Seven years ago, Tim Carroll, myself, and one other leader sat in a room with a blank whiteboard. I asked them, "Give me the names of any hero in your life. Friends, family, colleagues, people who you respect, political figures, cartoon characters, fictional characters, historical figures, etc."
After filling the board with names, I asked about each one: "Why is that name up there? What characteristics make them important enough to be on this list." Then I erased all the names, and all that was left were the traits. I said, "Now let's play kill, keep, and combine.” We kept working until only 12 traits remained on the board.
Simple isn't easy, but simple is worth it.
When my son was five years old, he was able to get ahold of my phone, and without any training or prior exposure, he had found a game and was dominating it to a level that I cannot even begin to achieve because simple is easy. The phone interface is simple, but it wasn't easy for its designers to make it that way.
12 values were not going to cut it. We wanted simple. So we kept working and finally ended up with three:
· Honorable: we do Right for Right’s sake
· Results++: we do the job and then some
· Humble Charisma: we strive to be the kind of people others want to be around
Honorable: This trait shows up in several different ways. One way is that if we say we're going to do a job or task, then it's going to get done. If the scope hasn't changed, we're not going to charge more. We don't bait-and-switch our clients. If we say we'll do something for $600,000 dollars, and it costs us $620,000 dollars, then we will lose $20,000. I would much rather do the right thing and take a short-term loss on the project for a long-term gain in our relationship with the client.
Honorable also demands candor – the willingness to embrace conflict for a higher cause. If a staff member is upset with me, rather than go to somebody else in the office, e.g., a coworker / manager, I expect that first, they will attempt to work it out with me. Candor demands that you go back to the source. Honorable demands that you initiate that conversation with that person.
With clients, as soon as you know an issue has presented itself – you’ve found a bug, or you need more time to reach a milestone than you stated last week – then you and the project manager need to initiate a conversation with the client immediately. We prioritize face-to-face over video conference, video conference over the phone, phone over email. The quicker we act, the more relational we are. You're going to have a better connection with an individual by interacting directly with them than you are by sending an email.
Results++: Whether you’re a small startup company that has one chance to design and gain approval for a neurostimulator, or a large established company that can afford the best, you're not going to do a web search for “neurostimulator design and development consulting.” You're going to call someone you know who's done it and say, "Who'd you use?" The nature of the work we do is sophisticated and dangerous, and there is no room for error. You just don’t take that kind of risk on an unknown entity.
The business that we’re in is absolutely referral-based. Results++ demands that we wow people so that at the end of our current engagement, our clients become our best salespeople.
About 95 percent of our work is either repeat or referral. Since our values are ingrained in everything we do, we exude them in all aspects of our process, not only after we obtain a new contract. We’ve received referrals from clients who we never actually signed an agreement with! It could be due to a brainstorming session we hosted with them, or our assistance in their funding process, or even meeting with their board and investors. No matter the size or type of interaction, we will treat each one with the same amount of focus and respect.
We're able to make this impact earlier and earlier in our working relationships. Our commitment to Results++ drives our clients to share the message that, “Velentium is just a great group of people to work with.”
Humble Charisma: If a couple of us are stuck in an airport on a business trip with a client, and someone says, "Hey, let's go grab a beer and hang out," Humble Charisma is the reason we’re all glad to do that. Because of Humble Charisma, we enjoy spending time with colleagues and clients. In order to work here, potential employees have to pass that beer test with me. This doesn't mean you have to drink beer to work here, but it does mean you have to be the kind of person that anyone in our professional lives can imagine having an enjoyable conversation with. The reason for this is that we're in the people business, which means you're going to interact with our clients on a daily basis. And at the end of each project, I want them to say, "I really enjoyed working with that person from Velentium."
We're more than just worker assets for profit. We're human beings with stories, dreams, passions, and drive, but so are our suppliers and clients! This is why it's important for us to connect with people, as people, not just as performers of job functions, as often as possible.
Our values govern all that we do. Our staff often hears me say, "You decide." If they come into my office with a question, a typical response is, "Tell me what the pros and cons are. Tell me which of the values applies. Now you decide." Rather than being a company full of rules, we're a company guided by three core tenets. When we hire intelligent people who agree with these tenets and want to uphold them as much as we do, we can give them the freedom to make decisions. And it works! It distributes responsibility, lifts the burden from management, and encourages taking personal ownership of every aspect of the business by every person on staff.
In the next post, we will talk about how a company cannot govern to its bottom performers.