Behind the Scenes: Developing Operating Values at Mozilla

A Conversation with Mardi Douglass, Sr. Director, Culture and Engagement and Mary Ellen Muckerman, Brand and Culture Strategy Consultant and former VP of Brand Engagement

This feature goes behind the scenes to learn about an Internal Communications project in progress. In this case, it’s about developing Operating Values and how Mozilla’s Internal Communications and Engagement Team is approaching this important work with consultants.

I talked with Mardi Douglass, Sr. Director, Culture and Engagement and Mary Ellen Muckerman, Brand and Culture Strategy Consultant and former VP of Brand Engagement, to learn about the why, how and when they will make this happen. Thank you to Diane Tate for nominating this story. 

Can you tell us about Mozilla? 

Mardi: The Mozilla Corporation is an organization that designs, markets and ships consumer products like the Firefox browser which is our flagship. We make a handful of other products too including Pocket and a VPN. That means, essentially, that we compete for customers with companies many times our size like Google, Facebook and Apple. 

What’s different though, is that Mozilla is a mission driven organization backed by a not-for-profit Foundation. We aren’t publicly traded and will never be publicly traded. What that means, at least from a recruitment perspective, is that while we compete with these much larger tech companies for talent, we don’t have an equity component to our compensation. That means we must rely on other things, like our mission and Manifesto, employer brand and value proposition as well as our culture to attract, engage and retain great people.  

For a bit more context, there are about 700 employees within the Mozilla Corporation. We’re distributed globally with the largest concentrations of folks in North America and Europe. And lastly, before COVID, about 40% of our workforce was considered “remote.”

Mary Ellen: Mozilla is fortunate to have a purpose and a mission that are clearly defined. It’s a big part of what attracts, engages and retains the really passionate talented “Mozillians” who work, and volunteer for the organization. But, while the mission, purpose and Manifesto are great at describing the impact the organization  hopes to have in the world and compelling folks to join, they are less great at guiding how people  work with each other inside of the organization.

Without a set of clearly articulated operating values that define and guide how Mozillians ought to work together, Mozillians often look to the mission and Manifesto for this. The tricky bit here is that these artifacts were written to define how the Internet should work and not how employees should be working with each other. This conflation, mission/Manifesto-as-operating-values, especially as Mozilla looks to grow and evolve internally and with plenty of new folks joining, has started to get in the way of progress. 

And so, that’s where we started. The thinking with this work is that if we can codify a set of operating values, core and aspirational, that are rooted in the mission and Manifesto but specific to the unique mindsets and behaviors needed for impact, we may unblock individuals and teams by empowering them to do better work. 

How have you taken this challenge and started to approach it?

Mary Ellen: Funny enough, we are approaching this based on how Mozilla operates, which is based on open source principles and the Manifesto to some extent. The three driving forces are transparency, collaboration and participation. Those three things are key to how we designed the work. 

What is your project plan? 

Mary Ellen: We’ve broken the work into three “sprints.” In sprint one, we’ll create a “strawfox” or v. 0.1 of Mozilla’s operating values informed by:

  • Auditing internal feedback and documents (such as the Manifesto and Addendum, employer brand value propositions, the corporate narrative, community participation guidelines, team-level culture programs) to identify common “truths” and unique aspects of  norms and behaviors

  • Auditing tech and purpose-driven orgs who have well-articulated and actionable company values to understand best practices

  • Interviewing the leadership team to uncover the range of vision and definition for Mozilla’s operating values, and related operational opportunities and challenges

Sprints Two and Three

In sprint two, we’ll do workshops with people managers and the leadership team to pressure test and refine the operating values by applying them to real-life situations.  

Concurrently, we’ll run sprint three, where we will invite participation across the org, offering different ways to provide feedback such as discussion groups and virtual whiteboards. Based on the combination of this divergent and convergent thinking, we’ll create a final recommendation and action plan that we’ll bring back to the leadership team.

Mardi: From there, my team will create an activation plan, the roadmap for change from communication and first contact all the way to the point where our new values are truly embedded into our culture. 

How were you able to make this project a priority for Mozilla?

Mary Ellen: The reason we're able to do this work is because the CEO is the sponsor of it. She recognizes the value in and the necessity of creating criteria that defines a common language, expectations and operating standards. The broader leadership team is also ready to be advocates and supporters of this work. 

What recommendations do you have for making these conversations collaborative? 

Mary Ellen: I came to Mozilla without having experience working in an open source environment. Over the years, I’ve gained a lot of lessons about how to work in the open. There is a huge difference between collaboration and consensus. I’ve identified four strategies to be successful. 

  1. First, this requires working together to make sure you have a really well documented, published set of decision-making criteria. 

  2. Second, it’s about having great project management practices and tools to create order from the chaos. 

  3. Third, a commitment to documentation and communication so that everyone who is involved has a clear understanding of how and when to participate. It also means you need to over communicate about where you are in the process, what type of feedback you're looking for, by when, and to let people know when you closed that feedback. Then, it’s about following up with what decision was made and what next steps are being taken because of that. 

  4. Fourth, it’s about taking the time up front to design your working style with each other and be really clear on what channels are the best, how you're going to deliver feedback and be intentional about your ways of working. It is not easy, but it’s worth the up front investment. 

Fast forward. What do you hope this project achieves and the impact it makes? 

Mardi: I hope that having a set of shared operating values will enable us to make better and faster decisions at all levels of the organization.

Mary Ellen: I hope that Mozilla becomes famous for its culture — that the operating principles become something the organization is known for, that attracts people to join and that others use as a benchmark! 

Where do you look for inspiration in your work for this project or more broadly? 

Mary Ellen: Whatever Mardi is reading! I’ve also been finding communities of practice — other people in organizations who are working on similar problems as this challenge is not unique. There is an organizational design agency called NOBL that has a collective of people working across multiple industries and clients. Immediately, I felt it was my type of people to bounce ideas off and get inspiration from. 

Mardi: I’m an audio book junkie. I run everyday so I can consume a lot of content through my Airpods. The book that I’ve read a number of times and is a big inspiration for me is Hit Refresh. It’s the story of Microsoft’s cultural transformation under Satya Nadella.  

Other books I love:
Here are a few blogs that I enjoy reading:
  • Rands in Repose (engineering, management, love his writing style)

  • RawSignalGroup (management, leadership, used to work at Mozilla, love their writing style)