Cialfo’s Culture Manifesto
At Cialfo success is not just about WHAT you do - but also about HOW you do it!
Cialfo’s Culture Manifesto
Great education elevates and empowers. It stimulates growth, creates new paradigms, and advances human potential. The spirit of learning and wanting to access the best higher education available has been inherent in humans since the dawn of organized societies.
At Cialfo, we aspire to make education accessible. To help us succeed, we have created a first-in-class employee culture. Cialfo’s culture manifesto, The Cialfesto, is about that culture.
The culture manifesto is the constitution of the company. It is a living document that fulfills the purpose of becoming the guiding framework and bedrock for the company’s principles, values, ways of operating, decision-making, behaving, communicating, rewarding, awarding, retaining, and successfully answering the question:
Originally inspired by the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, our name Cialfo reflects what we believe education is really about: becoming a better aka faster, higher, and stronger version of yourself.
An internal work environment that similarly expedites, elevates, and empowers everyone’s happiness and growth, has birthed Cialfo’s first-in-class company culture. We can only go faster, aim higher, and get stronger if we stand together.
Our Mission, Our Vision & Our Core Beliefs
Our mission is to make education accessible for 100 million students in record time.
Our vision is to create a world where every student, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, and learning preference, gets equal access to higher education through our world-class platform; a platform that globally connects community stakeholders that provide the finest resources and support material, anywhere in the world and at any time.
Our core beliefs are fundamental ideas that we believe will remain true throughout time. Knowing what will not change, enables us to change the world.
The two central ideas are:
People will always want to learn and,
People will always want access to the best educational opportunities
These are the key future needs that we focus on solving, simplifying, and serving.
Our Core Business Principles
We get faster by delivering our mission with metrics and moving fast in the right direction.
We aim higher by championing students and creating successful communities.
We get stronger by creating impact at scale and by being lifelong learners.
We do it together by operating from first principles thinking.
Deliver Mission With Metrics
For a company that exists to solve the challenge of making education accessible to 100 million students, the journey can become so intimidating, that the mission might end up living on our office walls or the website only. If milestones en route are undefined, the path can become too vast and abstract, often to the extent of becoming delusional at the onset itself.
Just like the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, company-wide “metrics that matter” are the guideposts that translate our ambitious vision and mission into daily measurable activities and show us how to move ahead.
Clear and quantifiable company-level metrics or objective key results (OKRs) give rise to separate yet interdependent departmental OKRs. Therefore it is of critical importance that each of these metrics is understood by everyone across all functions and they are able to clearly see, how each one is responsible for both, collective success and failure.
Executive leaders and department heads meet to debate and discuss. Extensive thinking, detailed lines of questioning, and healthy disagreements are encouraged as “metrics that matter” define the strategy and roadmap, and become our indicators of incremental success.
Each metric must qualify the following two important criteria:
They should allow every person across any department to positively impact and influence the accomplishment of the final mission
They should create more value for all of our stakeholders (for example, employees, investors, partners, and communities) by impacting the growth of the revenue
When the above criteria are fulfilled, they must serve the purpose of:
Defining what success looks like at every step
Getting employees to focus on what matters the most
Balancing between long-term goals and short-term planning
Factually managing and “telling the truth” about our performance
Providing with verifiable accurate and reliable information and data
Validating the current strategy or providing a new roadmap for the future
Vetting new projects and ideas in their alignment to meet our mission, which is the north-star
Aligning and re-aligning the different functional departments to the organization as a whole
And most importantly convert inputs to outputs and finally outcomes into impact.
Leaders and managers along with their teams are expected to pause and reflect on where they stand in relation to where we ought to go. They must interrogate and introspect along the lines of “How many human lives have we transformed this quarter and how many students’ futures’ have we made secure?”
This requires the art of being able to fly high and fly low as situations demand. To fulfill the mission we require big picture thinking, to fulfill the metrics we need to play on the field; this seamlessly gliding feeds our momentum. While our mission gets us out of bed, our metrics bring us a good night’s sleep.
Move Fast In The Right Direction
Which direction would take us faster towards our mission?” is the question we successfully ask ourselves to build a high-velocity organization with a laser-sharp focus. Organizing for speed and directional alignment is critical to who we are, and we believe that an agile workforce is what will get us there.
Directional alignment comes from being crystal clear about our vision and mission. Therefore our primary focus is to make sure that not a single Cialfolk has any confusion about the direction in which we’re headed. Not only do we make this clear through the use of clear metrics, but we also give a lot of empowerment to our people around the things that they need to do in order to achieve the mission of making education accessible to 100 million students in record time. We want to help the post-secondary education ecosystem evolve faster – making a quantum leap, so the world can, too.
