Are You Truly Living Your Values?

In this suddenly booming economy, there is a war heating up for the best talent.  We know that a great culture can help you attract the best quality people, but how about leveraging your core values? It worked for OneSource Virtual.

Most companies have recognized that they need a set of core values.  Jim Collins popularized the idea in his book, Built to Last.  The problem is, few companies actually live the values they so proudly display.

CEOs and other leaders fail to live the values because it is easier to talk about what is right than do what is right.  Additionally, they do not hold top-performers accountable when they produce despite not living the values. It becomes too difficult a decision to trade the short-term financial gain for the long-term health of the organization.

They end up focused on what the top performer is bringing in rather than seeing what that bad apple is costing them in terms of the overall team.

Last week I had the chance to interview one of my clients, Brian Williams, who is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of OneSource Virtual. We talked at the Leadership Lessons with DFW Legends program that my group conducts in partnership with the Dallas Business Journal.

Brian built OneSource Virtual from a vision starting in 2008 to a $125 million company with 900 employees today. He made it clear that one of the most important business decisions he made was to lead the company by a set of 10 concise and straightforward core values.

Those values are:

  1. Unquestioned integrity
  2. We are a team
  3. We value humility … no ego trips allowed
  4. Innovation is the rule
  5. You are empowered to fix what is broken
  6. Everyone is accountable to our values
  7. We have fun!
  8. Seek the best for others
  9. Transparency
  10. Exceptional is always the goal

Brian’s moment of enlightenment came during a meeting with an important prospect when he realized that his company was not living up to the claims about its culture that he was making to the prospect.

“I felt like we were hypocrites,” Brian recalls, and says he committed at that point to define and implement – and live – core values that would serve as the foundation of truth in his organization.

He spent the next several months working with his company co-founders to develop the core values that would allow the company to achieve its goals.  Once they were defined they were rolled out to the company.

Of course, just having core values is not enough. There were four key things that Brian did to make the core values more than mere words on a wall:

  • He and the other founders committed to live the values. Modeling the values and doing your hiring and firing based on the values is the most important thing you can do to inculcate the values into your culture.  Hiring based on them is easier than terminating but terminating lets everyone know you are serious.
  • They developed a cadence around the core values. Brian taught them at each month’s new hire training. He instituted a monthly values award, given to one person for each value nominated by their peers. The celebration included dinner at a top local restaurant as well as being highlighted throughout the company.
  • They showcased symbols that visually demonstrated the values everywhere. The values are visually prominent, and every values award winner had their picture framed and hung throughout the office.
  • They leveraged the value of stories, developing them and telling them over and over. With each award winner, there is a new story of how the values are being lived. Each founder also had their own stories about why and how the values are important to them.

In the end, developing the values is the easy part.  Living them and leading by them is what separates good companies from great companies.

Besides the positive cultural impact of the core values, they also played a huge role in helping OneSource Virtual attract more and better job applicants. In 2011, early on in the values implementation, the company had 120 employees, and for 45 open jobs they had just 55 applicants. Once they really began living the values, they never had less than 500 applicants per month, and sometimes as many as 1,300.

That happened because OneSource Virtual did an all-out internal and external promotional campaign. They highlighted on their website how employees were living and representing the values. The cumulative effort was so successful that the enthused employees spread the word to everyone they knew that the company was a great place to work.

As a result, the number one reason that potential employees gave when asked why they were interested in working for OneSource Virtual was the core values.

This demonstrates once again that when you stand for something, you give hope; when you model what you stand for, you build trust.

How is your organization doing with living its values?  Take our 20-question assessment to find out.

Leave a Comment