Podcast Ep 116 | Is Your Corporate Culture Really Aligned with Your Core Values?

Is your company culture really aligned with your core values? Sometimes there can be a difference between what your core values state, and what is really occurring. Leaders of a business can appear like they don’t understand what’s happening if the core values don’t represent the corporate culture accurately.

In this week’s episode of the Growth Whisperers podcast, Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence discuss why the core values of a business must align with the culture that people observe and live every day, and seven things you can do to ensure that your culture is aligned with your core values.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Brad Giles  00:13

Hi there, welcome to the Growth Whisperers where everything we talk about is building endearing great companies. My name is Brad Giles. And today as always, I’m joined by my co host, Kevin Lawrence. How are you doing today?

Kevin Lawrence  00:26

Good, Brad. Oh, this is episode 116. And I think probably 112 times I’ve said I’m doing great. And today, I am doing really well. I’m excited to talk about this episode, something we’re both very passionate about and excited to dig in.

Brad Giles  00:44

And so we always like to start with a word or phrase of the day what might be on your mind.

Kevin Lawrence  00:51

Now mine is celebrate, just coming off a bunch of birthdays recently, my daughter’s birthday and others and just the power of celebration and really what there is to celebrate up here in the Okanagan region of Canada. I also have a gentleman got to know fairly well his name’s Fitz and he’s building a champagne style sparkling wine, can’t call it you know, champagne here in Canada because it’s not growing in the Champagne region of France. But I just every time I think about fitz and their sparkling wine, I’d also think well just it’s about celebrating Champagne is for sure tastes good. But more than that, it’s the popping of that cork and that moment to celebrate all the good things that are happening. That’s makes you feel good makes you feel makes people around you feel good.

Brad Giles  01:43

Awesome. Mine would be forward. Unusual. But yeah, I had COVID last week. So I was in isolation. And there’s just a lot of challenges in the world with, I don’t know, supply chain interest rates, a whole range of things. We spoke about that last week. But yeah, just forward, it’s just keep on marching forward.

Kevin Lawrence  02:10

Got it. So I would say celebrate. And then look forward. You know, there’s a lot of research, a lot of research, some that I have seen around the benefits of having something to look forward to and what that does for your psyche. And I know that works for me, looking forward to things gives you a little bit of lift, because you take you look forward and you look up, and which is very different than dreading so great. Let’s dig into the show today. Brad, what what are we talking about that we’re both quite keen and passionate about? And what are we looking forward to today?

Brad Giles  02:44

Well, how authentic are your core values? It’s is your culture really aligned with your core values, because we see it enough talking with leaders and leadership teams where we find that, I don’t know, they have got some core values, and they’re good. They liked them. But they’re not really necessarily completely true. And it’s not that they’re not alive, but there might not actually be what is really real.

Kevin Lawrence  03:16

Yeah, and there’s two different scenarios that we see. They have them and they’re fluff, their business principles or business strategies under the guise of core values. So they’re actually not technically core values. And we’re both hardcore students of the research that Jim Collins has done about really core values and what they’re intended to be. And pretty fanatical about or might say, and, and the other is that got them this wallpaper, like their words on the wall, but they’re not actually alive in the company. And even sometimes, they intend for them to be in live. And we want to dig into those, those companies who intend for them to be alive and truly live by them. But over time, they fade and degrade. And they need a little help. But you know, we’re going to, we’re really going to dig into upfront, making sure you got them right. And the way metaphor I like to use for this is it’s like a garden. Let’s just say you plant a perfect crop. And the crop is like your core values. Well, crops need help. They need water and fertilizer, you gotta prune some types of plants. And you also have to pull the weeds and clean things out pulling the weeds is like a metaphor for removing the wrong people, but you got to keep actively tending that garden otherwise it starts producing the wrong kinds of things. So I would imagine and I know nothing about pruning flowers or you know, or I’m not a, you know, person who grows prized roses or anything but I can appreciate people to do but it’s you know, if you’re going to have pride iced roses, and these amazing beautiful rose gardens, you’re going to put in a lot of energy into the fertilizers and the watering and the weeds and the pruning. And a culture based on core values is the same. And it often gets neglected into kind of ends up a big, weedy overgrown garden. And that’s not what we aspire to.

