Years ago, we went through a process of discovering our core values. We did an exercise where we each chose someone on the team who we thought exemplified our core values, and then we wrote down as many points as we could about why we chose that person. Then we took all the things we wrote about different people and grouped them together into themes and summarized the theme into a value. It was amazing how many of the differently articulated points grouped into common themes. In the end, we came up with five values. It was nice to be looking at the list, nodding at one another, finally able to see the things that matter to us down in writing.
At first, we simply put the values up around the office and laughed about them from time to time, since true to one of our values, they are worded in a fun way. Over time, they helped us explain why we do certain things in certain ways. For example, we may choose one candidate with less experience, but who seems to be a better fit with us, over another who looks better on paper. Making that decision can be hard to explain; we simply “feel” it is right. With values written down, we can explain the feeling. Similarly, deciding to say no to a highly profitable business opportunity may be very hard for a new team member to accept if all we can say is “it is not who we are”. Instead, we have specific values to point to.
Over time, our values have become more and more important to us. They have proven to be a source of success, the thing that differentiates us from our competition, the thing that makes coming to work so rewarding, and the thing we point to most when explaining to people why our workplace is more than just a workplace.
For me as a leader of the organization, I find myself turning to our values more often to guide us forward and as tests to make sure we are not slipping away from what matters to us simply to make certain people happy or to make a quick buck.
Our five core values begin with the letters S,T,A,D and H. Put in a single word it spells STADH. Luckily, a non-word. This allows us to make it our word.
To bring our values to life, we do many things:
As the leader of the STADHs, I do all I can to communicate and promote these values. And, most important, I try to model them myself. If the leader is a hypocrite, values mean nothing. In that regard, I personally find the final one “Have fun and enjoy the ride” the easiest to model! I do my best, however, to live up to them all.
The most recent thing I have done to remind the STADHs and myself about our core values and how important they are was to write a story about each value. I found this to be a great way to refine my understanding of the true meaning of each value. In the process, I have also immunized myself from one of the most embarrassing situations a values-driven CEO could ever face: forgetting one of your core values when put on the spot. I now have a story to remind me exactly what each value is and what it stands for. It is true that our brains are great at remembering stories. I know I will always have our values on speed dial because of this exercise.
If you are not leading with your core values, I highly recommend you do. I may be getting soft as I head into my 50s, but I am feeling much stronger in a way, knowing what we stand for and standing up for it every day.
If you are interested, here are our core values, each linked to a related story.
From the STADHquarters, have a great week and thanks for following this blog