In a game of rugby, the objective for each team is to score points, ultimately beating the opposition. While winning might be the objective of the game, coaches don’t focus their teams directly on scoring points. Coaches teach players to execute training ground drills and to use their best judgment within the fundamental frameworks they’ve been practicing. That way, the points will come. I apply a similar outlook for how I set up my business. Obviously, you always need the right caliber of players (i.e. staff), and ultimately we need to generate profits and cash, but don’t focus on that too directly. First, focus on company values and DNA. If organizations live by established values and DNA, just like a rugby team who follow their drills and frameworks, success will come.
Now, are company values and DNA different from work culture? Absolutely. At my organization, what ties us together as an organization isn’t free snacks, ping-pong tables and happy hours, it’s our values and our DNA.
With headquarters in Orlando, we have offices spanning four continents, housing more than 250 employees with more than 20 nationalities. With so much diversity, a homogeneous company culture just didn’t make sense for us. We don’t strive to have the same feel in each office. What matters is that we have buy-in from employees and advocacy from managers for our values and DNA on a global scale.
Defining company values
Let’s take a step back for some perspective. We define company values as attributes everyone should focus on – both individually and in teams. We define our DNA as, exactly that….our DNA, the way we work instinctively in all we do. The values and DNA need to be credible, motivating and easy to remember. They need to be generic enough to span different departments but, specific enough to be applicable to real-life situations. Culture, on the other hand, is an “output,” a result of the way people behave at work. So, while company values can be defined, culture is much harder to define, because values are not always lived out in the same way across different office locations on various continents. And that’s okay. Similar to the rugby analogy, with training and an established framework, the players makes their own instantaneous decisions, so it is with culture. Culture should be the localized interpretation of values and DNA.
To put into place a set of values and DNA for my organization, I drafted a potential mission, vision, corporate strategy and values statements along with a company DNA. Once completed, each statement was discussed and debated among senior leadership and then published to the company ahead of an open period for comments. During this time, I met with the entire company in small groups of five to eight employees to gather feedback. I invited them to give me push back, challenge the company values and offer alternate suggestions. It was a time-consuming process with many of the sessions surpassing two hours, but there were many many helpful debates along with words of encouragement and support. The various statements were adjusted and refined in accordance with the feedback we received.
The result was three outward-looking statements, vision, mission and corporate strategy, and two inward-looking statements, values and DNA. The values weren’t a documentation of how we currently are, nor were they entirely aspirational. With 250 different voices and opinions, there were certainly different levels of buy-in but overall, after discussion, the level of buy-in was high across the whole organization.
It’s important to have all employees on board with your organizational values, but more so, management. Advocacy of, not just buy-in to, company values is a requirement of all of our managers. For consistency when new employees join our organization, understanding our values and DNA and having the chance to ask the CEO questions about what it all means is an integral part of the onboarding process. Post-hire, all new staff members have the opportunity to speak with me directly and challenge the standards set forth for them.
Why a heterogeneous culture works
While values are consistent across our organization, what emerges as culture are differences as a result of national, historical and leadership differences between each office. Typical work hours, when and how much vacation time is taken and what people define as “hard work” are common differences between each office. If anything, the constant reminder that we work with various nationalities is to our advantage. After all, unconventional and different approaches to solving organizational problems can yield the most powerful solution.
If you visit our Prague office, you’ll find it feels somewhat different than our Orlando office, or our Farnborough office. Employees don’t adhere to the same cultural norms. But, what drives our company forward is the values and DNA that our employees buy into when they join us. We don’t define success solely with detailed key performance indicators, targets around growth or market share. Living our values and the DNA is a critical part of our definition of success. Awesome people living by a common set of values and DNA with their own local, cultural spin leads to high-performing teams and happy, motivated individual employees. I truly believe that trusting in this foundation of values and DNA leads us directly to high performance, engaged customers and satisfied investors.