Brad Giles  05:21

No, no. So the first step is that we’ve got to actually confirm that they are core values. And they’re not just a list of statements. You know, there’s a slide that I use when I’m talking about this with leadership teams. And it’s, it’s, I think, its integrity, doing the right thing. There’s three or four there, and it was actually the Enron core values, you know, Enron, the financial company that obviously, yours. Yeah, yeah. And so they weren’t really what was valued at Enron. And so you can do it the easy way, which is just pick some words that sound cool. Or you can do it the real and genuine way.

Kevin Lawrence  06:09

Yeah, and some people will do a poll, whatever all the values we aspire to have in the company. And, like it’s a, it’s a real strategic decision that that should be managed. Well, we talked about it in Episode 26, one of our, you know, for earlier episodes, you know, how to have, you know, your core values are right. But Brad, you know, you and I both go through very rigorous posts, because in my mind, I’m identifying the culture of the company, and who gets fired, and promoted, who doesn’t get promoted and gets written up or gets a performance improvement plan. And then who gets fired? This list, if done right, guides us on our people decisions and guides us on our acceptable behaviors, like it’s a, it’s a serious deal. And we want to make one, we want to make sure it’s right. So the simple thing Jim Collins calls about something called Mission to Mars, and if you’re gonna send a bunch of people to Mars to replicate, which is a great exercise, we’ve evolved into something we call top and toxic, taking the mission to Mars concept to help you get your top people that you would want to replicate on Mars. But then taking your top five toxic people, people who may have been very good at their job, but were toxic as heck in your company. And there was almost like applause and celebration when they left or a relief when they left. The idea is that if your core values are right, your highest performers who you believe fit the culture will match. And high performers who drive you insane. And you’re thrilled to lose these prized performers. Don’t they violate at least two of those core values? Sometimes three, but at least two? So the balance of those two helps you to calibrate to make sure you got them?

Brad Giles  08:04

Yeah, it’s a, it’s a really effective way to understand the intangible you can, you can start off with a blank sheet of paper. Oh, and by the way, this is the way to not build the core values. Number one is doing poll with the whole company. And that to know is to engage your marketing company and say we know, values.

Kevin Lawrence  08:26

No, well, tell me, why not tell me that? Why not the marketing company, marketing companies are great. They’ll make your beautiful posters, whiz bang phrases and all kinds of cool stuff wide. And by the way, I love marketing companies. Not for this.

Brad Giles  08:44

Because marketing companies predominantly come at it through the eyes of the customer. And I love them, too. Okay. But marketing companies are very, very good when it comes to getting things in the eyes of the customer. Now they can very easily say, but the customer is the employee he here. But it’s not necessarily much better is this tool that you’ve just mentioned? That were the things that are really who are the people, part of me who’ve really ground your gears? And who are the ones that if you had a cloning machine you would love to clone? Yeah. And then thinking about what are the words that you use to describe those people. That’s who we can. That’s how we can find out what our real values are.

Kevin Lawrence  09:30

Now, and, and that’s why I often say with core values and purpose, like I come from Marketing, and I respect it greatly, but I say don’t let the marketers touch it until it’s carved in stone. And then they can help us to pretty it up and make it a bit more engaging, but not changing any of the content or context. And again, their intent is good, but you’re either the voice of the customer and when we develop the stuff we actually don’t even want to consider the customer. That’s the key. You This is not customer strategy. It’s the WHO that we want on our team. And we don’t need the customer’s not even on the table. That’s why we see like, one of my team has been working with a client where we’re helping them to reset their strategy and execution disciplines. But I look at their core values. And it’s, I don’t have a respectful word. But it’s like, it’s about customer. And it’s about the community and stuff like that. They didn’t know what they were doing. They’re actually not core values. core value, what are they generally a list of three to five things that are attributes of the humans who naturally fit in your operating system. That’s it. I call it people that a little bit weird, like you. So like, our company is almost in many ways, like its own language, or its own religion, whatever it happens to be. So we’re looking for people that are in sync with that, that’s it, it’s not good or bad. It’s just, they operate in a similar way in fashion that you say, think and operate or behave in a similar way based on their upbringings and their experiences in their life. So three to five things, you hire a fire based on it, you promote or don’t promote based on it. You take a financial hit to protect them, and they’re already true for your best people. It is not aspirational, it is not where you want to be when you grow up. I remember one company I worked with really nice people, one of the core values was accountability. Well, I showed up. And after three quarters of doing strat planning and you know, an execution with them. They were trending to 50%. And I look at them, and I said in my nicest way I could, if accountability was a core value of yours, none of you would be here, including you, the managing partner of this firm. It’s like it’s not a core value, it’s an aspiration. So this is not a high performance or highly accountable culture. It’s a very sweet place. Let’s not pretend to be something that you’re not because you bring in a high accountable type person, they’re not going to like it here.

