Posts Taged dna

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 33 :: People :: Core Values

There has to be some mechanism by which employees gain admittance to your organization. Clearly, if you run a hospital and you need a thoracic surgeon, you’re looking for someone with the right education, credentials and experience. You employ a similar approach if you’re hiring a plumber, chef or accountant. But down through the years, hiring someone just because they have the right technical skills has resulted in a breathtakingly large number of terrible hires. “Qualifed” hires have produced sub-par work, destroyed morale, denigrated co-workers, undermined bosses, abused customers and committed a truckload of other organizational “sins”.

If technical skills are only one part of the screening process, what else should it include? In my opinion, you start with the core values of the organization. Core values are the personal and professional beliefs of the founder(s) that make their way into the behavior of the people in the organization. They’re manifested in the priorities of the organization. They are the personal rules the founder(s) would live by no matter where they worked. They are the personal rules that the founders would follow even if they became detrimental to the organization. They are the non-negotiable ideals that govern interactions within the company (team member-to-team member), with customers and with vendors. To borrow a phrase from the US founding documents, they are the truths that are self-evident. Employees who don’t embrace and live out these values are destined to feel out of place in the organization.

Some things in an organization are a creative process – writing a mission statement, defining a vision and, to a certain extent, even building a culture. But identifying core values is a discovery process.

When I do a core values exercise with a client, a few “values” surface immediately – honesty, integrity, hard-working. I always make clients throw these out. These “price of admission” values don’t count. No employer goes looking for employees who are dishonest, morally bankrupt, or lazy. The core values you’re after are those 4 – 8 overarching ideas that make up your organization’s behavioral compass.

I’m always reluctant to use my company to illustrate a point but in this case, it might make sense. Here are three of the core values of ClearVision Consulting –

  • A love for small business owners – I hold in the highest regard those people who have risked their personal wealth and banked on their God-given talent to uniquely solve problems for their target clients. Their desire to build a better life for themselves and their families must be celebrated. They deserve to have someone in their corner equipping them and cheering them on.
  • A desire to dig deep and understand the client’s business – I will learn as much about the client’s business as they will allow me to learn. Over the years, as I’ve done research into process improvements or created strategic plans, I’ve loaded produce on a truck, checked in resort guests, stocked shelves in a store, sat in board meetings, sat in staff meetings, conducted interviews, evaluated vendors, written SQL code and a few hundred more things. More times than I can count, I’ve fielded calls from executives who had questions about how things work inside their organizations and I’ve been able to answer them because I’m intimately familiar with their work. If I don’t know the client’s company intimately, how can I help them craft strategies that will take them where they want to go and remake processes that will transform their value creation activities?
  • A commitment to treat client resources like they are my own – before I recommend that a client spend money, hire or fire an employee or invest in a new product or market, I ask myself if I’d make the same investment with my own resources. They deserve someone who will preserve their hard-fought-for capital.

If someone came to work with me and didn’t hold to these values, they’d never survive in the organization. This is who I am and, as far as I’m concerned, this is how business should be done. This is the way core values work. They are heart-felt beliefs that translate into real-life actions in the organization.

Before we jump into this week’s exercise, let me remind of how you’re going to use your core values. I used employment as my opening example and that will be an important application, but you want to use your core values to judge all future associations. If you use vendors who share your core values, they become true partners. If you market to customers who share your core values, they become strong referrals partners for you and might even give you a couple of mulligans if you drop the ball.

So, how do you find the core values of your organization? The answers to these questions should get you there.

  • What business behavior makes you mad when you see it? Why does it make you mad? Which of your closely held values is “offended”?
  • What are the worst ways your employees could drop the ball? What could they do that would ruin your company’s reputation? Lose customers? Make you feel ashamed of the company? Which of your closely held beliefs about how to do business are being violated?
  • If you worked for another company, what personal rules would you live by (taking care of customers, looking out for the company’s equipment, etc) even if the company’s rules were less stringent?
  • What behaviors would you maintain even if it were detrimental to the company financially?
  • What behaviors do you admire in other people and companies and seek to emulate? Why?
  • When customers speak favorably about your company, what qualities do they cite? What did you or your employees do to make them get that vibe?
  • What are the jointly revered business beliefs and behaviors in the core team (the people who’ve stuck around the longest and who constitute the DNA of the company)? What makes them stay and stay loyal?

