By David Hassell, an EO At Large-US member, and CEO of 15Five
I was criticized by colleagues and advisors when I first developed our company’s 10 core values. Why not just 4 or 5, so that employees will be able to easily remember them? It occurred to me that limiting the number of values was a tactic used by many companies possibly because they did not have a way to keep those values alive.
Sure, you can repeatedly ask your team to recite the company values at meetings or during a performance review. But even if they can remember them, are they actually living them? Do you feel motivated to be more patriotic when you hear the Star-Spangled Banner at a baseball game? Why not, you committed all of the words to memory?
Why we do what we do
I used to lead strategy retreats for various companies, and would show participants a TED talk by Simon Sinek entitled, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. The video refocuses companies away from thinking first about what they do, and instead figure out WHY they’re doing it. This not only impacts the services and products, but also the people who build out and fulfill the company vision.
When you hire, you have to choose people who are on-board with the purpose of the company. That purpose is supported by your values, and you want them to be more than meaningless words. You want people to believe them, live them, and breathe new life into them with their work every week. When people believe what you believe, they work with joy, commitment and creativity.
Drinking the Kool-aid
Our company values were first articulated last April. I quizzed everybody shortly after the words were immortalized on our website and found that the entire team knew them cold. But that wasn’t enough, I wanted to know that they were being embraced and actualized through the efforts of every employee.
Some of our values like “cultivate health and vitality” or “always be learning and growing” will likely never be forgotten by the team. Employees embody them by freely sharing articles and books on a variety of business topics or personal growth. There is even healthy competition regarding who has the best exercise practice, or who makes the most sound lifestyle choices. (When a dedicated team-member with four young children tells you that she gave up coffee for healthier alternatives, you know that you’ve done something right).
There are a couple of other values, however, whose essence may not be so daily or top-of-mind. They warrant more conversation and discussion on a semi-regular basis. We make it a point to remind ourselves and thus continuously discover where we might be misaligned or where we’re truly excelling collectively.
Every week I ask the entire team this question in their 15Fives: “What’s a way you’ve lived one of our core values this week?” I also type and submit my own answer, demonstrating that they are relevant for everyone. Some people may cheat and visit the values page on our website, but I am okay with that. My main concern is not for employees to memorize the values.
I want each employee to see how self-directed activities fit into the cultural statements of the company. Did an engineer “maximize his zone of genius” by learning and implementing a new coding strategy? Did our customer success manager “dare to dream” by reaching out to the biggest potential customer to date?
Questions implicitly ask employees to think about the lifeblood of our culture and the road we’re taking in striving toward our purpose. The continued conversation brings the values to life, establishing powerful drivers for the way that we show up individually and as a company.
David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and presently Founder & CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company that enables organizations to streamline communication and feedback. Hailed by Fast Company as the “15 Most Important Minutes of Your Work Week” 15Five creates an internal communication process that allows the most important information to flow seamlessly throughout an organization, to surface issues before they become problems, to celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to the morale of the team. David formerly served as President of the San Francisco chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and was named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes.