- Ann Watson is the Vice President of Human Resources at Fandom powered by Wikia. She joined the company in 2012. She previously wrote the intro to the Fandom Values series, which you can read here.
Let me start by saying that I love my job. Not like it, or put up with it, or enjoy it most days—I full-body-yes love my job. Now I know what you're thinking: I'm HR so I can't possibly like a job that's all about getting people in trouble or filing performance reviews. Ever seen The Office? Yeah, you're probably thinking of Toby right now, someone we love to hate, pity, or fear. But I get to be a different kind of HR person, because Fandom is different and we value Balance.
Balance is my favorite value
If I had to choose my favorite value (which is like picking a favorite child, which you would never do, except you do secretly like one best but never say that out loud because you don't want to diminish the others), it would hands down be Balance. It goes back to when I first joined. From the moment I walked through the door—and this same sentiment was shared by our VP of Talent, Jon-Paul Ales-Barnicoat, who joined last year—it was overwhelmingly obvious that this was so much more than a website. It wasn't even just one group running one website. It's multiple, distinct groups with different agendas and directives supporting thousands of communities, each with their own personality and needs.
Even the values need Balance
In my last post, I told you about the discussions we had about what values best expressed who we are at our core. I mentioned a debate between choosing the words Collaboration or Cooperation. Have you ever given those two words much thought? Because I have! What's the difference between them? What happens when one gets over-emphasized? Those have to be balanced, and the same is true for the final set of words we came down to. What happens when you have too much Heart? Too much Trust? Too much Collaboration? They can all lead to a mess when taken to the extreme.
Keeping our values in check and not over- or under-emphasizing one over another is a constant balancing act. Just because we wrote them down doesn't mean our work is done. That's why we put Balance first when we talk about our values. Balance brings with it the perspective needed to look at the other values.
Growing as people
I've long been professionally obsessed with the idea that a company (and HR team) shouldn't just endeavor to make better employees, but also better humans. By the time an employee is done working at Fandom, I want them to have learned, grown, and changed as people. We hire for who a person is right now, but I want more for every employee over time.
My team and I (mostly Carla) get to implement programs that focus on more than just getting the elf to make toys faster, but also making a better elf who also has a flu shot, improved financial literacy, volunteers in their community, travels, learns a language, flosses regularly, eats healthy food, and competes across oceans for hilariously bad prizes for taking the most steps with a Fitbit. If Fandom only valued making more toys, it would be such a monumental waste of time to even have the conversation about how we could support making better humans. None of these things would be possible unless Fandom valued it as a culture.
I told you that we have this beautiful flame of a culture that I endeavor to protect from blowing out. What I didn't tell you is that sometimes I want to blow it out. Not the whole thing, of course, just parts of it. Maybe not forever either, but just sometimes. How do you blow out parts of a flame without snuffing out the whole thing? Have I lost you? How did we get to talking about fire?
Let me explain.
We've always had a very strong work/life balance. In general, we show up at a reasonable hour. Our San Francisco office is a great place for professionals who have been through three start-ups in two years and are really good at what they do, but haven't invested in improving what they do in that time. We’re perfect for those people. We're a great place to push yourself and the boundaries of what a person can do, while still making sure they maintain their sanity and remember what their children look like. So what do we do when we want to inject a sense of urgency? I don't want us to lose our non-professional lives and go back on the literal promise we make during the recruitment process, but sometimes we have to stay later at night. Sometimes on Friday. That's just what it takes to get across the finish line.
If there's anything we struggle with when it comes to Balance, that's it—staying who we are while also growing and evolving. We hire different people, take new risks, deviate from our norms, and yes we work harder when we need to, but we do it secure in the knowledge that a late Friday night isn't the norm and isn't just about poor planning or someone exercising too much power over us. The only way we can even begin to do any of those things is by acknowledging who we are and then saying out loud who we want to be. We have to balance where we came from with where we're going. Otherwise, we don't make progress and we lose ourselves on the road.
Even this blog needed Balance
We collaborated on several versions of this post and struggled to get the balance right (pretty funny that we struggled to balance Balance). I wanted to tell you about our awesome snack closet, but also about how I stood up in front of the entire company and said I'd never provide a benefit designed to get people to work longer hours. Or how all our offices have great sound systems, or how some of my favorite stories are about spontaneous group sing-a-longs to random Spotify channels and at the same time, I also wanted to tell you about how we're quiet and sensitive to what professionals actually need to produce great work (including quiet, disruption free spaces). I want to tell you about how we're safe for someone in recovery while at the same time priding ourselves on our awesome parties. I wanted to tell you that we want to make decisions quickly but also thoughtfully, to go fast and slow, to make things that are beautiful and useful, and to both do what is right and what is necessary.
These can be difficult decisions to make sometimes, but they can also be very rewarding decisions. How do we make those decisions? Through collaboration—and that's the value we'll be talking to you about next week when our values series continues with a post from Ted Gill, Chief Product & Innovation Officer, and Andrzej Swędrzyński, Senior Vice President of Engineering.
In the meantime, what are some examples of balance in your communities? How do you manage to meet the needs of existing users and readers with new ones? I've told you our story, now you tell us yours!
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