Aah, Who cares about Company Values!?

Seems a little “fluffy”, right?! In all my years working for a big company, a new CEO would be hired and there would be some ra-ra cheerleading, maybe even a new set of ‘company values’ or rehashing of the old values established by prior leadership….but, in the end, who gives a *hit?

Yawn, yawn. The response was always the same…no matter which CEO was up on the lectern or being broadcast over the internal video system….can I somehow sneak out without anyone noticing and get back to work?

The ‘Why’ In Your Biz

Simon Sinek gave an inspiring talk at a TEDx event that I attended in 2009. Simon hit on a concept which I fully agree with….that is:

  1. Most if not all companies know “what” business they are in.
  2. Some know “how” they do what they do (via their differentiating value prop)
  3. Few know the real reason to “why” they do what they do


When we say “why”. We don’t mean “to make a profit” or to “sell stuff” or “insert mission statement here”. This gets to your “purpose”, your “cause”, your “beliefs”, and yes….your “values”.

“Why does your organization exist”, “why do you get out of bed in the morning”, “why should anyone care”, as Simon explains it.

I love his example of a marketing message (What, How, Why) which Apple could promote:

  1. What: We make GREAT computers
  2. How: They are BEAUTIFULLY designed, SIMPLE to use, and USER-FRIENDLY
  3. Why: We want to sell you a computer. Want to buy one?

Versus this approach, where we LEAD with the “why”:

  1. Why: With everything we do, we believe in CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO, we believe in THINKING DIFFERENTLY
  2. How: The way we challenge the status quo, is by making our products BEAUTIFULLY designed, SIMPLE to use, and incredibly USER-FRIENDLY
  3. What: We just happen to build computers (MP3 players, etc.). “Want to buy one?”

Figure out the key difference here?….When you think about it, people are buying “why Apple does it”, not necessarily “what Apple does”. If you don’t believe that, maybe you’ll believe, at a minimum, that what you do is 100% defined by why you do it.

I was talking to Zach Stewart, founder of SwoopRide, recently. He wants an easier way to carpool to and from work….in a way that allowed him flexibility in his schedule.

But WHY did he embark on this? Well, it was a combination of: 1) wanting to “make commuting a more pleasurable experience” and 2) “doing good for mother earth….reducing the environmental impact from cars”.

I sense some key values which would drive Zach’s hiring plan….you better understand what it means to be a commuter and you better also be environmentally conscious. You have a team that ALL have this is common….man, that’s one seriously powerful group. Go Zach!

Why ‘Values’ Equate to the ‘Why’

Using Apple again, when you think of the Apple brand, what do you think of?

  • Attention to detail
  • Industrial design
  • User experience
  • Everything just works
  • Quality
  • Secure
  • Customer service

It’s an emotional brand…whether you’re talking about the MAC, the ipod, the iphone, the ipad, Apple TV, or any product (and service) offered by Apple. Don’t you think some of these qualities are instilled into the fabrik of the company…namely, the people, the processes, which then trickle down into the products/services?

So doesn’t it make sense to define the “why” as described by Simon Sinek in the form of values that you would base your hiring and firing upon?

If you are a CEO and DON’T CARE about Company values….sure I get it…..people need to execute….they need vision/direction, the right resources, removed obstacles….they need to get *hit done.

Well, if you DON’T CARE about the WHY, I call FOUL, BULLSHIT, YOU’RE JUST ANOTHER SUIT (or Valley CEO-wannabe in jeans and a blaser). Call it CEO 1.0. You are missing how to create a corporate culture which extends from the people to your customers and ultimately differentiates you in a way that increases shareholder value.

So Which Values Then?

I like what Tony Hsieh and team have done at Zappos – building a culture which defines the customer experience. I met Tony at a conference where he presented his famous story on how he got involved. I’ve since connected with Tony because of his talent which I hope to leverage in my own CEO experiences. You can get a deeper understanding of his approach by reading his book, Delivering Happiness.

Here are the Zappos core values:

  • Deliver Wow Through Service
  • Embrace And Drive Change
  • Create Fun And A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative And Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth And Learning
  • Build Open And Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build A Positive Team And Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate And Determined
  • Be Humble

What’s my take on this? It’s simple….lets take the scenario where you have an underperforming employee, and you need to create an “improvement program”. Maybe you think that this particular employee has potential, and you’re not willing to fire him/her just yet.

So what do you list as areas for improvement….what would you fire them for, IF they couldn’t improve over the next 30 days? How do you measure whether they ADD VALUE to the team or whether they ultimately LOWER VALUE (if not up to standards)?

Would Tony Hsieh fire someone if they were doing something to lower the level of service for customers, were given a chance to improve, and failed? Quick answer is Yes.

Matter of fact, I would be surprised if you would find anyone who failed just one of the Zappos company values (just think of the opposites). How many of the following dissapointments as defined below would be allowed:

  • Causes Dissatisfaction Through Unhelpful Service
  • Embraces the Safe and Easy Approach Only
  • Creates Dissent And Is ‘A Little Annoying’
  • Is Unimaginative And Closed-Minded
  • Remains Stagnant And Ignorant, Will Not Learn
  • Exhibits Closed And Untruthful Engagement Supported by Hidden Agendas & Concealment
  • Only Interested in Themselves, Acting purely as an Individual
  • Wastes Time and Money
  • Indifferent And Vacillating
  • Egotistical

Some of My Other Favorites

Well, if you’ve begun to think about what values you’d like in your workplace…..what ‘gets you up in the morning’, ‘why you care about your job’….then here’s a few more candidates to add to the value mix:

  • Thinks ‘out of the box’ (aka uses his/her imagination)
  • Motivated (goes the extra mile)
  • Frugal (spends the company’s time, resources, money as if it where his/her own)
  • Nimble (Steps up in any time of crisis)
  • Communicates (clearly, concisely, and frequently)
  • Innovative (constantly improving)
  • Customer-centric (kind of replaces Zappos’ Wow value)

And here are a few I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Characteristics of a Successful Culture, from the team at Braintree:

  • Self management: both hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel.
  • Ownership: I’ve got it, you don’t need to think about it.
  • Initiative: getting things done without the slightest nudge.
  • Virtue: honesty, humility, thoughtfulness, kindness, and appreciation.
  • Problem solving: nothing that can’t be solved and improved.
  • Team work: we before I.

Do you love your job? The people you work with? Do you know WHY?

Jim Kaskade

Jim Kaskade is a serial entrepreneur & enterprise software executive of over 36 years. He is the CEO of Conversica, a leader in Augmented Workforce solutions that help clients attract, acquire, and grow end-customers. He most recently successfully exited a PE-backed SaaS company, Janrain, in the digital identity security space. Prior to identity, he led a digital application business of over 7,000 people ($1B). Prior to that he led a big data & analytics business of over 1,000 ($250M). He was the CEO of a Big Data Cloud company ($50M); was an EIR at PARC (the Bell Labs of Silicon Valley) which resulted in a spinout of an AML AI company; led two separate private cloud software startups; founded of one of the most advanced digital video SaaS companies delivering online and wireless solutions to over 10,000 enterprises; and was involved with three semiconductor startups (two of which he founded, one of which he sold). He started his career engineering massively parallel processing datacenter applications. Jim has an Electrical and Computer Science Engineering degree from University of California, Santa Barbara, with an emphasis in semiconductor design and computer science; and an MBA from the University of San Diego with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and finance.