It was one of the coolest emails I've received from a potential client.

Richard-

Not sure if you remember me. I came to one of your workshops and finally realized it was time to leave my outdated web development process and programming and start over.

Can you give me an idea if we are a match to work together?

-Jay

Back in 2007, Jay had spent a day here at Menlo Innovations, participating in a workshop on our unique approach to project management. As part of that workshop we'd explained Menlo's culture and work practices. I was gratified that the session had inspired Jay to seek a new approach to software engineering and that all these years later he was still thinking about the impact of that experience. Jay had his own high-tech training firm; he had contacted me because he wasn't satisfied with the results he was seeing. I was excited that he seemed to understand and feel the attraction of our very distinctive culture.

In another life I might have responded by saying, "Do you have money? If so, then we are a good match!" But since founding Menlo 14 years ago, I've learned that congruence of the ability to pay and the need to be paid is not the best basis for a successful relationship. Clearly, Jay got that, too. He was asking a profound question that deserved a thoughtful answer.

I replied:

Jay -

You are asking the most important question of all: are we a good match for each other? The answer has less to do with our expertise, our experience, or domain knowledge. It has far more to do with: "Do you believe what we believe?"

You, your team, and even your customers should be able to answer this fundamental question about your company:

What do we believe?

Many people use the terms "beliefs," "values," and "mission" interchangeably. But they are different, and the difference is important. To use an architectural metaphor, if your company is a building, then the mission is what it is used for--be it a church or a bank. Values are the materials of which it is built: they give the structure its strengths and endurance. Beliefs are the footings that underlie everything--even the foundation. They invisibly support every action and every decision taken by the organization as a whole and by every person in it.

If for example, we believe that diversity strengthens our culture, it will affect our hiring decisions. If we believe that a leader should serve rather than be served, it will guide our promotion and reward processes and our organizational structure. If we believe people are trustworthy, it will dissuade us from adopting bureaucratic measures to control our staff in their day-to-day work.

I encourage you to start 2016 by answering this question. Think about it. Talk about it. Write it down. No document is more important to your business. Every decision you make every day is guided by your beliefs. When you make some fundamental blunder with a partner, an employee or a customer, your belief system will set you straight. It will do the same thing for your employees. "That is not who we are. This is what we must do instead."

Compatibility of beliefs is the best indicator of whether a business relationship will be successful. For Jay to judge whether his company and Menlo would be a good match, he would need to understand in detail the beliefs that guide us. (For a peek at what we believe at our company, click here.)

In my response to Jay, I spoke of our deep beliefs that feed the joy we speak of when we do our work. They guide how we work, how we lead, how we think and how we engage with our clients. These beliefs underpin our purpose, our mission, our values, our culture and our work processes.

Before culture, before values, before finding your "why", ask yourself this question in 2016:

What do we believe?

If you do this one simple thing and share it with those seeking to work with you, I believe you and your company will have your best year ever.

Happy New Year!