A Case Study in Why Core Values Are Crucially Important
A few weeks ago, my company faced a minor crisis. I'll spare you the details, but the short story is a bad actor was doing his damnedest to damage our reputation on social media. The attack occurred around 10 p.m., long after the workday had ended. Everyone was home relaxing with their families -- or maybe playing their Xboxes. One of my marketing guys received an alert about what was going on and jumped on it.
In no time at all, we had representatives from four teams -- marketing, engineering, IT and customer service -- working seamlessly to overcome the problem. It was beautiful. I didn’t even hear about it until it had been resolved.
How did this happen? How did a group of colleagues with complementary skill sets organize, Mission Impossible style, to confront and conquer a threat to our business without any prodding from management? They’re a talented bunch, of course. They’re ambitious and great at their jobs. They’re proud of our product and believe in its potential to help small business owners fulfill their dreams.
But I believe it goes deeper than that. I think, at its core, their effectiveness and self-motivation were in large part fueled by shared values.
A visitor to one of our offices might be confused to hear the word rulio tossed around a lot. “That wasn’t very rulio of me,” for example. It’s actually an acronym, but it’s used so often that it’s treated as a regular word, like scuba or taser.
RULIO encompasses our company values -- relentless, unruly, indivisible, legitified and ownership. Each of these values is packed with meaning (see the definition of indivisible below). We have a Slack channel dedicated to highlighting employees who exemplify them in their day-to-day responsibilities. Whether used as a single word or deconstructed into its individual parts, RULIO is an incredibly effective tool for reminding us of who we are and what we stand for as an organization.
The badasses at the beginning of this article who repelled a late-night invasion by an internet troll were truly indivisible. They “always assume[ed] the best, working hard together with intellectual honesty, wisdom and real-time communication, all while having each other’s backs.”
I could share hundreds of such anecdotes. The advantage of having a codified set of company values is that they get right down into you, into your center. They become a guidance system, a unifier, extremely hard to dislodge.
If you need a RULIO in your life, follow these beginning steps:
1. Separate values from morals or ethics.
Morals and ethics have to do with right and wrong. “We act with integrity” is an ethical statement. Values have to do with what we hold near and dear to our hearts -- the behaviors and attitudes that will define how we treat ourselves and our customers.
Integrity, in this scenario, is a no-brainer. It should be viewed as a requirement for just walking in the door. Strive for actionable values that reflect who you are as a company and the unique contribution you hope to offer.
2. Make it a family affair.
I always cringe a little when I hear a CEO speak publicly about their company values. The worst is when it’s in response to some PR nightmare -- you just dumped a million gallons of oil into the ocean, or your employees were recorded saying something incredibly racist, so you stand up and solemnly proclaim, “Look, we value the exact opposite of those things; it says so right here on our website.”
When it doesn’t come across as defensive, it seems like a form of bragging. Your values are noble, so you must be noble, too. But actions speak louder than words. Why bother telling people what you believe in, when showing them would save breath, time and money and actually convince them in the process?
In my opinion, values are for inside the company. They’re not a contrivance for making you look good or to mislead people into thinking you’re something you’re not. You teach, preach and practice them behind closed doors, then open those doors wide open, and prove to the world that you mean them.
3. Let them build organically.
A company’s values should reflect those of its founders. But they don’t have to be written on tablets of stone the day you start building your business. Your ethics and morals should be firmly in place -- you don’t lie, cheat or steal -- but your values can develop along with your organization.
Remember, your values are a basic reflection of how you treat your colleagues and your customers. They’ll drive actions and decisions within your company. They’ll settle conflict or prevent it from occurring in the first place.
So take your time. Create a list, and through trial and error prune, scrape and trim it to its essentials. Acronyms help because they’re memorable. As your company grows, recruit pretty strongly from that list. Build a team whose values reflect your own, and there’ll be no stopping you as you move ahead.