When we created X-Functions we researched and defined what a high-performance culture means to us and in the process debunked a few myths. We’re now creating a company that’s built from the ground up for high performance in real time... with a little help from our friends at high-performance consultancy North.
At X-Functions, we’re working on the future of real-time business by helping companies optimize and automate real-time customer experiences and operations, driven by events, data, functions and machine learning. And as we go, we’re working hard to create a high-performance culture to help us achieve our goals.
Typically when the business function of People and Culture (or Human Resources, as it’s often called) comes up, people relate to it through their past experience with that function at other companies. So these insights are shared from the perspective of where I have come from and what I’ve observed in my career to date. For the record, I am not claiming to be an expert in high performance. And this blog isn’t coming from a place where I think I have all the answers. I am just really fascinated by the potential of this work and wanted to share some of the insights that we have discovered so far. My hope is that it may be useful if you are looking into this area of opportunity.
When we established X-Functions, we knew we needed to work on creating the right culture from day one, rather than letting it develop without conscious thought and effort. We were experienced enough to realize that high performance and satisfaction includes disciplined execution with pressure when you’re chasing ambitious goals.
We needed to ensure the founding team was working together on the basis of a clear company vision and shared values, and developing high-performance work habits.
It’s so important — not just to ensure we have a harmonious workplace and that we achieve our objectives, but to help our customers prosper, to enable our community to share in the rewards, and to attract the right people to help X-Functions grow.
Even before we had an office, we wanted to set the foundational elements that distinguish the X-Functions culture. We had come from different cultures, backgrounds and areas of expertise. We all had experienced what it was like to work in teams and cultures where there wasn’t alignment; where assholes with loud opinions thrived and back-channel politics won.
We had also worked in places where the different functional teams created silos of communication and ways of working that led to double-handling and poor hand-offs. This wastes time, misses opportunity and breaks the value created by true cohesion.
So we were really conscious of the importance of team cohesion and we knew what we didn’t want to be part of our culture. We also knew that we wanted to be truly cross-functional, and for that to be defined by every functional area of the business — so that we understand what sales, marketing, customer success, product, engineering, data science and support teams need from day one.
We knew what we wanted to create and why. But we were still unclear on how to define, architect and implement a framework that would scale from the founding team to the achievement of our global ambitions.
I then went to a presentation by high-performance business consultancy North — co-founded by Olympian and performance coach Toby Jenkins and performance psychologist Jonah Oliver.
North’s work is founded on Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT). ACT asserts that our ability to create lasting positive behaviour change to improve our performance and well-being is anchored in our values.
The company takes an iterative approach to clarifying and connecting individuals, teams and organizations to their high-performance framework of Vision, Values, Behaviours and Practice.
Their presentation was a breakthrough for me. It covered all the pieces that were missing.
Jonah stepped through the true foundations of high performance based on years of working with elite athletes in preparation for performing with pressure. Toby, a water polo Olympian, explained how true performance was about accepting pressure, being present in the moment and then choosing how to act. It was amazing: it explained to me how to integrate the pressure of high-performance accountability with my values and behaviours.
It also laid out a blueprint which detailed how to integrate the ‘towards’ behaviours we needed to demonstrate while working with the inevitable counterproductive thoughts and emotions (or ‘hooks’) that show up when we’re doing something ambitious, important and that we care deeply about. As a team, and as individuals, these hooks are usually what pull us away, or hold us back, from performing at our best when it matters.
It was about embracing the pressure while being vulnerable and creating a space where your team could not only survive — but thrive. I was blown away. Why wasn’t this a subject when I was studying at university? Why wasn’t this wisdom handed down to me by managers I worked with earlier in my career?
So let's look at some of the myths and rules of high performance, as North defines them:
Understanding this was not only great for X-Functions, it was crucial for me as a CEO as it really made me realise how crap I had been previously as a leader most of the time, and how I didn’t need to know the answers to everything… For me it was a complete rebuild of my management style and the way I live my life.
As part of the North process, we had to define our own personal values and vision for our lives. For me, that has now turned into a broader personal operating framework that I practice daily.
North worked with our team to define the conditions for high performance from day one, to identify what we would need to do to help us achieve our vision. I invited Toby to describe the 4-step process we worked through.
Toby Jenkins: I believe that high performance has changed.
