Having core values for your organization is like raking leaves (something that we SHOULD do but don’t always) - we know we should have core values for organizational health - we should use them and live them. But actually putting in the effort to get them on paper, commit to them and talk about them with our teams is something I have seen many companies struggle to do.
Knowing the value of values and how hard it can be to truly embed them in the culture of an organization, it was exciting for me to hear from Mark McClain, founder, and CEO of SailPoint, at a recent AHRMA meeting.
SailPoint is well known in Austin as having a phenomenal culture and employee experience. Since their founding in 2005, they have ranked among Austin’s “Best Places To Work” by the Austin Business Journal in all three categories, small, medium and large, as they have grown. On GlassDoor, Mark holds a 100% approval rating as CEO (insert shocked emoji here!). Employees rave about the company in Glassdoor reviews – citing “great culture”, “work-life balance”, and “strong leadership” as pros. (On a side note, I love GlassDoor’s feature where they pull common words or themes from employee reviews and tell you how many of the reviews mentioned the same themes, pretty cool feature.) The most common ‘con’ listed for SailPoint on GlassDoor was “no 401K matching”. WOW, if only that was the only complaint at all Austin companies!
Many of Mark’s points resonated with me as factors I know contribute to building great company cultures. At the core of any great employee experience is a solid foundation of leadership, company values, and structure. What struck me about Mark’s value success was that it goes back to basics - doing the things we know we should do (raking leaves, if you will!) well and consistently.
The first, develop a strong set of core values and road test them in your organization. Put the values into practice and see how they hold up. Do they help people make good decisions? Do they resonate with people? What’s hard about sticking to them? Next, let the values evolve with the organization. Find out what works and what doesn’t work. One example Mark shared on how core values evolve was SailPoint’s value of Innovation. He talked about how at SailPoint, Innovation means creating products that are human-centered, meaning they solve real customer problems. In its infancy Innovation referred to the products SailPoint developed for external customers. Now they apply the same value to creating products, services, and experiences for internal customers as well. (Can I get a “Hell yeah!”?! I was totally that person giving the “Woo-who!” in the middle of the room when Mark talked about this one.)
The second, hire the right people and don’t be shy about letting someone go if they don’t turn out to be a good fit. Mark shared three characteristics they hire for at SailPoint:
Smart People – Employees demonstrate competency in both the work they are hired to do (IQ) and how you treat other people (EQ).
Hungry – Employees have a growth mindset, they are hungry to learn and grow through hard work and feedback from others.
Humble – Employees at SailPoint take a team-first mindset. Mark shared a C.S. Lewis quote to illustrate what ‘Humble’ means at SailPoint, “Don’t think less of yourself, think about yourself less.” He went on to talk about the importance of internal teams working together for the good of the whole company. In my time at Whole Foods Market we often shared the mantra “One Store, One Team,” which meant even though we all work in smaller teams and we may compete at times, we are all part of a larger team (a store, a region, a company), and our in our actions we should always be aligned towards our greater organizational purpose. If we focus on our purpose, our Why, then our company wins - if we’re competing internally or even spending time worrying too much about the external competition, that gets in the way of major success. One of my favorite thought leaders, Simon Sinek, talks about this theory of focusing on your organizational purpose, as “playing the infinite game” vs. “playing the finite game.” Simon says “The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations.”
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask a CEO with 100% approval rating and excellent culture a question. “Being a company that works hard to design a great employee experience, are there any technology tools you have implemented that have improved employee experience?” Mark’s response was pure gold in my book: while he threw out the names of a couple of tools (like the almighty Slack for improving communication), he talked about how the tools for work are going to keep evolving but the core of a successful company and a good employee experience will always remain the same: build a strong foundation of culture and values, care about people, and be a good leader. Get your values right, and the rest will follow!