Op-Ed: Are Your Company’s Core Values Missing Something?

A company has to realize that what they do doesn’t really matter. Sound completely nuts? It shouldn’t.

The desire to be engaged in purposeful, fulfilling activity is universal. Abraham Maslow, a well-known psychologist, classified it as a basic need in his “self actualization” rung of the pyramid. Aristotle called it eudemonia, or human flourishing: “the soul acting in accordance with virtue.” Csikszentmihalyi proffers two concepts: good work — in which one “enjoys doing [one’s] best while at the same time contributing to something beyond [one]self”— and growth toward complexity — in which people flourish as their achievements grow.

When we boil all of these concepts down, we see that they are all derivations of the same basic principle. I call this principle Live.Learn.Grow™. These three words tap into a universal truth that people ultimately want to be and do their best.

So, what does it take for this to happen?


What You Do Doesn’t Matter

A company has to realize that what they do doesn’t really matter. Sound completely nuts? It shouldn’t.

Think about companies that completely changed course or shifted strategy and direction. When a company that specialized in producing computers saw an opportunity in mobile phones, they introduced the world to the iPhone. When a video dating site called TuneInHookUp flailed, its founders decided to change direction and then created YouTube. An unsuccessful podcasting startup worked on a side project for months before making it their full-time gig and renaming themselves Twitter.

More and more companies are seeing that making drastic shifts to what they do doesn’t have to impact who they are, as long as they are true to how they do it.

Many companies who modify strategy and approach are unsuccessful because their compass is pointed solely towards profits, not towards the people who create them. So what goes into how a company does business and, more importantly, how it does business well? I believe it’s about creating an environment that allows people to thrive.


Why “Core Values” Fall Short

Companies most often define their culture through a series of core or company values. If you take a sampling of some of the core values out there, you will see many of the same themes repeated. Really, don’t most people want similar things? We want to work in a place where we feel respected. We want our clients taken care of, we want to do good work, and we want our company to prosper.

So, why do so many of these attempts to create a strong culture through values fail?

Values are often static and generic. In the effort to boil them down to universal truths, values are often universally useless. Many leaders and businesses try to create a list of values to impose upon the company, as opposed to creating a company with these values woven into the fibers of the business.

They take the same approach with people; they try to hire folks who have the skills they need and then try to instill the values in them once they are onboard. Rather than that, hire people who, themselves, embody the values.


Defining Dynamic Values

Values must remain a dynamic element in an organization. Each value of the snowball builds upon the other, both at the individual and organizational levels, gaining a momentum that snowballs and propels the growth and development of both.

To work, your company’s core values must be:

  • Action-oriented
  • Relevant regardless of tenure or stage in the organization
  • Dynamic – they grow, change and develop with individuals
  • Holistic – they apply personally and professionally.

A critical assumption behind our approach is that businesses leveraging our methodology would have to outperform their peers in the market. Profit is only the means to the end, but it is a powerful validator for those who would initially be dismissed as “unsustainable nice-to-haves.”

In his book Conscious Capitalism, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey argues that profit maximization need not be the sole purpose of business and calls for “a way of thinking about business that is more conscious of its higher purpose, its impacts on the world, and the relationships it has with its various constituencies and stakeholders.”

It is not that profits aren’t the responsibility of a business; without strong performance, people lose their jobs, investors lose their money, and customers lose access to a product or service. Instead, it is the blind pursuit of profits as purpose that leads companies astray.

Sound too good to be true? Mackey and his co-founder tracked businesses who adhered to these practices over 15 years and compared their performance to the S&P 500. The result? Businesses built on a higher purpose and values outperformed the market 10 to one.

I want to help create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live, learn and grow. Ultimately, that is what my company aspires to do daily for anyone we touch. While there are many ways to do this, I’m personally compelled to drive this change through the workplace. Since so much of the world spends so much time and energy at work, my assumption is that, by changing the way the world does business we can fundamentally change the world.


Tynesia Boyea Robinson is the CEO of Reliance Methods, which puts Americans to work by providing human capital strategy and placement solutions for clients like Walmart, the Carlyle Group, and the federal government. Tynesia serves on numerous boards and has published several articles, which have been featured in the Washington Post and in Leap of Reason. Education: Harvard MBA, Duke University EE & Comp Sci. A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.


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