Undefined values can lead to compounding culture debt
If you’re writing code for a personal project, initially you don’t need to worry about variable naming conventions, documentation, or writing tests. However as more engineers start to join your project, and the number of projects you work on multiplies, it becomes increasingly critical for everyone to be thoughtful and consistent in these choices, otherwise technical debt starts accruing exponentially and productivity drops just as fast.
Or consider the difference between one person keeping track of their personal books, versus building a communal library that can serve many people via shared protocols and infrastructure.
Similarly, when a company is small, the high degree of interaction between team members allows people to make decisions efficiently and consistently without having values defined. But as a company starts to grow, communication overhead and reaching alignment around decision-making and hiring becomes increasingly challenging. Delegating responsibility becomes more difficult because managers lack confidence that their reports will know to do things “The Right Way.”
Without common principles guiding decision making, management is more likely to instead implement top-down policies. The cycle begins slowly and is easy to justify “it’s time to grow up and implement sensible policies–we can’t have people showing up to the office after 10am.” However these well-intentioned policies make it harder to attract and retain top talent that thrives on freedom and responsibility, which in turn leads to lower performance provoking even more rigid top-down control from disappointed management and sending a once thriving startup into a death spiral of bureaucracy and mediocrity. In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh describes this happening at one of his early companies where he went from being extremely passionate about the business to eventually not wanting to come into the office anymore.