Introducing Maxwell’s Operating Principles
From the start, we’ve held an unwavering commitment to company culture and values at Maxwell. As we accelerate the pace at which we scale, it’s vital to prioritize, identify, and hire values-aligned teammates and to emphasize, call out, and live our core values day-in and day-out. Great culture is based on a solid, consistent, and extensible set of principles, core values, and shared behaviors. At Maxwell, we believe our core values—our #ROCKS—are the connective tissue that holds us together.
These core values define the character of Maxwell:
—Rigor: We execute with speed, intensity, and attention to the details that matter. We don’t let perfection get in the way of excellence.
—Ownership: We are all owners of the company, so we act like it. We balance every stakeholder’s needs in decision-making, we communicate intentionally, and we’re obsessed with our customers’ success.
—Curiosity: We experiment constantly. We always, always walk a mile in our users’ shoes to understand problems and solve them. We ask great questions before assuming answers and think in the future.
—Kindness: We consider the impact of our decisions and behaviors on others. We express gratefulness as a mode of work towards our teammates and customers. And whenever we get the chance, we laugh and have fun together.
—Straight-up: We are always honest and authentic, from our pricing to our product roadmap. Our opinions are strong but loosely held, because we know ego can get in the way of the best outcome. We accept and learn from our failures.
Our #ROCKS serve as the Maxwell backbone, guiding company growth, decisions, and day-to-day interactions even when we’re in separate spaces. Our values have helped us achieve a workforce that was hard to imagine a year ago. Now it’s time for us to introduce another important element of our culture: the Maxwell Operating Principles.
Our 7 Operating Principles
How do operating principles differ from core values—and why do we need them? While core values are fundamental descriptors of who we are, operating principles guide our daily actions and decision-making. We can think about it this way: Core values guide us towards how we show up, how we treat one another, and who we hire, reward, and let go. Operating principles, on the other hand, are specific, actionable directives for everyday choices. They may even be controversial because they represent our view of the world.
In a company that is scaling quickly, operating principles are crucial. They serve as a summary of “how we do things here at Maxwell.” Successful companies from Netflix, GE, and Zappos to Github, Nordstrom, and LinkedIn use operating principles to extend their culture consistently across disciplines and geographies.
Perhaps most importantly, our operating principles help us pursue our vision, which is to turn the tide of homeownership and spread financial empowerment.
That means we exist to serve our clients in a way that helps transform our industry and the lives of borrowers who interact with the Maxwell experience.
In addition to our core values, the Maxwell Operating Principles are:
1. We are software people.
Apple Co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs called computers the “bicycle of the mind.” By this, he meant that technology can amplify human ability to spectacular magnitudes. Just as a bicycle helps its rider go faster more efficiently, software helps us achieve more with the resources at our disposal. Today, we see this power across industries, from entertainment (Netflix), transportation (Tesla), and energy (Nest) to payments (PayPal), commerce (Amazon), and more.
At Maxwell, we are a fintech company that builds “bicycles of the mind” for the mortgage industry. The mortgage experience is inherently complex, and borrowers benefit from the relationships, counsel, empathy, and judgement that only a human can bring. When that person is paired with powerful software, we can achieve transformational results for the borrower and lender.
So, whether you’re an account executive, a customer success manager, a processor, an underwriter, or a software engineer at Maxwell, you’re a software person. You help to build “bicycles of the mind.” This perspective ensures we prioritize the creation of software that transforms our industry.
2. We run like a professional sports team.
The best professional sports players aren’t just incredibly talented, with the tallest stature, widest wingspan, or fastest sprinting ability. Of course, natural aptitude doesn’t hurt—but in-born skills only matter when work ethic is applied. Across leagues and countries, world-class athletes all have something in common beyond their natural abilities: They put in the relentless work necessary to win championships.
In the same way, we believe our success requires repetition, practice, and conditioning. Everyone needs to pull their weight for us to win. Overall, Maxwell operates like a sports team for a few important reasons:
—We task each team member with a high degree of accountability.
—We rely on one another for expert skill within our positions.
—We embrace teamwork to accomplish an outcome.
—We work best when we communicate honestly and give high fives.
—We take pride in what we do and who we are.
—We celebrate our success.
—We learn from failure.
—We are obsessed with winning.
Also like a sports team, we invest heavily in developing our teammates. We value the time we spend at work and schedule time for what matters. Every six months, we have a rigorous self-assessment and performance process, along with a 1:1 development-oriented discussion with leadership. Based on this feedback, we empower each team member with the tools, support, and honesty they need to succeed. By devoting ourselves to this process, we build a winning team that excels through the ups and downs of a growing business.