Brad Giles  12:17

And that’s what we’re really talking about in this episode, isn’t it? It’s is the things that you’re actually doing? Really what it says in your core values, right? So the next point is, perhaps your values could be clearer. Perhaps your values are right, but they’re just not clear enough. And people are misinterpreting your values, or not understanding them and doing things at a kind of grinding your gears, but that’s because they don’t completely understand those values.

Kevin Lawrence  12:55

By the way Brad can you translate what you mean by grinding your gears? That’s Australian for something? I don’t know what that means.

Brad Giles  13:03

So grinding your gears. It’s when somebody does something that annoys or upsets you.

Kevin Lawrence  13:17

It’d be like transmissions and old vehicles where you don’t shift properly in a grinds.

Brad Giles  13:35

And how does that make you feel?

Kevin Lawrence  13:38

Yeah, horrible.

Brad Giles  13:39

Yeah, that’s grinding your gears? Yeah, got it. Yeah, so let’s move on. Sometimes we could make them clearer. Perfect. So that means if you’ve got a word such as I don’t know, be memorable. Let’s imagine that. Your value is being memorable. I could have a different interpretation of the memorable to you. And to the mid management team, and to anybody else. We could have 10 different interpretations. Some, some people might say, be memorable, means be memorable at any cost, or at any speed, or be as loud as we can, no matter the damage. So everyone can interpret things different. And that’s why we need to explain the core values.

Kevin Lawrence  14:37

It’s not right. And sometimes they can, lots of the firms that we work with, we have the value like that’s the term remember. And we have a sentence or two to describe it. Yeah, some organizations that seems to work sometimes and we’ll get to in a second to what you’ve done in your new book that’s coming out if you want to share that but yeah, we’ve done companies of what it is and what When it isn’t early, probably more than a decade ago, I did some work with a company called Hero Honda in India. And they were a joint venture between hero motorcycles and Honda motorcycles. And they obviously did very well, I worked with some of the executives and they had a great list of their core values they just had is and is not. Yeah. So it gave that further clarity and definition of knowing what it is. You know, we’ve also got some people that have used that some people have a quote to further kind of help it. But that’s, that’s helpful. But you’ve got it, you help to take it to another level as well Brad.

Brad Giles  15:37

Yeah, so my new book’s coming out in the next couple of months, it’s called Onboarded. And it’s about onboarding and the importance of onboarding and how to build a great onboarding process that’s simple and highly effective. To this point, what I said is that you need to have core values, and you need to have behaviors. And you need to have onboarding in order to build a great culture. The part that we’re talking about here is the behaviors. So behaviours are the, we always, and we never, so we always do this, and we never do that, which is a set of, let’s say, three to five sub points underneath each value. So I use an example in the book one of my customers is the physio co aged care physiotherapy in Melbourne, right? Yeah. Yeah. And you know, Tristan, you’ve met, I met him, yeah, yeah, he’s a good guy. And so one of the values is be memorable. So this is the way that they do that. We are friendly and make positive first impressions. We make people smile with our personal and understanding approach, we take the time to celebrate milestones and successes. And we were people whenever possible. So that doesn’t say the word always and never, but as much as possible, I try to get them because these are binary. And it gives us great clarity into are we or are we not living that value?