Teams are at liberty to pursue their own ideas, experiment, and innovate. They are also highly cross-functional and collaborative, which builds a robust and open environment. This cuts out fragmented decision-making that slows things down and enables them to make smart decisions with speed and execution in real-time.
People are able to easily communicate across a flat structure and zero hierarchy. Any person, anywhere on the org-chart is only an email or a Slack message away.
Autonomy is accepted but with respect to agreed-upon guardrails. What succeeds is quickly adopted, repeated, and scaled; what fails turns into wisdom. This helps us take strict ownership, accountability, and responsibility for the consequences of our actions at all times.
Global control is maintained only when necessary; wherever possible, we let countries and regional leaders seize growth opportunities, through a localized context on our brand, marketing, budget, and operational activities. This allows people to focus on what really matters.
A common joke among employees is that within a year at Cialfo you do much more than five at most others.
We are excellent at adapting, quick in pivoting, and extremely open to change. Because speed is considered our biggest business strategy and advantage, we are known to operate in rapid cycles of thinking and doing.
This startup-like nimble mentality is what we seek to preserve as we grow. With speed and focus, we are building an extraordinarily successful company that is making education accessible to 100 million students.
In a multi-stakeholder industry like higher education, it is easy to lose sight of who we are here to primarily serve. Cialfo’s company-wide principle is that our first priority is the students of the community.
Our employees work in several departments, that might not directly engage with students, but collaborate with those peers and colleagues who in turn have more client-community-facing roles to play. Therefore, every Cialfolk is expected to self-educate themselves on how their own roles (on a day-to-day basis) ultimately impact a student’s most important life decision relating to their future.
Every individual Cialfolk has the responsibility to understand that Cialfo is in charge of making a student’s journey into higher education exceptionally seamless, successful, and accessible.
They practise this by asking themselves, “How do I become the student’s most trusted advisor, mentor, or ally?” Cialfolks who work in student or counselor-facing roles strive to become their most trusted advisors and mentors. Cialfolks who work in employee-facing roles become their best-supporting allies. This thought process makes Cialfo the go-to platform for students right from the moment they begin their post-secondary education search.
We take simple yet powerful steps to have an immediate and measurable impact on the students’ decision-making and application experience. Some examples of how we do this are:
Thinking from their perspective
Building the product by starting from the student-as-the-user perceptive
Prioritizing and building on their most essential requirements for the long term
Factually managing and “telling the truth” about our performance
Favoring them at times when conflicting needs across stakeholders of the community arise
One, among the many pitfalls that we have to guard against, is when in the scramble for growth, helping students find their best-fit colleges would run the risk of becoming a secondary priority. To safeguard ourselves from that, we must remain vigilant and remodel ourselves both on a strategic level and in our day-to-day activities, constantly putting the students above the entire ecosystem.
We walk away from anything that makes our actions seem not in the best interests of the students. For example,
Closing deals to complete a quota or to honor your relationship with a partner university, that circulates misleading messages is unacceptable.
Pushing for enrollments where students lose importance thereafter is inappropriate.
When a team member sees an enrollment as just another degree rather than a life decision, they are severely called out and necessary actions are taken.
Championing Students is much more than making higher education accessible across the world; it is about creating opportunities, making options available, simplifying the search and application process, multiplying acceptance rates, and most importantly being that trusted advisor and loyal spokesperson who mobilizes the community in their best interests.
Create Successful Communities
Many people and institutions play a part in making a student’s journey in international higher education successful. Schools, colleges, universities, government bodies, counselors, parents, families, and peers are some of them. As a Cialfolk, you understand that these stakeholders are the custodians of the resources, information, and opportunities, needed for us to champion our students. You, therefore, seek to simultaneously solve stakeholder challenges and leverage their power in the community to successfully achieve our mission.
Through functional collaborations like counselor-connect events, trade fairs, workshops with parents, and meet-and-greet between post-secondary education institutes and schools we create new relationships and build trust in the community.
Similarly, through innovative partnerships, with secondary and tertiary businesses and service providers like visa issuance, scholarship funds, banking, and financial services to name a few, we create deep interconnectedness among the community players, which is essential to succeed at multiple levels.
This dual-track approach creates successful communities that in turn propels us to champion each student successfully. We can only create successful communities by supporting high school students and their counselors throughout their early career exploration, search, and selection journey.
Employees are expected to see these community stakeholders not just as professional experts and related parties to the student, but also as sources of love, support, connection, hope, opportunity, and resilience for aspiring children. As Cialfolks, they are to value every stakeholder’s unique strengths and gifts and bring them to the forefront, developing a common language, unifying our mission, and placing the student at the heart of everything we all do.
