Core Values and Principals: Hype or Reality?

Core values are the only competitive advantage which can not be copies and implemented, are we taking advantage of this?

Core values are a regular part of company communication internally and externally with their stakeholders including employees, customers, partners, shareholders, vendors and more. As a company building multiple startups we care deeply about the core values and principals we want to operate each company not because it's hip to do it, but because without it we will not be efficient and competitive.

We even invest in and build products that productize the implementation and measurement of core values into the organization to show the true ROI.

Core Values are a competitive advantage but only if companies know how to use them in every day operations and measure and improve them. Implemented properly they actually are extremely difficult to replicate and build a deep moat to fend off competition.

It's easy to slap together a few principals. Here is a list of 25 companies and their core values. And another 190 examples of core values of some famous companies.

All of these value sound great but how do the companies implement and integrate these into the daily work and life of their teams. And how do they measure and improve them over time?

What's interesting is how high level these statements are. And as we all know the more high level and general anything is, the less it will actually be implemented, used, measures or improved (yes, core values like any other asset or metric can and should be measured and improved over time.)

This is a huge missed opportunity for the organizations, because the core values can be a key asset and driver for bringing the entire company into alignment internally with employees and externally with customers and partners.

A good example of a company that does very good with core values is Amazon. Called Leadership Principals (LPs) at Amazon these tenets are much more clear in what they mean and used every day, in every presentation. Every presentation at Amazon has to reference at least one (usually 4 or 5) LPs to make sure the idea or product is aligned with the company.

Here are Amazon's Leadership Principals, compared with 4 other top tech companies. You can see how much more detailed and action oriented Amazon's value and goals are.

AMAZON

https://www.amazon.jobs/en/principles

1. Customer Obsession: Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

2. Ownership: Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

3. Invent and Simplify: Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

4. Are Right, A Lot: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

5. Learn and Be Curious: Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

6. Hire and Develop the Best: Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

7. Insist on the Highest Standards: Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

8. Think Big: Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

9. Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 

10. Frugality: Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

11. Earn Trust: Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

12. Dive Deep: Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

14. Deliver Results: Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

One important point about the Amazon LP's is that you don't see many references to the #day1 principal which is actually an over arching umbrella on all the LPs and the employee's lives at Amazon.

If you'd like to learn more about how to build and operate like Amazon (why wouldn't you?) the book by John Rossman including Think Like Amazon are a must.

APPLE

Apple's core values were first introduced in 1981 in an internal memo as follows. These are all worthy and significant goals but I have not been able to find much more detail on what each one actually means, how it's implemented and improved over time. I'm sure there is an internal process for this so if anyone reading this has more details I'd love to hear from you.

One person, one computer.

We are going for it and we will set aggressive goals.

We are all on the adventure together.

We build products we believe in.

We are here to make a positive difference in society, as well as make a profit.

Each person is important; each has the opportunity and the obligation to make a difference.

We are all in it together, win or lose.

We are enthusiastic!

We are creative; we set the pace.

We want everyone to enjoy the adventure we are on together.

We care about what we do.

We want to create an environment in which Apple values flourish.

More recently Apple's new CEO Tim Cook also added his take on top of the initial core values with these goals.

1. We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.

2. We believe in the simple, not the complex.

3. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.

4. We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

5. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.

6. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.

7. We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

GOOGLE

Google's most famous goal "Don't be Evil" is well known to the industry and public, and the subject of many debates specially in recent years. “Don’t be evil” has been part of the company’s corporate code of conduct since 2000. When Google was reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet, in 2015, Alphabet assumed a slightly adjusted version of the motto, “do the right thing.”

Google covers their core values or principals under "10 things we know to be true." Note that Don't Be Evil shows up in this list at #6.

10 things we know to be true by Google.

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

3. Fast is better than slow.

4. Democracy on the web works.

5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

6. You can make money without doing evil.

7. There’s always more information out there.

8. The need for information crosses all borders.

9. You can be serious without a suit.

10. Great just isn’t good enough.

I really like #9 "You can be serious without a suit." We need to get away from the image and focus on the content. I love (and have several Suits :) but a suit can be like "Fake credibility" without the content. Most tech companies now won't even take on anyone who wears a suit which is also too extreme. If you can't handle working with someone who enjoys dressing up to work you have a problem!

Google is also investing heavily in how to improve things in their "Think With Google" (TWG) series, which is of great help and very popular. As a part of TWG they also dove deep into what makes a good manager at Google.

To be a good manager at Google you need to:

1. Be a good coach.

2. Empower; don't micromanage.

3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.