Kevin Lawrence  17:04

Yeah, it’s not rocket science. It just makes it crystal clear to help people in case there’s any doubt want to move the shadows of adults? So let’s make sure you got it. You got that? Right. You got your three to five, there are real values of humans that fit on your team, or don’t. You made them crystal clear? Excellent. Now, when we want to talk about as well, how do you make sure the culture that you’re experiencing is consistent with it, you know, some indicators that we see in companies is where there’s friction around people on the team or behaviors on the team. We do a test sometimes to test the core values, and assess the organization on it. Sometimes we assess key leaders on it and 360s. But some other big conversations coming up where there’s dissatisfaction about living those values, or you hear about behaviors that are not consistent with the core values. And there’s two roads that we’re gonna go down on this today. And one we’ll talk about is the talent review. That’s Brad added in point number six, as we’re going here that is popped to me, forgot didn’t even cover it. But we’ll cover that we’re talking about for a minute. Now. There’s another podcast that relates to it. But the main thing is as a team, and there’s a great little article, Collins wrote on this further to the stuffing Great by Choice where core values first came out, was around alignments and Miss alignments. Just note, where are things connected and in sync with the core values and where it’s not just humans, like humans have behaviors of how they conduct themselves in meetings or discussions. But there’s also policies or decisions that we’ve made it a member and in a session with Jim, he said, you know, you got to be careful. Your culture isn’t what you say it is. It’s the behaviors and decisions of your leaders, mostly the decisions, because you can fake behaviors. But at the end of the day, if you promote a toxic jerk, right, we another episode on that. If you promote someone who’s you know, a toxic off culture, high performer, well, maybe your core values don’t mean anything, right. And you gotta be really careful so misalignments and taking a look at it’s a great exercise as a team list. The misalignments and things the for each of those values. Actually, I’ll come back to that I skipped that’s the second step. The first step is just to have the conversation about where are how are we doing on these values and rate zero to 10? Yeah, you know, where and zero was always bad that we use the zero scale because, you know, in hospitals when they’re noting the health of a baby, they use nothing as a 03 scale. But zero is generally never confusing. Zero is always bad. So that’s why like zero to 10, whatever you scale, you want to use use but, but really, zero to 10 How well we live in those particular values and get a grounding on where you’re at. It’s almost like a health check. That’s number one.

Brad Giles  19:54

You know, jumping in the research for the book, I I’ve interviewed quite a few executives. And one of them came up with a great tool for this. And he said, if if you’re partway through your onboarding, and you’re not too sure about the person, which is what you’re about to say, then consider the person through each of the values and write them one to 10. He said, if you’ve got five values, think about this person, why am I feeling uncomfortable? Value? Number one, how well does this person align with value number one, one to 10. And then value number two, and then that’s going to sense check or a real quick and dirty stress test for that.

Kevin Lawrence  20:41

That’s the talent reviews where we force that to happen on a regular basis in companies. So it’s great to do as part of your onboarding and on an ongoing basis. Awesome. So basically, how the honest conversation rate yourself zero to 10, how are we doing on these things, as the leadership team, and then from there, you can just take your average scores then get into the alignments and misalignments that I was talking about? What are the things we’re doing that are helping it helping the reinforcing it? Like always look at the good, we’re going back to, to celebrate I was talking to earlier? And then the misalignments what are the decisions, or the things that just happen in the company that are absolutely inconsistent. So it could be a general behavior? You know, people are generally late to meetings are generally slow on email, or there’s a lot of that. Or there’s pockets of it. But noting those alignments, and misalignments and where you’re seeing things that aren’t consistent with what the values say that you want, or, or would like to have? Not? Yeah, it’s not right.

Brad Giles  21:50

So good decisions, behaviors are the things. There’s a team that I work with, and, gee, we built, they built the core values, probably 10 years prior, they thought they were really good. And then one day, it just hit them like a ton of bricks. They were like, This isn’t what we value at all. And so we stress tested the values, and then we went back and then we realized there might have been a few of them that were good. But yeah, we rebuilt the whole lot. So yeah if it’s not working, you could get to that point.

Kevin Lawrence  22:25

You could end things change, we’ve gone back and went to an organization, a very large well known organization around the world. And we went and went back and there will 40 years old went back and reset them. You know, another organization that we work with, it’s just under 30 years old, they went and just refresh them. You know, the point of it here is that is you know, going backward and making sure the right but then just the behaviors degrade over time. Remember, it’s the fertilizer and the weeding and the pruning that we have to do to keep them tight. So so once you’ve gone through and figured out those misalignments, there’s some amazing things that you can do to help tighten it up. And again, give them the maintenance and the respect they deserve. And it’s really to note the root of all the gaps. So let’s just say, you know, on a scale of zero to 10, one of them’s a six, which would be concerning. Well note the root of the gaps, is it, you know, is it a is it something that we’re missing? IE, maybe it’s not reading the system? Maybe it’s, you know, some people like what’s, what’s the root cause? And then look in the mirror and say, Well, wait a second, how are you doing? Maybe you’re allowing some of these behaviors as a leader in the organization. I mean, the core values go from the CEO and executives through the org, and they start at the top and flow through. But basically look at those gaps. And then consider what some possible solutions. And we did this with a team recently in the team that kind of forced me to look for a way to help dial this in. We had great conversation about it. And in the end, we went and looked at this and found some root causes. And then we just looked at ourselves and said, Well, what do we have to do different as an executive to make this improvement which I’ll share more on the final piece? So basically, figure out those misalignments figure out what you can do about those things and to get him fixed. And then as you touched on, Brad that client, like question for client, the talent review, you know, for people that and this goes back into top rating, and we have Episode 100, where we talk about top grading, hiring, keep your best talent. But the idea of this is that if you do it right, and just did this last week with another team, and most of our clients we push to go every quarter through your most important leaders, not all it’d be too many of the top 2530 people and you go through and you evaluate their how they’re doing and you evaluate them on each of the core values like you talked about Brad identical, and their performance, and if there’s gaps we go through seven questions that Jim gave us seven Jim’s seven questions, to figure out whether we develop them or release them. And then we talked about succession planning, but to go through all of your top talent, which is like your top investments every quarter, but rating against those core values is one of the really, really critical things.