Get answers to these questions down on paper or a whiteboard and connect some dots. What themes surface? Look for approaches to work (e.g. data-driven decision-making or brutal honesty among team members), approaches to customers (e.g. highly tailored solutions or first call problem resolution) and operational priorities (e.g. work products that don’t require rework or open book management). Select four to eight and include a short description with each one. Here are a couple of examples –

  • Balance – we control our schedule and successfully manage our personal and professional priorities and accord that privilege and the trust that goes with it to everyone in the organization.
  • Rewarding – our work brings exceptional value to the client and enriches us personally and professionally.

Roll your list out to a few folks in the organization. Ask them, “Is this us?” If they say, “no”, ask them why not. That might indicate that you, as a leader, aren’t living out your values in the organization. Take their feedback and return to the drawing board. Repeat until you’ve got your final list.

After you have it, write questions to use in your interview process that help job candidates explain how they embody these values. If they don’t have the values, don’t hire them. Then use the values to vet vendors and write marketing content. You’re looking for people who, as Simon Sinek would say, “share your why”.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 26 :: Culture :: Imperatives

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote from Peter Drucker has surfaced multiple times over the course of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The best strategies and tactics are dead on arrival when they’re unleashed into a company with a toxic culture. This week, we’re focusing on culture for the third time in the series. During the course of a consulting engagement, I’m occasionally asked if I have a list of cultural imperatives, that is, attitudes, approaches to work and actions that should absolutely be baked into the DNA of the organization. I do and we’ve already talked about two of them in earlier One Year, Thirty Minute ChallengesMentor Mindset in week 4 and Lifelong Learning in week 16.

Here’s my complete list –

  • Vulnerability – The willingness to be transparent, admit weakness, and ask for help when we need it, is the shortcut to building trust inside the organization. Trust is the currency we spend with one another as we build an effective team.
  • Confront the Brutal Facts – Jim Collins reminds us that accurately assessing ourselves, our team, our products and services, our operations, our financial situation, and our competitive environment is mandatory. No rose-colored glasses allowed.
  • Sacrifice of Sacred Cows – No idea, no product, no service, no “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is out of bounds. Cling tight to core values. Nothing else escapes scrutiny.
  • Team First – When making decisions, the good of the organization comes first. Self-serving, self-promoting and personal advantage have no place in the organization. That must apply from the business owner down to the most recent entry-level hire.
  • Learning Orientation – The minute we think we know it all is the minute the countdown clock to the death of the organization begins. The organization will never grow beyond those who lead it, so we must continue to improve and learn – personally and professionally.
  • Mentor Mindset – Every team member is there for the good of the other team members. Owners and managers are committed to staff development, teaching not just the “what” but also the “why”.
  • Bias for Action – Doing is better than thinking or talking. Dive for the ball when a teammate drops it. If you promise to do something, do it.
  • Over-communication – Information is lubrication for the wheels of the organization. Tell what you know, quickly and completely. If owners want employees to make the same decisions they would make, employees need access to the same information the owners have.


Later in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge at least one of these will merit their own thirty-minute exercise, but that’s not the goal of this week’s exercise.

Let’s jump in.

This week, I want you create your own list of cultural imperatives – those attitudes, approaches to work, actions, and commitments to one another that must be present in your organization. Every organization is different, so your cultural imperatives will be different – but if they truly are imperative – i.e. you must have them baked into your corporate DNA or the organization will fail in living out its mission, reaching its vision and living up to its core values – you must identify them, live them out, talk about them, train on them and drive them deeper into the fabric of the organization.

