The Role of Values and Culture

by | March 6, 2017

As small business owners, we often wear many hats, including head of finance, customer service and HR.  As CEOs, we are tasked with strategy and leading the execution plan. The “doing” work of a business owner can get separated from the “strategy” work of the CEO.  In my experience, when this happens, we get lost.  We have disconnects.  We don’t execute as well and all our stakeholders feel it.

I recently participated in a program by Gazelles on the “people” side of the business.  The program started with a look at the company’s core values.  We’ve had core values for a long time.  They’ve been thought through, vetted by the team, and modified from time to time over the years.  In that session, though, I realized that they were externally focused.  We talked about our core values as part of our service to our customers.  It raised the questions:  Do we live these values as a team?  Would we terminate someone for failing one of our core values?  Wow – that’s a big deal.  If that’s the benchmark, why is it so critical?

As I mentioned earlier, when the team isn’t all on the same page, moving forward toward the same objectives with the same priorities, we don’t execute as well.  For a law firm, this seems that it should be pretty easy – clients need legal work done, you hire excellent attorneys and everyone is happy.  But wait, there’s actually a lot more – and whether there’s more because we’re trying to do something really different at Equinox or whether it’s all firms, I don’t know.  There’s more for us at Equinox because we are trying to do something different- we are trying to build a new model for business customers and we are trying to grow a company.  We’ve found that the skills we need for what we are building is different.  Excellent lawyers are necessary but not sufficient.  In addition to being an excellent lawyer, we need people who are excited about building something and that’s not really most lawyers.   By requiring a culture fit as a necessary component of our hiring, we lose some excellent candidates; but when the right people are on the bus, the whole company shifts into high gear because our priorities are aligned.

How you hire for core values is still a bit of a mystery – the statement “You know it when you see it” may not be a fool proof methodology, but I think it gets you part way there.   More than anything, though, you must know what core values drive your business.  What is the glue that binds you?  What are your deal killers in working with clients and employees?  Even if you haven’t spent time on this as yet in your business, know that it exists.  The  work goes into describing it and then using it as a barometer for your operations and success.