Brad Giles  25:18

Yeah you’ve got to have some way to understand, are these values working? Or are they not? In a quantifiable way? I suppose. That’s what we’re saying here. We’re trying to make the qualitative, quantitative, using these methods.

Kevin Lawrence  25:39

Now, why do you think most leaders need a mechanism like that tool or that talent review? Where you look at people through the window of values? And performance? Why do you think we need mechanisms in companies and it doesn’t happen naturally?

Brad Giles  25:56

Because it’s emotion. It’s hard to replace people, people, you know, get caught up in the day to day, there’s a whole range of things.

Kevin Lawrence  26:08

Yeah, it is. And it’s, most people aren’t great at this part. And if they are amazing at it, then they’re probably a psychopath. You know, we’ve had people that have been in companies from two weeks through to 30 years that we’ve had to sort of say, this isn’t gonna work, it’s not easy. So the final thing to bring it together, so look, assuming you had them right up front, but, you know, we need to figure out to really, really make sure that your culture is consistent with your core values, a top couple of things that you need to do based on your analysis of looking at the gaps, look at the misalignments getting to the root, and what you’re going to do, and pick one or two things you work on as a team. If it’s really off, I recommend that you touch on it every week, and recalibrate once a month. How are we doing? How do we rate it? Where was the progress? What do we have to do next? Because these things don’t fix themselves, we actually have to help them along. So something on a regular basis, obviously, you can involve your teams and everything else. Anything else you’d add in there, Brad?

Brad Giles  27:14

Do something about it. If if you are saying to yourself that the values don’t really feel like they represent the culture accurately, I reckon that everybody else in the organization knew a long time ago. And so if everybody else knows, and you know, you should assume that you’re the last to know, and therefore the quicker that you take some kind of action, the better.

Kevin Lawrence  27:43

It’s not rocket science. It’s just discipline like most things, discipline to have them right. And if we’re gonna run through, confirm, you actually have them right and you’re actually core values and you got three to five you can drive your business by and then look at things you could do to make them clear like you’ll see in Brad’s upcoming book about the always never list. And then have an honest conversation on rate where you’re actually at on them today, you could use a deeper assessment, but even a conversation with an executive leadership team can be a great point of calibration. I want to cover off the rest of their show.

Brad Giles  28:15

Think note the alignments and lists and misalignments with the culture and the values? Are they actually translating into the actions that you can see then act on the misalignments? Remember the talent reviews and assessing people and then lead by example? Good. Check, Kevin. It is. Yeah, it’s, it’s good. It’s something that we say quite a bit.

Kevin Lawrence  28:38

It’s easy to say and hard to do like a lot of the most important things. So hey, thanks for listening today. This has been the growth whisperers podcast with Kevin Lawrence and Brad Giles, to subscribe, you can just go and find us wherever you’re listening to your podcasts. And if you’re already there, feel free to rate us and if you’re happy, give us a great rating. We’d love it. If you’re not maybe send us a note we’ll be glad to hear your feedback. For the video version, go to youtube.com and search for the growth whispers to reach Brad Brad has a great newsletter a very thorough newsletter to contact him at evolution partners.com.au And for myself, Kevin, get me at Lawrence and co. We also have a great newsletter and tons of resources on the site. You can search an archive of all the past podcasts and everything else. Lawrence and co.com. Have an awesome week.