Our combined 100-plus years of experience on both sides of the desk and presence in 100-plus countries give us a unique understanding of the challenges that counselors and educators face, as well as foresight into emerging trends – whether they are emerging markets or emerging technologies. This enables us to not only help them navigate tough personal and professional challenges but also to inspire them to think differently about the future of education and their role in it.
We are committed to promoting the continued trust of our students and their families in the post-secondary education ecosystem. We achieve this through our ethical and transparent business practices and strict adherence to compliance and regulations that also make the community members more successful.
Create Impact at Scale
There are two kinds of companies; ones that serve a well-intended mission of uplifting their immediate communities, and others that want to transform the world. We want to be the latter. By being the latter, we pursue the dual purpose of:
By Impact, we imply a long-lasting, indelible outcome of our work and through scale, we convey its immensity.
It’s not about reaching a handful of students nor is it about reaching a lot of them. Reaching big numbers without making a difference in their lives, or reaching the right set of students for the wrong set of universities will not help us fulfill our mission.
To fulfill our objective, we must focus on two things:
The multi-generational impact that a student's higher education can have on their family
The transformative global impact when 100 million such families are individually impacted
We connect with students from several continents, countries, and regions, with diverse social, cultural, and political backgrounds. We also connect with students within the local context of languages, sects, and tribes. This sort of global adoption, and deep local penetration, are the results of providing a successful personalized journey to every student through our platform. One of the most important focus areas for achieving our mission is to accelerate access to post-secondary education for students who have different learning styles, preferences, and less privileged backgrounds.
A big part of creating impact at scale is also to have the courage and the mindset to be bold and take risks. New employees often share about how quickly they begin to think big and bold within a few weeks of joining Cialfo. They are pleasantly surprised by the freedom they enjoy, to be creative, experiment, bootstrap, innovate and gather support for successful pilot projects.
The prerequisite for every idea and innovation is to begin by keeping in mind the challenge to create impact at scale; this wires our operations in a radically different order. For example, there is no optimization for an innovation that would make one local community successful. But, swift backing and support are given to innovations that could make several global communities successful at once. This gives us the courage to bet on the value of our product and on the process of getting it to market.
Succeeding at creating impact at scale requires the work of many experts from diverse professional backgrounds. The catch lies in drawing in their individual expertise in a way that adds up to more than the sum of their parts. The successful communities created by us, therefore contribute massively to our scale-up initiatives along with acting as our trusted sounding board.
Cialfolks often describe their journey as being uncharted and festered with unseen challenges. As such, with due respect to everyone’s motivational styles, our model works best for only those who get a kick out of creating value at a massive, global scale.
Be Life-Long Learners
From the plethora of identities that are available to all, Cialfo embraces that of life-long learning. To have a personal system that continuously upgrades, improves, and transforms your personal and professional identities is critical to Cilafo’s culture.
We like to work with individuals who see the world as a source of abundant opportunities and use them for personal and organizational transformation. To truly serve our mission of making higher education accessible in the world it's important that we also build an internal environment where Cialfolks can constantly learn and grow.
While growth must contribute to the job you are hired for, the priority is always to become a better version of yourself; at the workplace and beyond. We are generous in providing meaningful advancement that goes beyond just promotions and perks.
We create this in many ways, a few of which are:
Offering internal coaching opportunities
Subsiding access to courses and platforms
Encouraging experiments to try new things
Hiring curious and inquisitive minds
Promoting employee-initiated self-starter projects
Advocating for those who constantly improvise
As lifelong learners, we approach work from a “Let’s figure this out until we get it” attitude. This attitude supports our policies, processes, and projects by finding the required resources and learning them in real-time.
Managers and leaders are responsible and required to model and embody ongoing learning. They do this by:
Being honest about areas of improvement
Supporting and following up on individual development goals
Inculcating the habit of pausing, reflecting, and looking for deeper insights
Carving out work-based experiences to promote organic and engaged learning
Creating psychological safety so people feel comfortable sharing unusual ideas
Encouraging people to be informal mentors to others, so everyone rises together
Constantly asking “What did we learn from that?” until it becomes their natural identity
At Cialfo, you experience a constantly evolving high-performance environment. The only sustainable winning advantage that you can have here is a mindset for growth and adaptability.
First Principles Thinking
Among the many factors that govern the success and failure of a company, the key primary differentiator lies in the way its people think. According to our first principles thinking, ‘The Right Thing To Always Do Is The Thing That Is Right For The Company.’ A discerning critical style of thinking that begins with the question “What’s best for the company?” is our natural currency of thought.
