Did you know that Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was once arrested in Brazil? He wasn't a young man at the time, raising a ruckus and sowing his wild oats--he was in his sixties.
It's a true story. Walton had flown in to see some friends, and decided to do a little sightseeing all on his lonesome. He didn't head to any tourist traps or set his sights on exotic flora and fauna. He visited retail stores instead.
He was intensely curious to find out how his brother and sister entrepreneurs did things in Brazil. The cops were called because the locals found it strange to see an old, white-haired American crawling around on his hands and knees measuring aisle widths.
I love this story because it illustrates the incredible power of values. Walton was obsessed with customer service, and keenly interested in all the details that go into creating an unmatched buying experience.
His single-mindedness fueled incredible achievements, and companies that hope to match his success should consider these four reasons for establishing unshakeable values of their own:
1. They're a great recruitment tool.
Whenever my employees discuss what they love about our company--whether in a group setting or during a one-on-one--our values are always one of the first things that come up.
It's not a formal requirement, but everyone's expected to know them by heart. They're emblazoned on our website; they're a part of our daily vocabulary; we refer to them in meetings, on Slack, and whenever important decisions are made.
They help us find and keep the best people. It isn't hard to see why as water always rises to its own level. If companies tend to have a family resemblance, this is the reason. Prospective employees want to know they'll be working for a place that reflects their personal ideals.
Shared values mean a tighter organization. They mean less disagreement and more laughter, focus, and creativity. If your employees believe that what they do for a living is important, they won't need managers breathing down their necks to stay homed in on their goals. It'll come naturally, and your business will thrive as a result.
2. They can be a magnet for customers.
My company is dedicated to the health of small businesses, and our values show it. They're all about grit and perseverance and accountability. They emphasize the beauty of both teamwork and individual excellence.
Entrepreneurship is competitive. With clamoring voices shouting to be heard on all sides, potential clients need every bit of assistance they can get when it comes to shutting out the noise in order to concentrate on who can truly be off assistance.
Your values--if expressed clearly and with energy and conviction--can cut through the chaos. You'll have to prove that you mean them, of course, by living up to the high standards you've set for yourself. But they may mean the difference between a customer turning away from you or stepping in for a closer look.
3. They help guide your decisions.
One of Nav's values is that we're "legitified," which we define as "delivering a customer informed, remarkable start-to-forever experience only described by business owners as kickass."
We want our customers to hit the ground running--to get caught up in the excellence of our services from day one and never look back. If they have a problem, we want to hear about it. If something goes wrong with their business, we want to jump in and help them fix it.
If we're contemplating a big decision, and a team member asks if it's legitified (one of our values), we all instantly know what they're talking about. It's visceral at this point. We don't do anything without considering whether it'll improve the lives of our customers first. Our values are a lodestar, keeping us on track during good times and bad.
Confusing company values with company culture is a common mistake. Free lunches aren't a company value; a relaxed dress code isn't a company value; these things are cool or fun aspects of your work environment, but they can undergo even dramatic changes with time without fundamentally altering who you are as an organization.
As my company grew from a tight little group of friends who all fit into the same room together to hundreds filling two offices and spread across a handful states, our culture transformed with it. I miss some aspects of the old days, and look back on them with affection and esteem. A startup and an established corporation are very different animals.
I can tell you this, though: Our values have remained consistent throughout. My understanding of them is richer and deeper, but that implies a transformation in me, and not in the values themselves. They're a source of strength and comfort, and young executives hoping to take their businesses to the next level would do well to build a similar foundation.