Today is an important day in WordStream’s evolution. We recently completed an exercise to define our core purpose and core values and we are ready to share them with our employees, customers, prospects and followers.
We have been growing fast, with over 30 new hires in 2012 so far. As we grow, having a “playbook” of how we operate becomes more and more important. These values are the essence of our company. These are not just words on paper, but something we will strive hard to live by, and we expect you to hold us accountable to them.
WordStream’s Core Purpose:
To bring the power of search marketing to businesses of all sizes.
WordStream’s Core Values:
The below graphic illustrates our core values. Click to enlarge.
How Did We Create These Values?
I’ve done this a few different times over the years, and refined how to go about this such that we obtain the ultimate outcome: values we believe in and values that truly represent the company. Here are the steps we took to define these values.
Our Core Values Committee
I set up a committee to take on this challenge. Eight people were on the committee (plus me). A few important attributes around committee makeup:
- Not one person from the Executive team. I don’t believe values are effective if they are created “top down.” They need to come from the “inside.”
- I needed people that would not be intimidated by me. I wanted people that would rip apart my first draft, tell me where I was wrong. Speak up.
- I wanted the committee to represent all parts of the company. Customer Success, Sales, Product, Engineering, Marketing, and Operations.
- I wanted the committee to represent senior people in the organization, as well as entry-level people. I also wanted the committee to have long-time employees and recent hires.
That is a lot of constraints, but believe it or not, I was able to pull eight people together that met the above criteria.
Our Core Values Kickoff
Our first major step was a kickoff meeting. I find this is best done with a moderator. Dr. Bob Radin, a Professor in the MBA program at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, was kind enough to moderate our kickoff session. Bob teaches courses at Boston College around corporate governance, ethics and core values. As you would expect from a professor, Bob gave our committee some homework and case studies to read in preparation.
The Power of Stories
Since I’m an engineer in my core, earlier in my career, I would have stood up in front of a whiteboard and asked the team to start shouting out values. We would throw them in a spreadsheet, have a voting exercise and then refine. This doesn’t work!
What we did instead was to go around the room and tell stories about WordStream. “Tell me a story about an experience at WordStream that you think represents why we are special.” Here are a few of the stories that came out of this exercise:
Victor got approval for our Google+ vanity name (now +wordstream instead of a list of 60 characters). Larry asked him “Can you do a blog post on it?” It wasn’t in Victors objectives, and he has a ton to do, but he says “of course, I’ll take care of it”
Chad and I were on the T [subway]. We started talking about one of our current initiatives. Next thing you know, Chad missed his stop two stops ago.
Every time we win a customer, the sales rep sends out a win message. We can all respond with an image. We celebrate not only the sales win, but what it took to get that win (could have been Product, something unique in Marketing, etc.)
Customer calls in, they only speak Spanish. Nefer speaks Spanish, but he is on another call. Erin does her best (she lived in Miami) and has a conversation with the customer and helps them out.
There were many other stories. When you hear and see them all, the values start to emerge from the stories. Rather than starting with the words, the stories allow you to start with real life examples. The end result is much more likely to align with what the company stands for.
My Initial Draft
The next step in our process was to create an initial draft from those stories. Some of these values are important to me personally, and I want them to be part of any company I lead. Others were my take on what WordStream specifically is all about:
We believe in fostering a culture of transparency. We are committed to promoting open, two-way communications, where every person knows where we stand, and where we need to focus our energies to improve the company.
We never shy away from accountability and measurement. We relentlessly set goals and measure against them. We are not afraid of unexpected outcomes, as we embrace them and view them as an opportunity to improve.
We believe in opportunity based on merit, not entitlement. People join our company to gain experience, responsibility, and to grow. Our goal is to provide this opportunity at a pace that only accelerates when there is an insatiable appetite to learn.
Our people are authentic and adhere to the highest level of ethics and integrity. We believe in doing what is right for our people, customers and our shareholders and we have the courage to address any issue in an honest and open manner.
We believe in having a point of view. When it comes to achieving our core purpose, we have strong, well thought out beliefs on the path to follow. We have the courage and resolution to express and communicate these opinions to our customers and prospects. While they may not always agree, they will know where we stand.
Let the Iterations Begin
This is what our whiteboard looked like as the team critiqued my initial draft, and we combined them with what we thought the stories were telling us:
Over the next 6 weeks, we pulled the committee together 3 times. Each time, we would take a fresh look at our draft, discuss the values that resonated, and identify the ones that needed some more work. As we approached a solid and complete draft, the committee members would take the values back to their teams for feedback. The table below shows the evolution of the values from start to finish:
The Shit Storm
In one of our early iterations and brainstorming, someone shouted out “we get shit done.” Everyone immediately agreed. Many of us have worked in larger organizations that are slow-moving and we are proud of the fact we just “get shit done.” This caused a lot of discussion and questions:
- Would we really use an expletive in our core values?
- Will this offend our staff and our customers?
- Is this a little too cute and edgy?
- Are there other companies using expletives in their core values? (I found one that uses both the s-word and the f-word!)
- Should we mask the word, such as “Get $#1+ Done”? Believe it or not, I searched the web to see if there was a universal order of punctuation to correctly represent the word.
We sent our committee off to get answers and gauge reaction. Every time we would agree to eliminate it, someone would say “but it’s true!” As you can see above, it didn’t make the final cut. We morphed it into “We Take Action.” To some of us, these will always be code words for the real value.
Making Our Core Values Real
This is the step where most companies fall down. These days, it is quite popular to see a core values section on a company website. The key question is, “Do they live the values?” Here are a few steps we are taking to make these values a core part of our company fabric:
- This blog post! Core values are not just an internal item. We want our customers, prospects, and followers to know what we stand for.
- An infographic. As many of you know, we do a lot of infographics. These infographics are fun, memorable, and interesting. We figured what better way to communicate our values than in an infographic form. We have numerous 6-foot versions of the infographic hanging in our office and conference rooms as a daily reminder of what we stand for.
- New business cards: A different core value is on the back of each card.
- Mouse pads:
- Employee Recognition Program. We have rolled out a new employee recognition program. This is a peer-based program. Anyone in the company can recognize anyone else. The catch is, the recognition must be tied to one of our core values. We pin these recognitions up on a bulletin board and we pick the best one each month to talk about at our company meeting.
This is just the beginning. We’ll continue to weave these values into the fabric of our company. They will become a core part of our recruiting process as well as our employee review process.
What Does This All Mean for You?
Are you a WordStream customer?
Our product has always strived for transparency. We want you to feel empowered by search marketing, not intimidated.
Are you a reader of our blog?
You can count on us for continued thought leadership. Paid Search is a powerful and measureable marketing medium. Our core purpose is to bring this capability to companies of all sizes.
Are you an employee of WordStream?
I’m counting on you to demonstrate these values every day and use them to help you make key decisions. Be great! We are on the path to building a significant company.
Are you interviewing at WordStream?
Make sure these values resonate with you and you are authentic. If the values don’t resonate, we are not the place for you.
Why are core values going to triple our revenue?
To use a sports analogy, the teams that accomplish the most and win championships, tend to be closely aligned. Each team member knows their role. The team knows what they stand for. These values will serve this purpose at WordStream. We are providing solutions in an exciting space, with a ton of opportunity. With this alignment in everything we do, there is no stopping us from winning together!