This is our standard best practice to navigate through situations that are highly complex, abstract, involve several layers of people, and are unsolvable through data.
In regards to purely business challenges, Cialfolks are encouraged to constantly reflect on how policies, processes, mid-term and long-term OKRs, and KPIs are beneficial for the company.
You can ask simple questions like:
“How does this process contribute to our final mission?”
“How can I reduce the timeline on those projects which are the company’s top priority?”
“Is the proposed expense the best use of capital to achieve the company's goals, or can this money be better invested elsewhere?"
“Will my non-urgent leave negatively impact a sudden, out-of-the-blue urgent problem of the company?”
When addressed to the management and senior leaders, their answers must never end with “Because I said so,” “I have more experience than you,” or “Do as I say”. They must be able to thoroughly explain why an executive or management decision was the best course of action for the company. Similarly, answers like “Because our manager said so” are unacceptable from peers; you must know the why behind the decisions and keep asking until you find out.
As organizations scale, they start running the risk of bureaucracy and misuse of freedom. During personal and situational challenges, Cialfolks are encouraged to adopt an owner’s mindset. Decisions taken around situations like an extra night on a work trip, a business class ticket for a two-hour flight, or an add-on intern for just-in-case scenarios, must be morally and ethically correct. We tackle this by giving people the opportunity to contextualize and ask, “What would I do if I was owning, running, and personally funding the company?”. This makes us trust and deeply rely on our employees. First Principles Thinking does not always mean frugality or being cost-conscious. There could be times when a more expensive option is worth taking. And that is perfectly acceptable. Do what you would have done if this was your own business or company.
There could be many occasions where situations seem to collide with another value or principle. In that instance, you are meant to find common ground with our company’s mission, as the mission trumps everything else. Due to the many nuances, it's needless to say that this style of thinking requires a high degree of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, discernment, wisdom, and loyalty. Our goal is to inspire people to embody all of them.
The more we reflect on the question, “What’s best for the company?”, the more we will do things, which will make the company more successful. The goal is to develop a deep sense of care for Cialfo and for our mission.
Our Core Values
We get faster through creativity and innovation, and by being solutions-focused and biased for actions.
We aim higher through excellence and sincerity and right intentions and integrity.
We get stronger through grit and resilience and candor and kindness.
We do it together through unity and collaboration and fun and camaraderie.
Creativity & Innovation
Creativity is defined as the freshness of ideas and Innovation stands for its successful implementation. The value of Creativity & Innovation together implies the constant churning, bootstrapping, testing, adoption, implementation, and execution of new thought processes.
You are curious and inclined towards continuous discovery and experimentation
You constantly ask yourself “What If”, and “What else is possible?” and make it a reality
You scout for quantum growth by pursuing big and bold ideas
You think of ways to make the organization dynamic and forward-thinking
You challenge the status quo and love to push boundaries
Solutions Focused & Bias For Action
Solutions-Focused is defined as having an outcome-oriented mindset and Bias For Action stands for the tendency to favor action over inaction. The value of Solutions Focused & Bias For Action together implies quickness in moving from a problem to its resolution and discussion to further action.
You relentlessly learn from the past and solve for the future
You self-initiate change and stay away from blaming, complaining, or fault-finding in others
You are resourceful and extract the highest potential from existing assets
You ask high-quality questions that identify root causes
You step up and take bold decisions even during uncertain times
Excellence & Sincerity
Excellence is defined as the quality of surpassing ordinary standards and Sincerity stands for honesty and genuineness. The value of Excellence & Sincerity together implies the heartfelt pursuit of becoming better than the best.
You deliver exceptional performance and keep raising the bar
You hold your peers accountable to the same exceptional standards
You honestly embrace the concept of continuous improvement
You are meticulous, conscientious, and vigilant of the tiniest details of your work
You go above and beyond your call of duty
Right Intentions & Integrity
Right intention is defined as the clarity of purpose underlying all actions and integrity stands for soundness of moral character. The value of Right Intentions & Integrity together implies the wisdom and good faith of being ethically correct even when no one is watching.
You are trusted by your team and clients for having a reputation for being truthful
You desire equal opportunities, growth, and success for colleagues and clients alike, as you do for yourself
You do what you say you will do
You take accountability for your actions
You respect diverse backgrounds and cultures
You courageously call out that which is not morally right
Grit & Resilience
Grit is defined as the passionate persistence to pursue long-term goals and Resilience stands for the courage to recover from adverse situations. The value of Grit & Resilience together implies the conviction to win over temporary struggles.
