Jun 26, 2018 | Leadership

When you think of your company’s values, what comes to mind?

Do they serve as guideposts for how your team behaves and makes business decisions? Are they feel good words posted on your About Us website page? Or worse, is your organization’s behavior so misaligned with your stated values that it reeks of hypocrisy? After all, the stated values according to Enron’s 2000 Annual Report were Communication, Respect, Integrity, and Excellence.

When organizations underperform, leaders often try to fix the problem by shuffling people around or investing in new technology. But when its culture and values are misaligned, no amount of shuffling or software will address the underlying problem. The importance of building on a strong set of core values and standards of behavior that align with your core values cannot be overstated.

As Patrick Lencioni wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Empty values statements create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility.” When organizations get this right, the culture is empowering. When they get it wrong, the culture is toxic. Either way, the effects show up in the bottom line.

So, how do you create a set of core values that will help align your employees and drive performance? In 2015, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, the Co-Founders of Stone Brewing, came to us after enjoying 20 straight years of success. After hearing us speak at a leadership event, they realized that they had been so focused on survival followed by scalable growth that they had neglected their culture. “We needed our inside to match our outside,” as Steve Wagner put it. Here’s how we worked with Stone Brewing to create a culture of performance.

Be Aggressively Authentic.

We started by asking to look at Stone’s core values. As it turns out, they had never taken the time to capture any core values. So, we sat down with Steve and his hand-picked team of five people, and began reverse engineering what values differentiated Stone from the competition. We took the team on culture field trips to companies like WD-40, Patagonia and Taylor Guitars to give them a peak inside organizations whose values and performance were strongly aligned. We challenged them to create values that would act as a distinct blueprint for employee behavior and business decisions – one that would be used for attracting employees who fit the values, and for holding themselves and fellow employees accountable to.

Own the Process.

Not only did Steve Wagner handpick his Culture Action Team. He chaired it. He went on the culture field trips. He even amended his title to include Chief Culture Officer. Wagner realized that he needed to make culture and values alignment a priority. Early in the process, Wagner wrote a TED-like talk and made his way to every team meeting to let them know about what he and the Culture Action Team were working on and to get feedback from Stone employees. As he made the rounds and saw the excitement build, Wagner’s conviction and dedication to naming and claiming Stone’s values grew.

Let it Brew.

From the first meeting of Stone’s Culture Action Team to the day the core values were officially rolled out took just under five months. Wagner and his team knew that rushing the process could result in values that would not play out. They had to consider how the values could be put into action by the full complement of team members – from brewers to drivers, from sales reps to restaurant staff, from marketing to accounting. How would the values be interpreted from San Diego, CA, to Richmond, VA, to Berlin, Germany, and in countries where Stone had yet to make its mark? In the end, the team landed on these four core value: Fearless Leadership, Creative Risk Taking, Revolutionary Spirit, and Team Stone.

We left Wagner and his Culture Action Team with a roadmap for integrating the core values into Stone’s culture. That was 18 months ago. Today, the Culture Action Team has grown from 5 to 30 members, with culture ambassadors at every location, including its newly opened brewery in Shanghai. Stone’s marketing team created a special values logo, and the values are proudly displayed by Stone team members on everything from t-shirts to coasters. More importantly, everything from the hiring of new employees to how business decisions are made are put through a values fit test.

Stone’s connection with its core values – its competitive differentiator – was a much needed boost to employee engagement. In 2015, employee engagement was at 60%. In 2016, employee engagement rose to 73%, and in 2017, it rose to 86%. Those scores impact innovation, productivity, turnover costs, and bottom line performance.

Many leaders would not have the patience for the time and effort it takes to create and implement a solid alignment between values and culture. But for those who do, fortify their organizations with long-lasting, aligned success.

Question: What organizations do you know that live by an authentic set of core values?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!



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