When are Core Values not enough?
Core Values allow companies to hire and fire but don’t enable the best to get better. And that prevents your ability to grow and scale.
At some stage around 2007 we got to a stage where we needed Core Values. I remember this moment clearly, Philip, a fellow member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization took my call where I started expressing issues I was having with our business. We were ~60 people at that stage and alignment was a challenge. I mean, doesn’t everyone just do what you want them to do? Philip put me onto the Rockefeller Habits, which led to Jim Collins’ work on Good to Great, and that literally transformed my mindset from running a company to being an entrepreneur.
Company Values were a godsend and enabled us to align our team and give a common purpose. We did an exercise that involved everyone in the team and then turned them into key statements. I still remember the exercise as if it was yesterday.
Delight the Customer
Share the Knowledge
Focus on the Outcome*
*we later changed this to Build Process to Drive Outcomes, more on that in a later article.
Company Values were a godsend and enabled us to align our team and give a common purpose.
As we grew and expanded around the world. The values also came with us, they were excellent at providing a way to recognize and reward the actions and directions, and were/are effective at providing a go/no-go decision on new candidates and customers very early on in the process.
Over the years, I’ve seen Core Values become pretty much standard in any company once it grows beyond a handful of people, sometimes sooner. In many cases, the Core Values become central to marketing and recruiting, attracting new candidates and mindshare.
..what I came to learn over the years is that Core Values can also be used as a shield, to cover and justify behaviors that might not be otherwise acceptable.
Wait… but if they’re Core Values and we all agree, aren’t we all aligned?? Stay with me here.
Here’s my current thinking:
Core Values are great to be used at the door, to decide who comes in (and who goes out!).
Core Values are mostly agreeable.
Each person will interpret and internalize them based on their own experiences.
It’s very difficult to hold people accountable to Core Values as a mechanism to grow, violations are usually very black and white and result in parting of ways.
Which makes coaching someone that they are failing at a Core Values akin to kicking them out of the tribe.
Why is this?
There are probably many reasons, one I think is core to identity. See, if you join a team, a company, a tribe and you align with the values and some day somebody tells you that you are ‘failing’ at those values. BANG! that’s a slap in the face that hit’s your core (pun intended). As above, that’s akin to banishing them from the tribe, undermining belonging. It doesn’t set the stage for a great coaching relationship. It’s binary - you’re bad, get out.
Accountability - The Core Values Police 🚓
As we grew it became harder to provide the clarity that underpinned holding accountability. I fell into the trap of trying to police our Core Values. It worked when there was a major violation that required walking someone out the door 🚪. Core Values allowed us to hire and fire but we couldn’t coach our best to get better.
Core Values allowed us to hire and fire but we couldn’t coach our best to get better.
So what did we do?
I’m writing up a few more articles in this series, so stay tuned on how we built on top of our Core Values and some smart research to develop our Rocketeer Leadership Behaviors. A set of clear and concise behaviors that drive our culture of coaching and continual improvement.