Culture, career and ego
When navigating through our careers, we focus usually on the content of a job. Does the job description match my skillset? What is the growth path they offer me? On the other hand, we navigate through career disappointments. All too often, ego is involved. The culture in which you need to work determines a large percentage of your professional happiness. It took me some time and a personal identity crisis to realize that the work relationships and the culture of the organization are what matters most to me.
For some reason I have always been attracted to the charm and ambition of narcistic leaders which tended to evolve negatively for me. After another ego-overdose in my career, I became conscious of this pattern and was able to break away from it. I took some time to breath. After some time reflecting, I was able to determine my personal purpose. Being a meticulous note taker, I noted down:
“I help smaller businesses to strengthen their position in the market and establish a differentiating culture. I do this by stepping into the team and taking up roles that are the most valuable to drive the team and business forward. I guide teams to become the best version of themselves and have a sustainable impact.”
I joined Sparkle several years after it was founded by Kristof. I met the founder, Kristof, years before I joined and he did not seem narcistic or ego-driven at all. On the contrary, I remembered him as wise and funny at the same time. We started working together, he treated me as a partner from the beginning and we proved to be very complementary while sharing the same vision. When I started, the group of Sparkleers (that is what we call each other) was still small, but my intuition sensed this was a beautiful team with a lot of untapped potential.
One of the first things that I did after joining was to bring clarity. Clarity in why the company exists, our core values, and what matters most to us.
I first asked Kristof about the why: why did you start Sparkle? And the answer came so quickly and naturally: “Because we need to have more fun at work”. The name Sparkle reflects very well this message. To spark professional happiness, both in ourselves as well as to our clients, suppliers and partners. We sometimes say to each other: “If we were not able to laugh one day, it is a sign we need to change something”.
Obviously only having fun does not result in happy customers or great projects. Much more is needed. Gradually Kristof explained me what it is that sparkle is doing and why we have selected our solutions strategy as it is today. You can read his article about “Why Sparkle exists and how our data solutions evolved”.
Defining our core values
Values can be very powerful. I remembered the following quote of a wise man, but I don’t remember who anymore:
“If you share values, you don’t need rules.”
Initially, I defined 12 (I believe) values as an answer to my search for Sparkle’s values. That seemed too much. Two or 3 core values should be enough to determine your uniqueness in relation to other organizations. Probably the majority of those 12 values are either basic values that are not uniquely identifying you, like respect, integrity. Or they are aspirational values, the kind you would like to have, but are not really there yet.
So, we did a little exercise. We asked several people: “Name 3 people that represent Sparkle really well and write down a handful of characteristics why you believe they do(did). Now you turn around and do the same for 3 people that are not a good fit. Write down the characteristics you believe they are a mismatch. For Sparkle, the pattern was clear. We could clearly see 3 core values appearing: Enthousiasm, humility and teamwork
Sparkle’s three core values
We deepened the meaning of each value, so people can understand what they mean in day-to-day work and can relate more to them.
Enthusiasm has several aspects to it. It stands for fun, happiness, and joy. This is our reason to exist in the professional world. There is also a sense of humor involved. We like to laugh. It makes everything much lighter and more fulfilling. Next to that, Enthusiasm means also that we are passionate about our work. We can work autonomously. We see the work without anyone telling us what we need to do. Finally, we have the curiosity & openness of a child. We are keen to find out more, curious to learn new things.
Humility is all about being able to look at something from different perspectives, besides your own. It is in essence the opposite of ego. I was of course thrilled to see this value pop up because of my personal experience. Humble people understand there are multiple truths. In daring to doubt lies the truth. There is no good person or bad person, there is just the context that leads to people behaving in a certain way.
Humility is also interlinked with wisdom and spirituality. Being able to let go of your own judgements and opinions, and truly listening to one another, leads to great things. Humility is not something you achieve once and for all, It is really like a verb, you need to actively exercise it.
Within Sparkle we like to work together. We live in a constantly changing and exceedingly complex world. We need to look at things from multiple perspectives to make good decisions. Decisions around data requires multiple people, each from their viewpoint, to be involved.
Most of the team are experts with 20+ years of experience. If you are struggling with a topic that is not your area of expertise, it is really helpful to be able to reach out to an expert colleague. It saves a great deal of time and frustration. Sharing your own expertise with customers and colleagues can be personally fulfilling and elevates your professional life.
Wisdom: Sparkle the Sage
When Wilco joined us to start Sparkle in the Netherlands, he gave us a new insight. With his marketing background he looked at Sparkle from a branding perspective and determined the branding persona of Sparkle. This is a persona to whom you can relate as a person, it can have more meaning and provide more clarity than a shallow marketing slogan. He saw a clear link with the branding persona ‘The Sage’. A sage is a wise person (not per se a man, it could be a woman!) that loves to share his/her wisdom. I realized that this is so true. Sparkleers are wise people.
How Sparkle succeeds
The next challenge was to bring clarity in how to succeed? This is a lot harder, and I will try to answer it from my personal perspective.
It is my personal believe that Sparkle succeeds by being a holistic data partner, that integrates all relevant expertise areas into a solution that adds business value.
There is a lot going on in that one sentence:
- Adds business value: What business value are we achieving? What is the current business model? What is the organizations’ vision? In what way does the solution we are building contribute to that vision?
- Being a partner: this implies that the relationship is not just a client – sales relationship for us, but rather a more equal relationship. Equality between both in the sense that we are working together, dependent on one another, towards a common goal. The success of our work heavily depends on insider knowledge of the organization we work with. What is the business driver? How do we behave in the organization? Who needs to be involved? What are our pitfalls?
- Holistic: as data resides everywhere, data projects are to be looked at holistically. Engineering work can go into such a level of detail, that from time to time we need to ask ourselves: hold on, what are we trying to achieve here? Is this contributing?
- Relevant expertise area: multiple expertise areas can be needed for the success of a project. For instance developing the solution “realtime dashboards that are easy to interpret for the sales teams” involves several expertise areas: data architecture, backend development, analysis of dashboarding needs and UX/storytelling resources. Also looking at where this project fits in the enterprise architecture will give meaning and direction. Success can only be achieved by including all relevant expertise areas.
- Integrates: When you modernize a data platform, you save a lot of time incorporating other expertise areas besides engineering and architecture. For instance, creating governance structures, managing metadata and lineage, setting up security and privacy, foreseeing data science use cases to be incorporated….
To wrap up, I like to say that I am truly grateful to be able to work at Sparkle. It is a place where I belong, in a culture that is aligned with my own purpose, where I could become the best version of myself.