Creating the AMBOSS values


An interview with Meike Schmidt

How did you come to the decisions to create values for AMBOSS?

We have been pretty hesitant to write anything down in the past, asking ourselves if this is something we really need. Aren’t values just the next hipster thing every young company needs to flaunt to the outside world to seem so very unique, but actually just saying the same thing everyone else is?

For the longest time although we grew quick at times we didn’t see a necessity for values. The lived values were an integral part of our company culture. New joiners just came on board, saw everyone living these unwritten values, helping newbies soak them up and live them right away. That worked well enough because the people in charge of the hiring at the time had either been with the company for a long time or they knew what AMBOSS was made of implicitly, so finding a cultural fit wasn’t all too hard.

So, did we decide to create values? No – they existed all along. We just decided to write them down.

What made you decide to put your company culture into words then?

Three things in combination, really: Our quick growth over the past year, hiring senior talent who would be responsible for hiring themselves and the COVID-19 pandemic on top as the final trigger to put things into words. It became difficult to instill our lived culture into the groups of monthly new joiners once most of our office operations were done remotely. On top of that, our fresh senior hires that in turn were going to hire more people themselves also lacked the typical AMBOSS experience, so we figured it was important to produce a language we can use to talk about our culture – even though AMBOSS-culture will always be much more than whatever we were about to write down.

What method did you decide on using?

To be frank, we didn’t have an idea or plan in the beginning and didn’t take time to familiarize ourselves with different methodologies -instead the plan really grew with the task. We first looked into the values we already had from two years ago, when we decided to write something down for the first time. Developing our new values from there seemed like the smartest choice at the time and we formed a loose team between HR, OPs and the C-Level to mull over our first drafts.

We didn’t do a structured interview including all employees, because that would have also included a lot of the new joiners that we actually wanted to support with our values and we were not convinced to get the right data out of it. Instead, we involved a cross section of employees from different departments for input on the matter and took down what they had to say.

How did the process come along?

We soon ran into a few roadblocks as tangible results kept eluding us, so we formed a fix work group between HR, OPs and C-Level to define who we thought as movers and shakers at AMBOSS. What do these people represent? Why do we celebrate them and what are their traits? This included senior people, single contributors and also employees who had recently joined AMBOSS and really impressed us. We took these examples and dove deeper into this cross-section of our company, which produced great results.

The list with raw data of all the traits collected among our employees were summarized under headlines and introduced to the Management-Round (Pacemaker). This is when it became clear that we’re not all using the same vocabulary – what are values, what are principles? We had long winded discourses about this, effectively running in circles. But I’d say it was necessary to really clarify our ideas. We figured though we had to go back one step and re-think it again.

Now we had a long list of traits, but that made it difficult, because depending on the department, the values also seemed to differ a little – our engineering team values other things than, for example, our medical team. So I sat down with our CEO Madjid every day for an hour to circle in on the DNA of what’s AMBOSS. At times we would invite people for their input or just run it by employees to get a feel if we are on the right track and we finally came to a point where we were able to narrow our DNA down to three precise statements:

  1. We are generous people and team players
  2. We are substance over style (“Mehr Sein als Schein”)
  3. We are hungry for impact

How have the values been received so far?

I’m happy to report we got overall very positive feedback. Some departments were very quick to incorporate the values to evaluate work and to even pin-point certain pain-points within teams – it’s become a very useful tool to start a conversation.

Of course, we plan on an even better communication further down the line, to really help everyone understand what these values are and mean to us. One new-joiner actually approached me, feeling the values were based on implicit behaviour she is not yet familiar with – again, COVID-19 and the lack of any office culture at the moment is really playing into this, as values are really just a small part of the culture. This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable for us, so this is something we hope to flesh out even further in the future as it was always meant to be dynamic, seeing further improvements down the road.

We will also use the values during our hiring process and make things a bit easier for our Recruitment Team to find the cultural fit we’re looking for. We haven’t introduced standardized interview questions here, but it’s likely to happen in the future and I’m looking forward to these values further serving the development of AMBOSS culture – no matter if on site or remote.