Do your people really come first?
I recently met with a company that left an impression on me. Within the past year they chose to end a relationship with their highest paying client because the relationship was causing strain on their own employees. They made the decision: our people’s long-term wellbeing is more important than our immediate financial wellbeing. The client hadn’t done anything unethical or wrong, they simply were not a good match for the company’s values and culture. I had great admiration for a company that would choose to take a short-term financial hit for its people. There are few ways to better demonstrate one's values are more than just a statement than this.
This got me thinking about how often organizations state something along the lines of, “our people are our most important asset”, but if they were confronted with the same issue as the company above or a procedural or cultural issue that was persistently acting as a detriment to their people, how many would choose their people first in those scenarios? In their eyes, does caring for their people mean: casual Fridays and the ability to work-from-home or that they strive to create an environment where their people can do their best work? This is not about things having to be easy but rather being true to who they are. As written in the book Dare to Lead, "our values are what lead us to the arena door - we're wiling to do something uncomfortable and daring because of our beliefs".
When I arrived at the office of the company above, the first thing they did was walk me through their values, which were written as actionable statements on the wall.
Uncovering your values and operationalizing them can be incredibly valuable. They act as a guiding star for your organization’s growth, can help you attract and retain talent and keep you on course when opportunities present themselves that dilute who you are and what you stand for.
Being around the startup community quite a bit, the desire and pressure to scale is one area where I see great risk for values being diluted or never uncovered in the first place. While it is not wrong or bad to scale, as an audience grows offerings often need to become easier-to-use less quirky and as a result, less interesting and more like competing products. The push to serve more people means stated (or even lived) values may need to be glossed over because the new set of clients we are chasing don't care about what made us unique and instead if they are going to change only become more interested when price wins out rather than choosing a company for what it believes and the unique ways it brings what it offers to a market. The larger we grow the more we must become a one-size-fits-all solution. What do we know about one-size-fits-all clothing?…. it can’t fit everyone well.
Does scaling enable you to deepen and better live out your values or is it primarily driven by a desire to increase value? Will growth force you to have to choose between that and the commitment you made to place your employees first? Are you growing because prospective clients are begging you to serve them exactly as you are or because it's what you feel you are supposed to do?
Go Forth Boldly