In 2012, Decisive Data started on a path to become more organized and intentional as a company. Unsurprisingly, this was also something that the leadership—including myself, the CEO—were experiencing personally in our own lives. Whether it be having children (in my case, a fourth child), purchasing a home, or deciding how to position the org chart, there were lots of things that we attempted to undertake that set us on this path. Our question was this: How do we get approximately a dozen employees organized around the “core values” of our company? We needed to know our options.
Since the company’s founding in late 2006, we have pivoted a few times on this theme. Indeed, when I launched the company I did not even have a “formal business plan,” nor did I engage in a proper, sequential declaration of mission, vision, objectives, and strategies. However, the last five years of our ten-year journey have really been about wanting to substantiate and declare who we are and what we are about.
In order to accomplish this, it became clear over time that we needed to be more overt in having a clearly stated common goal. When there’s ten, twenty, or even thirty employees, you may all “fit in the same room” at times. As soon as 2014-2015 rolled around, however, Decisive Data cracked the 50 employee barrier. In this growth period it became clear that our company culture and values (still amorphous in the formal sense and undefined, as in not written down, at that point) would not be absorbed simply by osmosis. In the process of formalizing the organization and maturing to a state where we were putting our stake in the ground, we needed to declare who we are.
What we decided to do was start with our people first and come to a common ground of what companies often call their “Core Values.” This was a journey, and in the spring 2015, with the help of the wonderful Chris Edmonds, we began to explore in earnest how to declare our company values through the construction of a “culture constitution.”
(Chris Edmonds, the author of The Culture Engine, is a colleague and compatriot of Ken Blanchard in the corporate organizational strategy and culture space. Chris and his work has been an enormous help on our journey. Follow him on Twitter @scedmonds.)
Full disclosure: we didn’t go all the way through from A-Z on Chris’s suggested process. However, the parts we were able to leverage were so invaluable I would vouch for them ten times over. The path we took included taking an offsite day with approximately twenty of the most seasoned leaders and key contributors at Decisive Data at the time. We went to the lovely Suncadia Resort in the spring of 2015 (a spectacular location to do a getaway if you’re in the PNW). We took the whole day, and each person brought their own core, individual values by which they live their lives.
Then we took each person's individual values and spent a day in a large conference room organizing them across the walls, aggregating them by topics and themes. We winnowed it down from several hundred post-it notes to about six or seven groups, and each of these groups fell within a similar conceptual boundary. By doing this exercise publically, we allowed people to explain their values and give input to the key aspects of our process of Principles formation. We made it clear: We are trying to move from the "personal" to the "corporate." In other words, we are wanting to give ourselves a more grounded awareness of how what was important to us as individuals could be defined as something collectively important to us as an organization.
In the aftermath of this experience, the executive team had many meetings where we debated precise definitions, wordings, and so on. Eventually, we successfully distilled what we call our six “Guiding Principles” of Decisive Data:
Create Customer Value
-“I do work that clearly satisfies my customer. The primary beneficiary of my effort is my customer.”
- “I have a unique combination of skills, character, and history that no one else does.”
- “I put the needs of others first. Service is an attitude and way of being.”
- “I see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. I am not defeated by setbacks and choose to endure and overcome.”
- “I continuously improve my knowledge, tools, and expertise. The quality of my work is a representation of who I am.”
- “I foster an environment of laughter, joy, and friendship.”
This was a major step forward for Decisive Data, and we officially “unveiled” these Principles to the company team in January 2016. The task before us, of course, is to avoid allowing these hard-won Principles to devolve into empty platitudes. How do we ensure these remain a potent, daily reality in all that Decisive Data seeks to accomplish?
In closing I will say that since January of 2016 several things have shifted at Decisive Data; some intentional and planned, while others were a bit more jarring. One thing about change is—it's inevitable. However, these principles serve as an anchor in the sometimes stormy waters of change. The chain links that connect to this anchor are the associated behaviors for each of the principles (as you can see in the PDF linked to here) and recently some of those behaviors have gone from useful to invaluable. A few that that have proven to be noteworthy links in the chain connecting to the anchor of these principles are worth highlighting: The second behavior that embodies "Create Customer Value" is something I think about daily right now: "I always ask if there is a better way." In addition the fourth behavior defined that shows one is on the right track for "Be Original" is: "I am present, engaged and intentional." These two behaviors help me know how to lead well and provide both myself and my team a common point of reference that we can all agree makes our identity and our culture stronger.