On the other side of the coin, core values have the potential to serve as an internal metronome that keeps a company in sync.
Tech Soft 3D’s relationship with core values started two years ago. We wanted to ensure we maintained our reputation as a great technology partner. We needed to codify what made us a strong and successful culture to better assimilate new members to our growing team. It was the right time -- we were no longer a small, co-located team. We were expanding, hiring and adding offices in other countries. We needed consensus on what we valued, so culture wouldn’t develop by accident.
And we owed it to our customers to get it right. At Tech Soft 3D, we enter into strong partnerships that last for years. We wanted to be sure that our customers knew that what we stood for would endure for the long term.
So after 14 years of business, we put to paper Tech Soft 3D’s Core Values for the very first time.
I blogged last year about each of these defined Core Values -- and probably mentioned that core values are not something that should ever change. They have. You’ll forgive me, because I also have a tattoo on my arm with our old company logo, which was also never supposed to change.
This year, though, I realized that we weren’t entirely wrong. But we were also only partially right, which really means we got it partly wrong. We desperately didn’t want that, so we backtracked and changed our Core Values. Not to mention, the failure to update them would contradict a very important and enduring Core Value: the constant pursuit of excellence.
Here’s what happened:
Our initial Core Values came out of an Executive Team retreat. They accurately described what was important to us. They were expressed well, if a bit over-written, and thus impossible to memorize. They described what we value, what makes us unique, and who we aspire to be – and are – at our best moments. However, something fell flat. They didn’t really fully capture the essence of Tech Soft 3D. In the end, we decided to think and act like the developers many of us are: look at the first implementation of code, learn what we did wrong, chuck it, grab a coffee, and do it right.
Here’s why we came to this realization.
It’s simply one of those things that it’s extremely important to get right. Done right, our Core Values have the capacity to make a major impact on an organization – and our customers, partners and the industry. It clarifies what’s important, strongly influences decision-making, aids in the hiring process and helps everyone rally around goals. You know what you stand for, and can be confident those around you do, too. Of course, this energizing environment can only be kept strong through active commitment and passion towards the core values.
If just done “OK,” a company would end up with “core value irrelevance,” where these values end up living solely in framed posters in the boardroom – and nowhere else. They are not referenced meaningfully. No one can tell you what they are or how they live them at work. We left ourselves dangerously exposed to this problem.
But there is an even worse fate for core values then mere irrelevance. Lofty values are chosen, without the intention of actually using them as decision-making or moral guideposts. Simply one more requirement to appear respectable. Again, think Enron, with its laughable communication, respect, integrity and excellence. I don’t know about excellence and communication, but respect and integrity don’t exactly spring to mind. And when adherence to the core values begin to deteriorate at any level, they are relegated to management BS. You wake up one morning and you’re a Dilbert cartoon.
So how did we change it?
We went back to the drawing board, but in a Tech Soft 3D kind of way. We asked employees to send an email with a series of words that they thought described the positive elements of the Tech Soft 3D “personality.” We didn’t want trite suggestions plucked from the corporate dictionary of core values. We wanted to know the best parts of who we are, and we received a treasure trove of perspective from every corner of the company.
I then grouped those into “themes” and came up with a list of 12 words that seemed to best represent what I heard, with a short description for each to provide some context. From there, each office held meetings where they pored through those 12 words and provided feedback. What did these words mean to them? Which did they think best described who we are? Which did the least? Which were close, but needed adjusting? What was missing?
That feedback all came back in writing and again I went hunting for themes. There were some interesting perspective differences based on culture (France, UK, Japan and U.S. represented) as well as job function (Development versus Sales & Marketing), but remarkably, the primary themes were extremely consistent across cultures and job functions. It turned out that, though not formalized, there was already a very strong understanding of who we really are.
The result is something that we all believe better captures the “essence” of what makes Tech Soft 3D, well, Tech Soft 3D. But the true judge of whether we’ve hit the mark and stick to our core values, is of course, those we serve outside the company. In every interaction, you should experience our Core Values 2.0. If you don’t think we’re living up to these values in every way, (or if we are), please let us know.
...with customers, partners and within our team
The Constant Pursuit of Excellence
...as we strive to do great work and build a great company
Agility and Responsiveness
...to customer needs, market changes and new opportunities
...in the course of our work, with both colleagues and customers