Business Growth

The Key to Rapid Scale? Authentic Core Values.

The Key to Rapid Scale? Authentic Core Values.
Image credit: Jay Wilson | Flickr
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If you’re planning for big revenue growth, it’s time to start thinking about whether or not your company’s people are ready to handle it.

Any entrepreneur who’s lived through a period of sustained, exponential growth will tell you that one of their biggest challenges was managing the strain it puts on people and culture. Existing processes are quickly exposed as inadequate to handle the increased volume of business, and this process obsolescence forces your team to do what is commonly referred to as “winging it.”

Your business might be on the verge of rapid scale, but your culture might be nowhere near ready for prime time -- and I don’t mean the I-love-my-job type of culture. I’m talking about what happens when Johnny in Customer Support is facing an irate customer who’s just had their billing messed up for the fifth time in two months, and he needs to make a choice -- right there, in that moment -- on what to do next.

Does your company’s culture empower Johnny to do what he feels is the right thing by that customer? Does he even know what the “right thing” at your company in the moment when the process doesn’t fit the problem is?

Related: What Volkswagen Can Teach You About Values-Based Marketing

Believe it or not, these are questions that must be answered with your company’s core values. A core value is a declarative statement about what your company stands for. It’s a binding truth; it’s not negotiable and it never changes. In these moments of truth with customers and co-workers, your team will unconsciously look to the company’s core values for direction on what to do next.

Most companies say they have core values, but very few of them actually live their core values in these moments of uncertainty. It’s the behaviors that are encouraged -- or rewarded -- in these moments that tell you what your core values really are, and I find that most companies have a wide gap between what is stated and the actual core value. Some common examples:

  • Does your management team let employees slide on delivering what they said they’d do, when they said they’d do it?
    • Stated core value: “We’re accountable!”
    • Actual core value: “We’re flexible with deadlines, and soft on accountability.”
  • Do you sometimes refuse to give your customers a refund when one is requested, regardless of the reason?

    • Stated core value: “The customer is always right.”
    • Actual core value: “The customer is not always right, especially when it costs us money.”
  • Does your management team really trust employees to get the job done, no matter what, regardless of the time of day or where the work is being performed?

    • Stated core value: “We trust our team members.”
    • Actual core value: “We don’t think you can do your jobs without close supervision, and if you’re not in the office, we don’t think you’re actually working.”

Related: Why Core Values Drive Business

Of course, entrepreneurs communicate the exact opposite of these “actual“ values when training and onboarding new team members. However, when the company is growing like crazy, and everything that worked before is straining under the weight of new customers, moments are produced that show you what your core values really are. 

How do you know if it’s a core value? If you aren’t willing to fire a top-performer for that behavior or decision, it’s not a core value. This dissonance will erode the esprit de corps of your organization, and it will lead to consistent underperformance over time. All that amazing growth that you worked so hard for will turn into higher customer churn and employee turnover, and you’ll be worse off for it.

It’s time to take a hard look at your core values -- the real ones, the ones that reflect your actual behavior.

Write down a list of the tense moments your team has faced over the past 12 months, and think about your reaction to them. Did you let your team figure it out on their own? Did you praise someone for smart improvisation? Or did you act in a way that made people at your company nervous about making mistakes?

When your team knows what the company stands for, they’ll know how to act in these moments that matter so much. Those moments are the ones that keep customers and produce outsized growth, and they’re only possible if and when your team is living authentic, reinforced core values.

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