In practice, it’s not reducing stress and pressure, it's building capacity to embrace more; it's not motivating people, it's connecting them to what matters; and it's certainly not about positive thinking, it's taking positive action no matter what you feel.
High performance requires a company to clearly define their shared Vision, Values and Behaviours. This is critical, table-stakes foundational work and every good company has done it.
We went through a series of digital tools and workshops to pull together, debate and refine the team’s input to create X-Functions’ High Performance pillars of Shared Vision, Values and Behaviours.
The role of a high performance leader then, is to be the custodian of those pillars and a set of practices that foster not just engagement but trust, psychological safety and accountability too. Without any one of those factors, the conditions for high performance fall over. That’s why it’s hard to achieve.
James: Within the North framework, the Vision statement X-Functions is working towards is a detailed, highly specific internal working document. We go through it as a team in line with our operating rhythm. We also take anyone that is being considered for a role on the team through it.
From our internal Vision statement I wanted to share the five key values that describe the culture at X-Functions, and expand upon those so it’s clear how integral they are to where we want to take the company.
Our values at X-Functions:
What do they mean in practice?
Supportive community is about the ecosystem we’re creating with developers and customers, underpinned by a generous business model that supports an even distribution of value, financial wealth and independence to all participants. We are focused on the knowledge sharing, enablement and acceleration of innovation. So that comes from a place of support and community collaboration.
Automation First reflects the automation-first approach we take to our ways of working and products we create, which enables our customers to push the boundaries of their business while building a real-time, data-driven business of our own.
Vulnerability is about building and maintaining trust within our team and our ecosystem. We’re results-focused with strong awareness of each other’s capabilities but we understand that nobody is perfect and we’re there to help each other when needed. It's also about continually questioning even when you feel uncomfortable or silly. That way we get better with shared knowledge.
Ownership reflects the way we hold each other accountable to follow through and expect to be respectfully called out when we drop the ball.
Data-driven Creativity means that we are always questioning how our products and how our work can be better with data-driven opinions triumphing over ego and loudest opinions.
We have also developed a series of behaviours — that we follow to help us live our core values as we pursue the X-Functions vision.
Toby Jenkins: The high-performance model applies to individuals too.
There’s a pervasive myth that it’s all about teamwork in sport — that that’s all that matters. Of course it matters. But on closer inspection of elite level team sport, while training is mostly done together, the reality is that the lion’s share of work and time is spent improving individual performance: it’s individual performance, then team performance.
This is often overlooked in business. A Company Vision is not enough. Company Values are not enough. No one cares about them unless they’re clear on their own vision and values and realise how they connect and contribute to those of the organisation.
In sport, the athlete is super connected to their personal and team visions and outcomes after years of attrition through selection. But attrition is painful, slow and hugely expensive — financially and emotionally. This doesn’t have to be how it works in a company. You can align a team and deeply connect the right people to what matters to drive results incredibly quickly, consistently and at scale.
So we deepen the process. We built and clarified the personal Vision, Values and Behaviours for every X-Functions team member.
From there we come together to chase something that can only be achieved together. So we connect the team’s personal visions, values and behaviours to those of X-Functions’.
This is a self-aligning process. It clarifies your personal connection to the company results and drives conscious values alignment. Once this level of clarity is achieved, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s not uncommon that people will choose to exit a business or team at this stage. We truly believe this is a good thing for both the team and the individual.
The final step is practice. The team Vision, Values and Behaviours are implemented and integrated into the daily, weekly and monthly rhythms and ways of working at X-Functions — everything from their sprint retros, to hiring and onboarding new team members.
The personal Vision, Values and Behaviours are also implemented and practiced by each of the team.
The most exciting thing for me is that the whole team’s practice is now appearing in what we call Moments That Matter — the key decisions, performance conversations, critical meetings with clients, investors and stakeholders. That’s when you can see that the X-Functions team is walking their talk. They’ve created and are sustaining the conditions for high performance.
It’s awesome being part of their journey.
James: At X-Functions, we want to deliver an amazing customer experience for our own customers and the developer community through our work on real-time X.
We know what kind of company we’re creating. Our team, customers and the way we foster relationships and share the financial benefits of the work we’re doing within our community are all incredibly important parts of that vision.
If this resonates with you and you’d like to be part of the X-Functions team, you’re keen to join a beta group where we release products prior to public launch, or you’d like our help delighting your customers with real-time X, please get in touch.
We're gradually opening up early access to companies who like to build and automate the future of X.