Lesson Learned: Don’t rush core values.
This blog post is part of a series of leadership lessons that I have learned from 40 years in tech.
Another short but sweet one.
Capturing a company’s core values in writing, and promulgating and evangelizing them, is an important step in scaling a company. And once leaders have an idea of what they should be, it’s tempting to quickly push them out to the masses (see Ready, aim, fire — in that order). But rushing them could be a terrible mistake. It is critically important to be thoughtful and deliberate and try them on for size, because you really only get one shot at it. Rushing them at best makes them less impactful, and at worst makes them a meme. Once you get them wrong it is very difficult to recover.
One company where I worked decided to fast track their core values, held an intensive leadership brainstorming meeting to define then, and published them a week later. They sounded great when presented. But when we tried to put them into practice, we found that they sometimes felt ambiguous or redundant, and often found them difficult to apply to real-world situations. They ended up falling flat and were not really internalized by most employees.
Conversely, at another company, we took an entire year to define and refine our core values before going broad with them across the company. It felt like it took forever. But it was worth the wait. They were embraced and put widely into practice because we took the time to make sure they were durable, memorable, understandable, unambiguous, distinct, and livable. And they are still in use, in their original form, eight years later.