4. Don't be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

6. Help your employees with career development.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

FACEBOOK

Facebook covers their core values in a series in the careers page called Facebook Life.

These values include:

1. Be Bold: Building great things means taking risks. We have a saying: "The riskiest thing is to take no risks." in a world that's changing so quickly you're guaranteed to fail if you dont take any risks.

2. Focus on Impact: To make the most impact, we need to solve the most important problems. We expect Facebook employees to avoid wasting time on minor issues and focus on truly big challenges.

3. Move Fast: We believe that it’s better to move fast and make mistakes than to move slowly and miss opportunities. Doing so enables us to build more things and learn faster.

4. Be Open: Informed people make better decisions and make a greater impact — so we work hard to ensure that everyone at Facebook can access as much information about the company as possible.

5. Build Social Value: At Facebook, we’re trying to bring the world closer together — not just grow our business. Our people focus on creating real value for the world — every day and in everything they do.

MICROSOFT

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/about/values

Six general areas

1. Innovation

2. Diversity and inclusion

3. Corporate social responsibility

4. Philantrophies

5. Environment

6. Trustworthy computing

Interesting to note that compared to other tech giants I looked at Facebook and Microsoft have shorter list of core values seem to be much shorter. Let me know if I missed something for these companies and I'll add to the article.

Of course all the other companies in the list are leading the world in their own way but if they use their core values and principals more actively and clearly they will be even better.

The reason I believe core values and principals are important for building better products and startups is the direct relationship to innovation and pace of disruption in your organization. The Principals can be used as a force for instilling and maintaining the wave of innovation, but only if they are clear, precise, measurable and used.

INFINIVENTURES

So in looking at all the different values and principals we are in the process of creating our own set of values. But we don't want to have any values or Principals which we can not somehow tie directly to some metric and measure and improve over time. So far we have the following values.

1. Environment and human values: we want to make sure that the products we build and processes we use for building them do not negatively impact the environment, or have an inhumane impact on other being on our planet.

2. Being "We First” instead of “Me First”: this is a filter I’m adding on all ideas, questions and replies to questions. We need to make sure when someone comes up with an idea, any idea the replies NEVER include, directly or indirectly:

This is how we've done this in the past.

The product is working fine as is so why change.

The CEO (or any manager for that matter) said this is how it should be done with no data backing up the decision.

But we've invested so much in building it the other (potentially wrong) way.

Instead we want to engage in conversation clarifying how this recommendation helps make the life of customers and other stakeholders, internal and external, better. And back up the idea or recommendation with data both historical and future looking.

3. Respect the person, challenge the idea. This is a quote i heard and it really resonated with me.  As communicators we need to get better at clarifying the communication between the tone and the content and not using un-necessary, inflammatory, grandiose and judgemental words which do not serve any productive purpose.

And as listeners we need to get much better at listening to criticism, even if it sounds personal and respond based on merits of the content.

4. Practice Meritocracy. I passionately HATE politics at work, and believe it's the single most destructive behavior that ruins successful companies and teams and make people's lives hell to the point of not looking forward to go to work. This is a crime employers commit to their team if the environment is so corrosive and political that your team spends most of their time and energy navigating between all the silos, minefields and personal interests at work.

This is work in progress, more so than the other beliefs, and definitely not a simple problem to fix. Good news is that every little change can have a huge impact on team productivity. We are using software and algorithms to make this process more data-oriented, and implementing a clear exit path for people who don't practice what we believe.

5. Delegate, measure and reward at the team level instead of personal, individual level.

6. "Every" manager must build something, regardless of how much other work they have. We will not have people in the company who's only job is to manage other people.

We are continually adding more and revisiting and evaluating how to modify and improve these.

NOTE: We are hiring - if you're as exited about building world-changing products while enjoying the process and growing personally in the process we'd love to hear from you.

Key takeaways:

Core values are key to building a successful and relevant organization.

Core values must stay current and be actionable. Don't implement core values if you don't have a process to inject and nurture them into your community.

Before finalizing your core values think about how you can quantify, measure and improve them over time. If you can not measure a core value its effectiveness will not be as great as it can be. There are some thoughts on measuring core values but definitely not enough attention is given to this.

Use your core values as a part of your recruiting and hiring process. Ides: do A/B testing with your hiring between candidates who went thru core value filters vs. not and see over time which ones work out better.

What are the core principals in your organization? Does everyone know what they are, and use it in their daily life? How high level or precise are they?