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The Value of Values

by Arnie Malham | June 19th, 2015

OncArnieDogPhotoe I realized it, it was obvious. 

Everything I’d ever read about developing core values was wrong.

Until now, I’d been told that the standard way to develop core values was this:

  1. Identify the people in the company who are best at their jobs.
  2. Write down the words that best describe these people.
  3. Use those words as the text for your core values. That is the textbook way to do it, and that’s the way we did it for every MLG company.

The problem was, we ended up with 12 different values—four for each company. To everyone else, it made sense, but to me as the owner, it was confusing.  As I walked from one company to the other, I couldn’t consistently recall the core values of any of them. There were just too many. If I’m the leader of these companies and I’m not dead-on in sync with the values and able to demonstrate them to the staff, then I’m not a good leader.  With the help of good people around me, I realized that my personal core values should also be the values of my companies. If they’re not, I have a much bigger problem. So we turned the textbook way upside down.

Our job became to align all my companies with my values. It’s been an amazing process. I reached into my childhood to discover the most important stories that shaped me professionally. The lessons learned from those stories are now MLG’s core values:

Project ConfidenceCoreValues

Choose Optimism

Embrace Growth

Respect Everyone

Why do I think it’s critical for the leader, rather than the organization, to codify these values? The main reason is that even with world-class companies, the executives can change far more than the owner. At cj, we came up with our first set of core values in 2005. Today, just three members of that first ten-member executive team are still here, and I’m one of the three.  We’re not asking our people to live their lives by my values, but to simply apply those values to our work. There’s a big difference in that. If you work here, it’s not too much for me to ask that you use the core values that I hold dear in your decision making. When you do, the whole company becomes in sync, because there’s less friction.

What are your core values? How does your company reflect them? How do you demonstrate them day in and day out? What steps can you take to put your company in line with your values?