That’s a question many “realistic” and “pragmatic” businesspeople probably ask themselves. At Highly Relevant, we’ve learned about the importance of company values the hard way — and I’m sure many other businesses have experienced the same thing.
In its fledgling state, a start-up company’s immediate concerns and discussions usually involve urgent issues like money and survival (“We need more money or I can’t even afford to eat Subway this week!”) as opposed to more abstract things like, “Hey guys, which values do you think we have in common with each other?”
While most “realistic” and “pragmatic” people would probably argue that a young, growing company SHOULD focus on the more urgent issues (i.e. “fires”), such as making sales, executing projects, and providing customer service, I’d actually contend that if you want to build a game-changing company that has sustainable, long-term success, then you NEED to focus on developing your company culture and defining your core values first, for two reasons:
1. A strong company culture with defined core values gives you a much stronger foundation to build your team on. Whatever challenges and obstacles come your way, you’ll be able to look to your culture and values to help you make tough decisions.
Let me give you a sports analogy. Often times, you’ll hear about a certain team’s “identity” — one could be a “strong, physical, defensive” team, whereas another may be a “finesse, up-tempo, high-scoring” team. The teams that have strong identities often win because in times of adversity, they know what they’re going to rely on. Teams without an identity are all over the place and don’t win as much because they don’t have a foundation to lean on when times are tough.
Well, in business, your identity is defined by your company culture and core values. Trust me, in any business, you’ll face some difficult times — and you’ve got to have a strong foundation to lean on and a business philosophy built on strong values to guide you. Even if you have a ton of capital to work with, having strong core values helps you spend the money wisely as opposed to just throwing it towards any “shiny red object” that comes your way.
2. If you start building a team of people who aren’t aligned in their value systems and business philosophies, you’ll have a tough time getting through interpersonal challenges that could become a huge hindrance in the development of your company. Resentments, distrust, and artificial harmony will grow, and soon enough you won’t even be able to talk to each other, let alone make crucial business decisions together, in a productive way.
By not having core values guide your personnel/hiring decisions, you risk building a team of people whose values clash — which, in turn, will lead to chaos. (Maybe “chaos” is a little dramatic, but you know what I mean.) In reality, some people just get along better — it’s as simple as that. And when you’re building a company and “in the grind” with these people, it’s important to either have similar values OR a defined group of shared values that everyone has bought into.
At Highly Relevant, we’ve had a couple of iterations of core values. The first set of core values we developed were as follows:
2. Execute/get things done.
Our team has grown, and so recently, we developed a more updated set of core values:
1. Bring passion, energy, and excitement.
2. Be relentless in working hard, taking initiative, and getting things done.
3. Create a positive and fun/weird atmosphere.
4. Have integrity, and be humble.
5. Be exceptional in clarity and frequency of communication.
6. Constantly strive for personal growth and knowledge.
Justin Hong is the Managing Partner at Highly Relevant and is an avid fan/consumer/participant of books (business, leadership, personal development), the Dallas Mavericks, food (all kinds… literally), and ridiculous discussions that are probably not appropriate for this blog.