One owner tells Inc. columnist Paul Spiegelman how establishing core values 10 years ago helped his firm thrive. Seriously.
During the Inc. Small Giants Summit and the Inc. Leadership Forum in June, culture and core values stood out to me as the recurring theme of successful and fulfilling companies. This stood out so much that Keith Squires, president and CEO of PathMaker Group in Colleyville, Texas, and an attendee at both events, sent me the story of how he turned around an unfulfilling pattern when he discovered that core company values would drive business behaviors that lead to sustainable success. Here Squires explains:
After doing a series of consulting projects that left me truly discouraged when the last one ended abruptly, I decided it was time to step up and create a real company. I started PathMaker Group in 2003 out of a desire (you might even say a calling) to develop a company that would last.
I chose to focus this new company on a niche within IT Security called "identity management." To be honest, I could have been building widgets and it really would not have mattered to me. My real passion is forming the right team of people with the right skills for the job. The first two things I did? I read--a lot. There's no need to invent a new way to build a good company. There's data, best practices, and guiding information that will get you where you want to be. I also hired a couple of key people.
We went to work right away and after some personal soul searching each of us brought our ideas to the table. We ended up with five core values that continue to be the keys to our long-term survival:
Leadership and mentoring
Creativity and thought leadership
Work and family balance
High quality results
So how have these core values really helped us make business decisions? Here are the five resulting behaviors that sustained PathMaker over the last 10 years:
We buck the industry. We encourage a highly collaborative environment of creativity and thought leadership. In a day when every company is reducing cost with work-from-home employees, we want people in the office. That's an expensive decision but one we believe is essential if we truly want to be an industry leader. In an industry in which 100 percent year-round travel is pretty common and hard on the family, our standard is 25 percent. We rarely have a problem making the model work and it gives us an advantage when recruiting and keeping employee retention high.
We hire for a values fit. All the experience in the world will not change an employee's attitude and willingness to help a co-worker with humility and a servant's heart. If you wander around talking to our team, you will not find arrogance. It has no place at PathMaker. In the technology industry, you need to be interested in learning. We look for people who wake up every day asking themselves how they can get better at what they do. You really can't teach this--either you have it or you don't.
We make painful decisions. We have had some of the most wonderful people working incredibly hard who are also joys to be around. But they just couldn't produce the technical quality that's required at PathMaker. For a company that looks so much for a values fit, these are the most painful decisions. But they have to be made if you want high-quality results.
We choose our software partners carefully. The technology you use has to work for a large enterprise. But if the supporting vendor organization can't provide proper technical support and training and treat your employees and customers with respect, you won't be able to live out your core values. We parted ways with a vendor that represented 40 percent of our revenue but caused us to lose a series of good people and projects. It took us a couple of years to recover but looking back now it was the right decision for our long-term health as an organization.
We break up with customers when the relationship isn't working. It takes us about two or three months to figure out if a new client will last. Does the customer treat our employees with respect? Can we produce high quality results and have a satisfied customer? We work so hard as an organization to win new customers that it absolutely kills me to let one go. But if you want to keep your people and your reputation in the industry sometimes it's the only option.
On the surface the idea of establishing core values may sound like just some great theory. Take it from one company who has relied on core values for 10 years for our very survival as an organization. This stuff works.