*First appeared in the March, 2015 issue of Prairie Business Magazine
To me, there are three kinds of companies when it comes to the importance of core values – 1) companies that haven’t defined any values, 2) companies that have values but they are just wall decorations in a conference room and 3) companies that incorporate their core values in everything they do.
Core values are principles that guide internal conduct and a company’s relationship with the external world. Core values provide a company with an aspiration to live up to and a means of attracting like-minded people to the organization. We did not start our company with values in place, which might have been OK in retrospect. It took us to the point where we had 15 people, then we decided we needed to make it part of the fabric of the company. We got our leadership team together and spent a day working through the values and then spent the next day affirming them with our team.
The Stoneridge Software core values we decided on were:
• Technical Excellence
• Lifelong Customers
• Enjoy Our Work
We picked these values for a few reasons. We felt like the team we had fit in with those values and we wanted to make sure we aspired to ideals like having lifelong customers and making sure we enjoy our work.
Defining the values is the easy part. As I said in the intro, lots of companies have values. The trick is making them part of the fabric of your company. To do that, you really have to make the values part of how you hire and how you run your company on a regular basis. As a business leader, thinking through the values should be part of your decision making fabric. A few months ago I found myself in a situation where we had a customer, who provides us with very low revenue, asking us to work after hours on a project for them. In my mind, I had two values conflicting with one another. We wanted to keep the customer happy (Lifelong Customers), but we also had to keep the team happy by not having them work overtime (Enjoy Our Work). In this case we had to talk to the customer about pushing back their project to a time that still worked for them, but could be done within a reasonable time frame on our part.
Here are some tactical things we do to make sure our company is living the values:
1. We ask questions related to our values in our interviews to make sure the candidate is a fit.
2. We provide “kudos” to our team during a short weekly company call that highlights people who have displayed the values in some way that week.
3. We challenge each other as leaders to think through our values when we make decisions as a company.
4. We talk about them at every quarterly meeting as a team, to make sure they are still the right values to guide us into the future.
I’d love to say everything we do fits the values, but we’re certainly not perfect. We have hired people who weren’t tenacious and we’ve had several occasions when people didn’t enjoy their work, but we try to recognize that quickly and course correct as soon as we can. The ability to operate with these values has helped us build a cohesive and successful team. As an added benefit, in a recent meeting, we were told by a prospective customer that they wanted to work with us due to the fact our values matched theirs. They appreciated that we took the time to learn their values and compare them to ours. So it turns out, having defined core values can be a pretty good sales tool too.