One note before you begin – let’s quickly talk about how core values differ from culture. Core values are the shared, intrinsic beliefs of those in the organization. It might be a love for small business owners, a passion for camping, a desire to make learning available to those who previously did not have it or a commitment to treat client resources (money, house, car) as if they were your own. Someone who didn’t share those beliefs would continually find themselves uncomfortable in the organization. Everyone else would be rowing in harmony with the values and the outlier would feel like they were being dragged along.

Culture is how we live inside the organization. After we’ve been admitted by virtue of our shared values, culture is the mashup of our attitudes, approach to work, commitment to one another, commitment to customers and commitment to the ideals and health of the organization.

So, pull out your pen and notepad or open Evernote and begin. I’m giving you five questions as thought starters for identifying your cultural imperatives. Underneath each question, I’ve included some statements. Some are positive, some are negative, and others are neutral. I’m not asking if they apply in your organization. I’m tossing out examples of attitudes and actions that might be indicative of company culture. I’m wanting you to identify the cultural must-haves you want and possibly identify some current attitudes and behaviors you should jettison.

  • What are the non-optional behaviors in your organization?
    • Show up on time
    • Work hours are flexible as long as the work is done
    • Arrive at meetings on time
    • Always use all your vacation days
    • Never use all your vacation days
    • Work through lunch
    • It’s ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • It’s never ok to disagree with a superior in a meeting
    • Answer an email no matter what time it comes
    • Only answer emails Monday through Friday
  • What are the attitudes you display in your interactions with one another?
    • There’s clearly a pecking order – the highest paid person’s opinion matters most
    • We have a true meritocracy when it comes to opinions – the best idea wins the argument
    • It’s ok to ask for help when I’m stuck
    • Departmental in-fighting is the order of the day
    • We work hard to work as a team – there’s no blaming – just solid cross-discipline problem solving
    • We’re good with ambiguity – we know there’s plenty we don’t know and welcome new situations that challenge the status quo
    • We’re committed to one another – my boss and coworkers have my back
  • What is your approach to work?
    • Good enough is good enough – if it’s not broke – don’t fix it
    • We strive for excellence in everything and nothing less is acceptable
    • We dive for the ball when someone drops it
    • If someone screws up – it’s on them – they bear the consequences of their own mistake
    • Good ideas can come from anywhere
    • All the good ideas come from our creative people – that’s their job
    • When we tackle a problem, we do our research – we want to know the truth even if it hurts – that the only way we can create great solutions
  • What is your approach to customers?
    • We take care of each customer like they’re the only one
    • Some customers are unreasonable and if they leave it’s ok
    • We’re always looking for new ways to serve existing customers and gain new customers – making our products and services better
    • We want not only our products and services to be superior, we want the customer to have a great customer experience
  • How do you view the organization?
    • I’m just a small cog in the machinery – doing what I’m told
    • I have a chance to leave my mark in the organization – my work matters
    • There’s more going on here than just making money – we’re making life better for our customers
    • All the company cares about is money
    • The people who lead the organization fairly balance the interests of employees, customers and shareholders
  • How do you communicate in the organization?
    • There are lots of islands of information
    • There are single points of failure in the organization – people, who alone, know specific information or how to do that job
    • Information flows freely from the top of the organization down
    • Information flows freely from the bottom of the organization up
    • Some conversations are off limits


After you’ve worked through the questions and have your own personalized list of cultural imperatives, sleep on it for a day or two and review the list. What did you miss?

Then roll out your list to the leaders in your organization. Does it describe the kind of place they’d be proud to work? If so, why? If not, what needs to be tweaked and why?

The implementation merits its own One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge and that will come later, but knowing the kind of workplace you’re after is the right place to start.

Here’s a sneak peek on implementation. Once you have your culture described, how do you codify it? How do you live it out? How can the leaders in the organization model it? How can you recognize and reward it? How can you extinguish attitudes and behaviors that don’t fit? How can you reinforce it in one-on-one and group training? How can you reinforce it in day-to-day work interactions?