When Core Values & New Ideas Collide
Our business is going through growing pains, similar to what many other Inc. 5000 companies are likely experiencing as well. As co-founders, we are at the point where we are transitioning daily decision-making-and even some larger strategic decisions-to a new and sometimes broader group of company leaders.
Not only does this transition take us away from day-to-day decisions that were once routine, it also requires us to re-evaluate the company's core values and principles.
Why is this re-evaluation necessary? To fuel our growth, we have recruited senior-level talent from larger organizations, and each of these individuals brings a somewhat different way of working. This diversity is good, and quite necessary for our growth. But as we incorporate best practices from other organizations, we also need to stay true to Avondale's core: an entrepreneurial, team-oriented culture.
Here's one example of how difficult this balance can be. Since we founded the firm, we've had an open vacation and holiday policy. We don't track vacation days and don't define specific holidays. We expect that people will take time off when they need to and celebrate the holidays that are important to them. Our team works hard, often beyond the typical 40-hour work week, and we wanted to provide some balance to the regular spikes in our workflow that necessitate long hours.
This policy is rooted in our core values. We believe people should be measured by results rather than time spent. In our view, tracking vacation and holidays is in effect measuring the days they spend working.
If someone achieves something great for the firm, we don't care whether they take three weeks or six weeks of vacation, and we certainly don't care if they take off on Valentines' Day or their spouse's birthday.
This policy came up for discussion by our recently formed Avondale Leadership Council, a collection of senior leadership (not including the founders) that was created to make most of the organizational and strategic decisions of the firm. Many council members came from large organizations with clear vacation and holiday policies. They recently suggested that we needed to clearly communicate which holidays were "Avondale holidays." Their primary concern was that providing no guidance on holidays made people feel like they were required to work.
Here are the questions this raised for us as the two founders of the company:
- Does this proposed policy violate one of our core values?
- If we disagree with, or even veto, the leadership team, are we undermining their authority to make decisions?
- Does an explicit holiday policy undermine our culture? Or are we making a mountain out of a molehill?
- As a growing company, how should we mix the founders' experience with the large company experience of some of our newer senior leaders?
Any suggestions? Many of you have likely experienced these issues at growing companies, or are facing a similar challenge now as you seek to grow the business. Please share your thoughts and perspective with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll let you know how it turns out.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.