Values — Live Them

Big Red Car here. Nice, nice day in the ATX. On Earth as it is in Texas!

So The Boss is having a conversation with two of his brilliant CEOs and they get on the subject of values.

Story time

CEO #1 says: “I need to get on that. We don’t have any values.”

CEO #2 says: “We’ve got our values printed on a poster. We have five core values and they’re hanging in the reception area.”

The Boss asks CEO #2: “What are your values?”

The CEO hems and haws and finally admits he can’t remember exactly what they are. He gets a couple of them but he doesn’t remember all of them. He wrote them.

CEO #1 laughs and CEO #2 takes him to task: “At least we’ve got some values.”

If you don’t remember or articulate your values, do you really have anything?

The Big Red Car sayeth: “No!”

You live your values

What was funny about this exchange is that both of these CEOs are very good CEOs and their companies are doing well. They really do have values — the values they live and the values they project.

What is missing is a little codification as a means of communicating these values BEFORE they are needed. Companies need spaced repetition articulation of mission critical information that aligns efforts. You have to communicate and update constantly. It is battle drill. It has to become instinctive.

Bottom line: Values are not what you say they are, they are what you live.

Values, a guide

Not every company is going to have the same values though the best companies seem to have extraordinarily similar values when distilled to their essence. [“Distilled to their essence” — what a bullshit turn of a phrase, Big Red Car. Really? Get real, you freakin’ dinosaur.]

Here is a little guide that The Boss developed in 33 years of CEOing. It is not for everyone but it might be a way to get a good start on codifying your approach. Steal it. Why not?

Sanitized Vision, Mission, Strategy, Values flip book 2013

A few words of advice:

1. Make your utterances on values comfortable for the entire company. Don’t write them like they are a submission to the Atlantic or the Economist. Make them readable.

2. Make them simple and clear, one by one — bit of crawl, walk, run.

3. Give examples so they are not pronouncements but earthy examples that anyone can understand and act upon without further instruction.

4. Big one: LIVE THEM! Do not bullshit your own company. Live them! The company can smell a phony a million miles away.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be good to yourself and call someone you love who hasn’t had the pleasure of your voice in a long time.







7 thoughts on “Values — Live Them

  1. interesting thing about values and companies-when they get corporate, they all sound the same. Be unique! When I was at 3M, one thing that was drilled into everyone’s head was “Our goal is to have 25% of our top line revenue come from products introduced in the last five years.” Then they set up a value system to attain that goal. It’s why scientists had 3-5 hours in the lab to do whatever they wanted-why salespeople were encouraged to make calls they couldn’t possibly close.

  2. Yep – you’re bugging something. I was thinking about values this morning on my nice, brisk run (5 degrees, windy, another foot of snow on the way). On earth as is…oh never mind. You win.

    During the early stages (pre P/M fit) I have found that values are not yet visible on the outside – but they are the internal compass that drives you forward. This period is challenging (and lonely) so you are constantly checking to see if your compass is working properly. You check the market, your colleagues, your family, friends, and, interestingly enough, total strangers!

    Thankfully, there is an abundance of information available in the startup world. There are blogs, books, videos, comments, characters, etc. The information available is really, really good – and interesting. You are suddenly surrounded by people who are wayyyy smarter and successful than you. It’s great.

    The problem I have found is that there is a lot of information that can make you question your values. A lot of the what is written concentrates on unicorns and moonshots. You start thinking “maybe my compass isn’t working – these people are smarter than me”. I think this is a mistake.

    I am glad I found this blog. You reinforce a lot of the values that we need to build something great, regardless of how big it can become. That is reason we chose the startup path in the first place.

    Thank you.

    • .
      Kevin, you have nothing to worry about. Anyone who is up and running in 5F has already given evidence of understanding how tough living up to one’s values is. That is not chicken feed.

      You have hit the right note, unicorns and lightning striking do happen but not to most of the real world.

      Come to work early, stay late, work hard, read an hour a day about your profession — and then be true to yourself. You will be a success in a currency that is not always money but often is.

      You will be a genuine, authentic leader who is unafraid to charge Hell with a half full thimble of water. And the flames of Hell will be extinguished by men and women who will do just that.

      The secret? There are no secrets. There never have been. There never will be.

      Stay away from the guys with mousse in their hair who have all the answers. They don’t.


  3. I saw this floating by on LinkedIn today.

    Its a long list but simple. Its been updated since I first went to Marine OCS in 1998. The lead with honor phrase has taken billing from 14 Leadership Traits.

    To be frank I remember the Marine Corps value easier than I do the Army’s. Maybe its the drilling or simplicity. I don’t know.

    Possibly it’s the personal challenge or responsibility they demand.

    • .
      I can tell you exactly why — the Marines do a better job of drilling it into their men. Marines, on average, do a better job of making riflemen. Every Marine is a rifleman even if they happen to start the day with a spatula in their hand. This is one of the things I admire about the Marines.

      I went to jump school with a bunch of Force Recon Marines and they were the best soldiers I ever encountered.

      You are one of the few men who can make such a direct comparison and your view is therefore extremely insightful and valuable.

      See you on the high ground!


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