Core Ideologies: The Heart and Soul of Scale-Ups

Core Ideologies: The Heart and Soul of Scale-Ups 150 150 Frumi Rachel Barr

Core ideologies are a crucial part of the foundation organizations are built upon. They consist of two essential components of strategic thinking: core values and your purpose for existing, or why. There is nothing more important to your success than the people you engage with. They can be members of your leadership team, your board, employees, investors, or vendors. It’s alignment with your core values and purpose that will allow you to build a profitable and sustainable organization.

Codify your core values

Laying the foundation for your business begins with two key activities: understanding and codifying the core values that guide your business and your purpose for existing. I am not talking about the list of values that may be on a plaque in your office. We all know that Enron had integrity listed in their core values. Core values are deeper than that. They are the activities and beliefs that you act on every day. They are the guide for hiring the right employees and firing those employees who do not live your values.

Core values are considered aspirational when they are how you wish everyone around you behaved. True core values are always supported by the stories you can tell to demonstrate what you mean by each of them. When you can tell stories about how someone in your company lives that value, you’ll know it’s a real core value. If you like what a value means but don’t have a single story to share – I would call that aspirational.

Trevor is the CEO of a company that distributes goods to big box retailers. As I watched him struggle with naming his core values I reminded him how I have witnessed over and over how he has demonstrated caring for his employees. He recently interviewed a sales rep he really wanted to hire. The rep asked permission to snap a picture of the core values and shared that it was the values that made his decision to join the team an easy one – he was aligned with their values!

Teams often get stuck on getting the words just right. It might take a while to fine tune the wording but don’t let that stop you. That can come later. One of my personal favorites is Make Mama Proud.  Your mama would hate to see you on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for some nefarious deed! Too bad Enron missed that one.

Action to take to make core values come alive:

As employees congratulate some act of kindness, perseverance, an amazing customer experience or anything else they admire, send an email to them to honor them. Don’t stop there. Create a little book of emails and as you onboard new employees share that book with them. Usually new employees are immediately given the employee handbook, not what makes your organization a fabulous place to work.

Ask Yourself: Would you enthusiastically rehire all your stakeholders?

In answering this question for yourself, evaluate those that live your core values and at the same time are highly productive. If they do not live your core values, make them available to industry (i.e. fire them). If they do, but fail to be highly productive, first ask yourself if they are clear on the expectations for their position. Then coach them to be productive. They are worth saving. At every stage of your growth it is important to reevaluate your people. Having the right people in the right seats doing the right things is the most important ingredient for success. You can have the best technology and the best strategy but without the right people you will not be sustainable.

The second Core Ideology: Your Why, Your Purpose for Existing

Why does your organization exist? We all know that the purpose of business is to make money but that is not the right answer. There is some reason the business was started. There is some reason that you wake up every morning and keep on keeping on. Starting and growing a business is not easy – some days you might wonder why you stick with it. That’s your why or purpose for existing. Every member of your team should be able to deliver your why message.

Imagine an assembly line of people building rectangular glass boxes. You approach the assembly line and ask an employee what they are producing. The answer: I’m putting a door on this glass box. Then you approach another individual further down the line and get a completely different answer: with every door I put on this incubator, I save a baby’s life. Now which one of these answers gave you goose bumps?

Action to take to Find Your Purpose

If your purpose isn’t clear yet, ask every individual in your company to offer their opinion by secret ballot. See what they have to say and see which one of those gives you an emotional jolt. That’s what it takes. Watch Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TED talk for further inspiration. With more than 25 million views I can assure you it’s worth watching.

In summary:

Thinking about core values and purpose might seem soft. If you believe that alignment of team members is essential for success, then this is the place to start your foundation. Core values and purpose are the core ideologies that drive a company’s culture. Get it right, and you will have motivated loyal employees and a thriving organization.