Company values are like the body parts we sit on.
Everybody’s got ’em, nobody talks about ’em, and most of them stink.
So why, early this year, did we emboss our new company values 4 feet high and 25 feet long on the entry wall?
It started last February at our weekly all-agency meeting:
ME: “I just read that most clients select agencies because they are a good values match. So, who can tell me what our agency values are?”
SILENCE (SMILES, IS HE SERIOUS?)
JENNIFER: “Come on, anybody just throw out what you think they are.”
UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE, THEN…
CW: “Um, creativity?”
AS: “Lifetime learning?”
ME: “No, no,” and “that’s a form of compensation, not a value.”
Here we were believing our culture was one of our great strengths, but the foundation it sat on was fruit Jell-O in a hot kitchen. So, after digging up the list of our former values — and ceremonially tossing them in the recycling bin — during the next couple months, we reinvented our values. More specifically, we identified what our team actually valued and what we wanted to bet and build our collective futures on.
Let me say right here that I’m not a culture wonk. I believe good people and good ideas — not good process — are what make a good place to work. But oddly, our new values are proving to be useful. Even inspiring. They direct who, and how, we hire. Recently, they have been showing up in RFPs and pitch decks. They are performance criteria on our job descriptions and employee reviews. And they will soon be on a “Value Pack” of PK-branded beer, so . . . people are drinking the Kool-Aid.
We call them our CO-OP values. Why? Two reasons: One, we are an ESOP, so all our people are part owners of the agency. Not really a co-op but close. Two, and this is way more important than you would think, it is an acronym. A stupidly simple, effective memory device. So, what are these mythic values our team is starting to actually value?
Courage. Champion smart risks.
Originality. Choreograph our own dance.
Openness. Welcome diverse thinking.
Positivity. Inspire more great.
Positivity is last on the list, but it was the first value we agreed on. There are enough cynics, critics and egomaniacs in the world already. Office politics are toxic, and we all wanted to hire, work and grow without negative people holding us back. Put another way, we’re betting nice people can finish first.
Courage was next. Even as we grow, there still aren’t that many clients with the ability to outspend their competitors. So, we have to be, and inspire, the bold among us. Taking smart risks is a great way to self-select clients who are interesting to work with. It helps all of us push for our best work.
Openness is not just a modern work style; it’s a way of showing trust. We share our babies and float our fledgling ideas with one another before they are fully formed. It makes final ideas better if people feel free to share the stupid ones first. Plus, we all need to hire way more people with diverse cultural backgrounds and ideas.
Originality has always been hard to come by. Digital, especially, has become a me-too medium and I’m not talking about the landmark women’s movement. We challenge ourselves to do original work in every category and vehicle we compete in. We fail. We try harder. Work longer. When we succeed, our clients are industry marketing leaders.
Test your own team on your company values. If they don’t know, or aren’t sure, then how much value are they really providing? Kick them to the curb and start again. They are what the future of your company will be built on.