3. We’re highly aligned on context.
“Context” means that everyone understands our strategy, metrics, assumptions, and objectives. It means each teammate has a full grasp of their accountabilities, what’s at stake, and what good decision-making looks like. “Control” means top-down decision-making, committees, approval processes, celebrating actions not results, and spelling out the “how,” not the “why.” Leaders at Maxwell focus on context, not control.
Aligned context is especially important as we move quickly. One of our biggest risks is a person working on the wrong thing. An oar pointing in the wrong direction will misguide the entire boat. We recognize that the strength of a network is based on the number of connections and the quality of those connections.
A highly connected team is our competitive advantage.
We use our systems to coordinate our goals and place everyone on the same page. Every six months at Maxwell, we start by setting our company imperatives. This is the “must achieve at all costs” scorecard for the business. Every quarter, each ops leader sets team objectives and key results (OKRs) that build to these company imperatives.
In turn, each individual sets accountabilities that build to their team OKRs. Since April 2020, as a result of the pandemic, we also began to set weekly commits that facilitate focus and prioritization of the most important things to achieve.
These processes build a connective tissue in our organization, helping us to align on the day-to-day actions that move us closer to our ultimate goals.
4. We measure what matters.
The OKR framework we subscribe to is a metrics-driven approach to setting goals and measuring results. OKRs drive business success, align individuals and teams, and drive continuous improvement. Fuzzy goals lead to poor execution and lackluster results.
That’s why we ensure our OKRs, accountabilities, and commitments are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. With just a few well-chosen objectives, we make clear what we’re willing to say “yes” and “no” to in our everyday work.
No employee at Maxwell should be confused about company imperatives, team OKRs, or their own accountabilities. Everyone understands what numbers and metrics we’re aiming to achieve. Leaders at Maxwell manage against these benchmarks in regular meetings, and each team tracks progress to its quarterly OKRs weekly.
Likewise, at our monthly all hands meeting, we share the numbers that matter to our organization and unpack why they matter. This is just as important to our values of #ownership and #straight-up as much as it is to connecting each person’s work to our “score” as a team.
5. We pursue dignity, not just profit.
When we founded Maxwell back in 2015, we set out to create a company where people love to work and where they feel valued, challenged, stretched, and cared for. As leaders, our purpose is to create a foundation of meaning for our teams in their work. This is our idea of “servant leadership”—that the leaders at Maxwell wake up each morning to empower their teams, develop their skills, and maintain a customer focus on serving the needs of others.
While we’re serious about growing the metrics of our business, the impact we have in this world isn’t just about the bottom line.
To pursue our vision of turning the tide of homeownership, we cannot ignore the global need for housing solutions. We believe a physical home creates a place of physical, psychological, and emotional safety for a family to thrive. That’s why we give a portion of our revenue to New Story, an organization that addresses homelessness by building homes for the 1.6 billion families globally who lack adequate housing.
6. We embrace accountabilities, not responsibilities.
We focus on what results people at Maxwell deliver, not the minutiae of how. An employee at Maxwell does not commit to accomplishing certain tasks, i.e. responsibilities. Instead, they commit to results or outcomes—accountabilities. Steve Jobs once said, “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people for them to tell us what to do.”
Accountable people are rare. These individuals are self-motivated, self-aware, disciplined, and take ownership. Accountable people don’t wait to be told what to do. If a new Maxwell employee lacks expertise in the mortgage industry, a veteran team member steps up to train them. That task isn’t in their job description, but as an owner, they’re accountable for progressing the entire team and business. As Maxwell grows faster and bigger, complexity will increase. The only way we can succeed without becoming bureaucratic, procedural, and political is by hiring for and nurturing accountability.
7. We always strive for a two-fer.
One of our early investors gave us the advice, “Always get a two-fer.” It stuck. Seeking a two-fer means asking, “How can we get more output from this activity?” Asking this question helps us create leverage instead of simply efficiency. Efficiency means getting a fixed output for less input. A “two-fer” means getting more output for the same amount of input.
We aim to build software that amplifies the ability of our users so they get two-fers too. When our engineers build features and products, for example, we document the software code as it’s written. This process enables new engineers to onboard faster and deliver value sooner. They don’t need to spend large amounts of time understanding how and why the code was written the way it was. The result is magnified results for the lenders on our platform based on our amount of effort.
Operating for success through rapid growth
Scaling a business is trying from a range of perspectives. Despite challenges, rapid growth has compelled us to double down on our attention to culture and think creatively to ensure our values resonate throughout our employee base.
The Maxwell business will undoubtedly change as our team expands and we extend new offerings to our customers. Through evolutions and challenges, our new operating principles will help keep us rooted in the values that brought us this far and laser-focused on the vision ahead.