“Culture is not part of the strategy. Culture is the strategy.” - Jim Collins.
Core values matter. From small to medium sized businesses to billion dollar tech giants, every accomplished business has a collection of values upon which their success has been built. These values are the essence of a business’ identity. They are the culture that you create among your team and the mantra that they will follow to help achieve both the company’s and their own personal goals.
At its core business is about people. It’s a collective pursuit - one that involves a team of people coming together to achieve a common goal, based on a common vision. In that regard they are inherently human, the modern day equivalent of people gathering together to form a community - perhaps that’s why we call it a “company.”
Just like all communities businesses are governed by a collection of shared principles, values and beliefs that bind these people together. These are your core values, your very own version of the Constitutions that govern some of the world’s biggest societies. And just like those real world examples they are central to everything a business does, and will ever do.
In short they are nothing less than the cornerstone on which your entire organization is built. So why don’t more businesses make them a central part of their day-to-day operations?
The hard impact of “soft stuff”
When I talk to other business leaders about core values, or the so called “soft stuff” as some entrepreneurs and investors are want to call it, the conversation all too often turns to quantification. “How do you measure that?” they will often ask me, or “what impact will they have on my bottom line?”
Responses that you would perhaps expect from those people engaged in the nitty gritty of running a business, the balance sheets and bottom lines that are markers of traditional success. For these people, culture is something that follows success, it is an added extra, a bonus that is bolted onto your operation once you have reached a certain level.
Part of the problem is that it’s inherently difficult to “quantify” the impact that core values have on a company in traditional terms, I mean, how do you assign a dollar value to something like culture? The simple answer is that you cannot. But that’s not because it’s not important, instead it’s because these core values transcend every aspect of your business. In fact I’d go so far as to say that they are your business.
Putting culture at the core
I co-founded RTOWN back in 2013. Back then alongside building a stellar client base and an unrivalled customer offering there was one thing at the top of our agenda, and that was to develop our core values.
These values were the centre of everything we wanted to do. We would hire people by them. Free up people’s future by them. Make big decisions through their lens. We knew they would be the cornerstone of our culture, and over the course of three months, the founding team solidified them together.
You can read about that process here if you like. To be completely honest it wasn’t easy, but by identifying our core values and implementing them as part of our culture day in and day out, they have enabled our business to not just survive, but thrive.
Indeed, without our team unifying (which is very different from uniformity) around these core operating principles, I’m not sure that RTOWN would even be here today. I wholeheartedly believe that our core values helped us to weather early setbacks and struggles, to overcome the conflicts and crises that face all businesses during their embryonic stages.
I also believe that this shared culture has helped us to thrive. They have been a key component of our rapid growth that has enabled us to pivot to become one of the largest digital agencies in British Columbia according to Business in Vancouver and BC Business Magazine.
Implementing core values within your own organization
For company founders wondering when the right time to work on their core values is, the answer is right now.
Honestly if you don’t already have them in place then I want you to stop reading this and go away to decide what they are going to be. Seriously stop reading right now and go do it…
Back? Good. Now that you’ve decided what your core values are you’re going to want to make sure that they are written down and clearly defined so that everyone in your team understands them. Then comes the hard bit, living them.
You see, it’s not enough to simply have your core values written down in an employee handbook, or presented on a motivational poster in the break room. Instead you’ve got to embody them, to live and breathe them at every level of your organization from the C-suite to the front lines. Getting them is actually the easy part. You’ll know you’re living them when it’s painful to do so. Core values matter the most when they’re inconvenient.
Achieving this once again comes back to the people on which your business is built. The key to taking your core values from an idea to a reality is to communicate them, to tell stories about them and share experiences of how they are being lived by the people you’re playing the game of business with.
This can take many forms. It could be a company retreat or something as simple as a daily huddle. It could be taking the opportunity to tell success stories, celebrate wins or sharing news across the entire company. The key is to make sure that core values are front-of-mind for each and every member of your team, and celebrated in the same way that any other win would be.
Eventually, if you’re really lucky, this culture will take on a life of its own.
At RTOWN our core values form the centrepiece of our Friday huddles, where teammates come together and shout out to a team mate, celebrating the ways in which they have exemplified the company values during the past week’s work.
Unbeknownst to me, one of our team members started keeping score, tabulating who at RTOWN received the most votes from their peers for each of our core values. These tallies organically grew into what is now the RTOWN Annual Core Values Awards that were and going forward will be handed out to team members during our annual retreats.
The truth is, RTOWN has faced some pretty strong head winds in the last year and half as we’ve been going through a significant change. Pausing for a moment to reflect on how we go through that, my hat goes off to the winners of the inaugural awards. Thank you:
You five amazing people are living proof that no matter how tough it gets navigating changing markets, changing customers and changing technology, it’s our people that make our companies so special.
With that, I’m curious what other company leaders do to bring their company core values alive. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to hit me up with a message if you’d like to know more about how we approach living our company core values at RTOWN.