Last week I talked about establishing and sticking to your core values. It's paramount to the success of your business, yet core values are often pushed aside in the pursuit of revenue, EBITDA and shareholder returns. Many companies aspire to some pretty lofty and nebulous core values, only to fall short in the end.
Off-the-Shelf Core Values
Integrity. Commitment to excellence and innovation. Teamwork. (Goldman Sachs Core Values)
Leadership. Collaboration. Integrity. Accountability. Passion. Diversity. Quality. (Coca Cola Core Values)
Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. (Enron Core Values)
These represent vague and uninspiring core values that proliferate much of the Fortune 500 list. I have to ask myself, what is the point of having core values like this? To me, there isn't one. These values provide no real guiding principles to employees nor do they describe any sort of differentiator. In short, they don't reflect what the company actually stands for.
I think "integrity" - which appears in all of these company's - should be a table stake when building or working in any company. It's clear that in Enron's case, the core values were certainly not reinforced or respected, and I doubt that the core values at Goldman Sachs live anywhere besides on the company website or maybe a glossy poster in the building. I wonder how many employees at those companies could name any of the core values.
Core Values That Matter
Reinforcing core values is tough if the core values hold no significance. That's why choosing core values is so important. This is something we took very seriously when we founded TaskUs.
Choosing Core Values
We chose our first five core values under the guidance of Stephen Lynch who was a consultant we worked with years ago. The process we used then became the building blocks for our culture and management processes today. Here are some tips to establishing core values that will stand the test of time:
- Be Specific - Don't be like Enron or Coke, be YOU! Use core values to describe specific attributes of your company, not the attributes of just any company. Avoid over generalizing and vagueness. I remember the example Stephen shared from a painting company - "Three coats means three coats." This incredibly simple and showcases the specific value of that company - it's perfect! The differentiator for this company is quality, achieved through three coats, every time.
- Keep It Simple - A sure sign of successful core values is that the entire company can tell you what the values are from memory. We reinforce our values so frequently that I think people remember based on repetition. Mnemonic devices are easy to recall as well.
- Don't Forget to Be Ridiculous - One of my favorite sets of core values is from Adroll - a long-time TaskUs client known for a low-ego culture in a hyper-growth environment. They've won the Best Places to Work Award by the San Francisco Business Times, and you feel it when you walk in their office. Their core values are illustrated by "Spirit Animals" like an owl, bee, and dog. I love the creativity and quirkiness! At TaskUs, our final core value is "Be Ridiculous" which means that we encourage our team to approach problems by first proposing a ridiculous solution and asking, "Why not?"
Applying a Critical Lens
When establishing your core values, there are three simple question you need to ask yourself:
- Would you confront a colleague if he or she was not demonstrating this behavior?
- Would you pay extra money (or leave money on the table) to ensure this core value was being demonstrated and upheld by your team?
- Would you ultimately fire someone if they did not demonstrate this core value consistently, even if their performance was excellent otherwise?
The answer to all 3 questions must be a resounding YES.
Just because something doesn't make it on the core value list, doesn't necessarily mean it cannot be valued. For example, health and wellness is something Bryce and I value a ton personally. In support of that, we have made massive investments in promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout the company. We have gyms in our facilities, healthy food options and even wellness stipends. However, as important as this is to us and our employees, wellness by itself is not a core value because it isn't something that is required to be a TaskUs employee. It's an individual choice, and we won't fire someone for not being healthy. We cannot answer "yes" to the third question when it comes to wellness, so for us, it isn't a core value.
Conversely, Continuous Self-Improvement is one of our core values. It passes the three-question test and we expect everyone in the company to always be striving to improve themselves.
Hopefully these examples give you some direction and help you establish your own core values. Stick to answering those three questions, and I promise you that you'll have core values that are real and that employees believe in and can accomplish.
In my next post, I'll dive into some activities designed to help you choose your core values, but until then, I would love to hear from you. Do your core values past all three tests? If not, are you prepared to remove them, or change your values? Jump into the conversation below with your thoughts!