Why We Dropped “Fun” as a Core Value

GrooveHQ
Share article:

And how, as a result, we’re having more fun than ever.

“Have fun.”

She stared at me.

“Go ahead. Just have fun.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Having fun yet?”

I was talking with my sister, Elizabeth, and she was helping me come to an embarrassing realization.

Groove’s “Core Values”—the ones I had so publicly declared to be game-changing—weren’t helping us.

In fact, they were doing the opposite.

And perhaps the most counterproductive one of all was “Fun.”

Fun as a core value is a lie

I hired Elizabeth, an experienced business coach, to help us turn things around when Groove began to stagnate.

We spent a lot of time exploring the foundation of the company: our people, our processes, and the beliefs we relied on to drive our business.

One of the first things to come under scrutiny was our list of core values.

And while the entire list got reworked—I’ll share more about this in a future post—the value she challenged me most on was “Fun”.

For starters, it was obvious that we weren’t having fun.

Does this sound like someone who’s having fun?

But this wasn’t an issue of me simply not living our core values.

It went much deeper than that.

In many ways, core values like “Fun” led us to the critical issues we were experiencing.

Choosing to work on “fun” projects at the expense of avoiding the hard, gritty, tedious ones ended up hurting our infrastructure, piling up our technical debt and stalling our growth.

Instead of structuring our team to put experienced specialists in every role with a clear leadership hierarchy, we kept our flat structure and let team members take on responsibilities they weren’t prepared for. Reorganizing didn’t sound like it would be much fun.

Instead of creating strict development guidelines and complete specs for every feature we shipped, we took a casual approach, designing on the fly and planning to ship “whenever it’s done”, resisting rules and processes because they didn’t seem fun.

Instead of getting my hands dirty and asking hard questions about why we were missing deadlines and making costly errors, I sat back and trusted the team to eventually get the job done. Detective work and discovery meetings didn’t feel like they would be fun.

Instead of recognizing when team members were no longer a great fit for their role, and then either working with them to either change their role or, if necessary, part ways, we kept everyone around, as that was a lot more fun than having difficult conversations with long-term employees.

Prioritizing the fun approach over the difficult, disciplined and results-focused one hurt our business, it hurt our team, and most importantly, it hurt our customers.

As a mature business with thousands of customers depending on us, focusing on fun was more than a mistake; it was irresponsible.

We needed to change our priorities.

Takeaway: It’s a beaten-to-death cliche, but it’s true: work isn’t supposed to be fun. It can be fun (more on that below), but trying to optimize for it from the beginning is only going to hurt you in the end.

A peek at what we changed

There have been a lot of adjustments to our business over the last year and a half.

And while changing our core values wasn’t the most actionable change, it was certainly the most fundamental, and it has influenced every subsequent change.

In a few weeks, I’ll share Groove’s new core values, and how we developed them with the benefit of experience—and specifically, the experience of doing it wrong the first time—on our side.

In short, our focus on fun has shifted to a focus on execution, doing what you do and being held accountable for results.

And today, we’re a completely different company.

Customer satisfaction is up, team morale is high, our tech is running smoothly and I’ve never been more optimistic about our future.

We’ve added new structure and processes and adopted Agile processes across the board.

Agile and organized

We’ve brought in new team members with the experience and skills to take us into the next chapter, we’ve parted ways with team members who weren’t a fit for our vision, and we’ve promoted leaders from within.

We’ve built out dozens of new processes and workflows that help us make progress every day toward our goals.

And guess what? 

We’re having a lot more fun now.

Takeaway: Our business has gone through many changes to restart our growth. Rethinking our core values was the foundation for all of them.

Succeed to have fun, not the other way around

It turns out that the “fun” we were trying to inject into our business was within our reach all along.

It just didn’t look like fun from a distance; it looked like difficult, deep work that moved us toward long-term goals, rather than short-term projects that were “fun” today.

Now we’re having A LOT of fun, because…

Getting emails from grateful, excited customers is fun.

Seeing team members develop into better versions of themselves is fun.

Hitting development milestones within the timelines we set in our product roadmap is fun.

Having our leadership team working in sync with one another is fun.

Watching our key metrics improve with every month of hard work is fun.

We used to have “Fun Fridays” when we just got on a Zoom call and talked about whatever came to mind. Now we have “Friday Wins” where we talk about our wins from that week… and it’s much more fun.

As it turns out, succeeding is a lot more fun than anything else in business ever could be.

Takeaway: Doing the hard work that your customers deserve will rarely be fun. But the resulting outcomes can be the most fun you’ll ever have at work.

Focusing on fun is short-sighted

I know that many entrepreneurs will disagree with me on this.

Too many influencers build their brands on “making work fun” for this post not to be controversial.

They’ll say things like “life’s too short to not have fun at work”.

But having been on both sides, I now believe that fun is a deeply short-sighted priority. 

Life’s too short, that’s true. 

But I’d rather have my short life filled with periods of hard work punctuated by intensely fun wins, rather than front-loading small bursts of fun and then paying for it with failure.

Alex Turnbull
Alex Turnbull Alex is the CEO & Founder of Groove. He loves to help other entrepreneurs build startups by sharing his own experiences from the trenches.