You believe in Cialfo's mission, day in and day out
You are steadfast in fulfilling daily milestones along the way
You are calm under pressure and in stressful situations
You remain grounded during emotional upheavals
You move on quickly from setbacks, with your enthusiasm and passion intact
Candor & Kindness
Candor is defined as the frankness of expression and Kindness stands for generosity and care. The value of Candor & Kindness together implies a gentle consideration for others while being open and direct in speech and behavior.
You politely give and confidently ask for honest feedback from any Cialfo employee
You easily engage and drive difficult conversations, with transparency and respect
You openly praise and positively challenge your colleagues
You are empathetic and forthright creating a balanced demeanor
You are quick to forgive, eager to help, and proactively address your colleagues’ concerns
Unity & Collaboration
Unity is defined as the oneness of being and Collaboration stands for teamwork towards a common goal. The value of Unity & Collaboration together implies the coherent and harmonized working of all elements in the same direction.
You debate openly, but commit to making the decision successful even if you disagree; you understand that alignment is more important than agreement
You place team goals above personal interests
You align and build consensus on goals, milestones, and methodologies
You promote understanding and cooperation by quickly moving beyond discord and conflict
You share knowledge and communicate clearly, crisply, and efficiently, so that information necessary to carry out tasks reaches everyone much ahead of time
You are easily accessible when help is needed
Fun & Camaraderie
Fun is defined as the experiencing of joy, and happiness, and Camaraderie stands for the spirit of good fellowship. The value of Fun & Camaraderie together implies the creation of a light-hearted, playful environment that promotes meaningful workplace relationships.
You have the mentality of “being in it together”
You inject laughter and humor into daily activities
You create opportunities to bond and connect beyond work
You build emotional trust, acceptance, and psychological safety
You are amicable and cheerful and don't take things personally
You enjoy accomplishing great things while making the journey with your colleagues worthwhile
Our Core Promises To Cialfolks
We get faster by fulfilling the promise of opportunity and the promise of accomplishment.
We aim higher by fulfilling the promise of purpose.
We get stronger by fulfilling the promise of wellbeing.
We do it together by fulfilling the promise of recognition and the promise of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Promise Of Opportunity
Every Cialfolk must have access to develop personally and professionally, feel positively challenged, and experience growth through and beyond promotions, perks and pay.
At an organizational level, we promise to make management-level decisions and support those initiatives and processes which increase opportunities for holistic development among employees. Executive, department heads, and managers are responsible for implementing organizational initiatives within their teams and advocating for people’s growth-related needs when necessary.
The Promise Of Accomplishment
Every Cialfolk must experience mastery and success as an individual contributor as well as a member of their team. They must get access to resources and support for doing new things, setting higher goals, and acing their game; they must feel like winners and consistently experience progress.
At an organizational level, we commit to making resources that are a good use of our capital, more easily available, accessible, and deployable for our people, in order to move fast, experiment, and experience consistent progress. Executives, departmental heads, and managers must set up each team member for success, through clarity on expected work and allocation of the resources provided.
The Promise Of Purpose
Every Cialfolk must feel connected to the company’s larger mission and understand how their job contributes to it; every Cialfolk thus finds meaning in their work.
At an organizational level, we promise to clearly articulate the connection between people’s day-to-day job roles and the purpose that they are fulfilling to accomplish our mission, regardless of where they sit on the org structure. Executives, department heads, and managers are responsible for bringing crystal clear clarity and articulating this to their people.
The Promise Of Wellbeing
Every Cialfolk must experience holistic wellbeing. Their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual fitness and prosperity shall be a worthy goal for all.
At an organizational level, we commit to creating a safe, secure, and friendly workplace along with the best suite of employee benefits and policies. Executives, department heads, and managers are responsible for creating and keeping their teams accountable for a friendly, open, progressive, and healthy team environment.
The Promise Of Recognition
Every Cialfolk must feel valued for their contributions to the company. Gratitude and thankfulness should be expressed and received in abundance, on time, and in a meaningful manner.
At an organizational level, we commit to creating a culture of appreciation by implementing behaviors and rituals to genuinely acknowledge our employees. Executives, department heads, and managers are responsible for leading by example, setting time aside to personally thank their people, and praising their contributions publicly.
The Promise Of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Every Cialfolk must experience the representation and participation of different groups of people, across all ages, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures, political ideologies, and sexual orientations. As of 6th June 2022, we have a happy and progressive workforce and leadership comprising 19 different nationalities of which 55% are women.
At an organizational level, we commit to preserving and constantly improving representation at every level, so that everyone feels a sense of acceptance and belonging at Cialfo.