimes fairly unimportant tasks that you weren’t able to look up from what you were doing and dream bigger, more strategic, more creative thoughts? I have been very guilty of this before! It’s very easy to feel busy while still not quite living up to what you know your highest and most meaningful contribution can be.
On the contrary, sometimes time spent thinking or daydreaming or reading can be viewed by others as unproductive or wasteful—when quite the opposite is often true!
One of my favorite things to do at Buffer is read through a day of iDoneThis entries and spot an entry about reflection. It’s such a tangible reminder that at Buffer, reflection time is real “work time”—and often the method by which some of our most valuable work comes to the surface.
Another excellent exercise for reflection is the weekly Buffer mastermind—deep dives into high-level challenges and accomplishments, shared with the same partner each week for the highest level of trust and vulnerability possible.
Our idea of a mastermind has evolved from the team leader-team member pairing we began with to the teammate-to-teammate version we now practice since we began experimenting with the decision maker way of working.
Before a mastermind, each team member is invited to spend a few minutes to a half hour reflecting on the previous week, its challenges and achievements. We’re paired based on similarities in our work, but the conversations are often just as much about our personal lives and improvements as they are about what we’re doing at work.
Joel and Leo recently opened up and shared some of the challenges they discussed in a recent mastermind:
The best masterminds require getting quite vulnerable and introspective as we focus on deep and ongoing self-improvement. We tend to leave these syncs feeling pretty great. :)
“I often head out on an evening around San Francisco towards the piers, giving myself a chance to think over the day/last few days, as a way to disengage and reflect—often with my camera in hand or with some quiet music playing throughout.” – Andy
8. Live smarter, not harder
“Live smarter, not harder” is one value that seems to encompass many other Buffer values within it.
And there’s one particular element of this value that feels especially inspiring: The ability to search for the place on Earth where you are the happiest and most productive.
When you have not only the license but also a bit of a challenge to find this place, some very inspiring things begin to happen.
“Just seven months after starting at Buffer, I bought a boat and starting living on it—something that would have been unimaginable just a year beforehand! There have been a few ups and downs along the way, such as not having electricity for the first couple of weeks, but overall it has been an absolutely amazing experience that I am so grateful could be kick-started by Buffer. Knowing that the team is there to support all of our decisions in how to work in a way that makes us happiest and productive is such an awesome safety net that it really encourages experimenting to do some truly wacky things!” – Colin
“Two weeks after starting at Buffer, I moved to Texas to be with someone I greatly cared about to find the place that I am the happiest. Unfortunately, this was a short stay, but I was able to continue on traveling/exploring places this summer and ended up back in New York. After a week or two back in NYC, I had re-remembered why I loved calling this place home. I have re-discovered the place I am happiest. I understand this may change over time and plan to explore further with the flexibility that Buffer gives us!” – Dan
9. Show gratitude
Talk about a life-changing value! Intentionally taking time to focus on gratitude not only makes for a truly delightful and positive workplace, it also has made my life richer and happier. Through the practice of this value, I’ve become more aware and thankful of the people and ideas that are most important to me, and more appreciative of the small but meaningful moments I experience every day. And I’m not the only one.
“Showing gratitude is one that has completely changed my life in a very positive way. Every single day I find something to be grateful for, in every place and in every moment there’s an opportunity to appreciate something beautiful about life.” – Octavio
The place I feel Buffer’s gratitude most deeply is probably in our communication to one another and with customers. You wouldn’t believe the number of kind words and thank-yous that get shared every day! It is mind-boggling to watch and learn as our Happiness Heroes discuss and iterate on even the smallest details of each customer conversation to make sure each interaction is suffused with as much gratitude and humility as possible.
“Gratitude is one those values that can easily permeate your whole life & have many compounding effects. Each moment is a blessing and when I keep that in the back of my mind, I treasure every thing that I have and try to reflect & understand the privileges I’ve been given. Even the tougher things in life become joys.” – Niel
10. Do the right thing
Our 10th value of “Do the right thing” is our newest value, added in March 2014. Since it’s so new I was around to witness its formation as a brand-new team member! I thought I would share the process with you.
Joel first proposed the value via email:
He shared a bit more about the origin of this value in a group Hackpad, including a great example of a case in which we didn’t quite live up to our ideals:
And then opened it up to anyone and everyone on the team to contribute their thoughts:
It feels like “Do the right thing” is a natural 10th value and a great extension of all our other core values. It encompasses positivity, gratitude, reflection, listening, no ego and probably a bit of transparency from time to time, too.
The way I see it, the decision to add this value into our permanent list is in itself a great example of doing the right thing.
Joel could have easily left well enough alone, figuring that our other values already in place would keep us on the right track as far as doing the right thing. But he did the right thing by going went the extra mile to get it spelled out permanently, with input from his teammates.
The future of Buffer’s values
All together, these values are a pretty good blueprint for most situations one might face in life—or at least, that I’ve faced so far.
You could spend a lifetime working on just one of them, so it’s a hugely exciting challenge to work on all 10 of these ideas together as a team, supporting, inspiring and encouraging one another along our journey.
Do any of us ever go 10 for 10? It’s probably pretty rare. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve attained the highest level possible in any one of these values. In fact, we often talk at Buffer about how these are aspirational values, but that just gives us more chances to keep trying.
It’s really exciting to think about how Buffer’s values will grow and evolve as our team grows in size, diversity and experience. These values definitely aren’t set in stone. They’re a continual work in progress, having already been revised four times. I have no doubt that more changes are on the way just as surely as Buffer itself will change along its journey!
If you enjoy our values and might like to be reminded of them more often, one of our amazing teammates built the Buffer Values New Tab Chrome extension that replaces the standard new tab page with one of our values!
Do you have any questions or thoughts about Buffer’s 10 values? What values have shaped your work and life? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!