Small Business Tips

Crafting Core Values with Employee Input

Standard operating procedures are critical to the efficiency of most organizations. But real success in business (and life) also requires a thorough understanding of one’s values.

In 2017, QIP had been in business for more than a decade, and we knew intuitively what we stood for and how we engaged in work activities. In addition, we had many written documents that codified different aspects of our business—a website, an employee handbook, and marketing materials. We also had years of experience in assisting clients, hiring employees, and managing a growing team. However, QIP had not yet established its core values.

Staff knew that QIP had many informal values that we acted upon daily, but these values weren’t formally expressed in words or in writing. We realized that adopting a set of company core values would not just reinforce who we are to our current employees and clients; it would also make a statement to prospective employees and partners about how we do business and why we are successful.

A scary and messy idea

Because one of our most cherished values at QIP has always been to avoid a top-down management style, we realized that our core values would be more authentic, meaningful, and accurate if we involved our entire team in the development process.

This felt like a scary and messy idea. It would be so easy for senior managers to simply craft core values and announce them. What if all employees engaged in the creation process only to discover that everyone’s ideas radically differed from one another?

We ultimately decided to take the plunge because we wanted to remain loyal to our values and management style and maintain a spirit of inclusivity. Plus, we knew that QIP employees hold high standards of excellence. Having worked together as a team for years, our values could not be too far apart. And if they were? Well, that would be a learning experience that would make our company stronger.

A six-step process for crafting core values with employee input

At a company-wide retreat in fall 2017, our 26-person team gathered in a hotel conference room and engaged in a multistep process. The process began with presentations and group activities that provided contextual information about core values and concluded with the development and refinement of our core values.

Step 1. Understand that core values are not empty jargon. Using prepared PowerPoint slides, senior managers explained what core values should be—important and lasting standards and beliefs shared by a group—as well as what they often, unfortunately, end up being—marketing jargon that no one cares about or believes in. This web page inspired and informed the presentation, especially the cautionary tale regarding Enron. The team broke into groups and made up some fake, clichéd “values” so everyone understood what we do not want our core values to be.

Step 2. Learn that core values are not aspirational, accidental, or permission-to-play values. Senior managers defined other list items that would not be core values. For example, a value that a company aspires to but does not currently hold is not a core value. A commonality that arises by accident and is not actively cultivated is not a core value. And baseline standards of behavior (permission-to-play values) are not core values; this is because core values show how a company excels in contrast to its competitors, not ways in which it follows basic governmental laws and societal rules. This web page offers more detailed explanations on what core values are not. After presenting this information, we had the groups brainstorm examples of these types of list items that are not core values.

Step 3. Realize that core values are important and lasting standards and beliefs. After senior managers gave the team a thorough, multipart definition of what core values are, the groups discussed published lists of other companies’ core values. This allowed everyone to gain an understanding of the wide variety of possibilities. During this activity, employees noticed many similarities—and differences—between our company and the companies we discussed. We began to think about what makes us unique.

Step 4. Draft lists of core values. Armed with this contextual information, the team drafted lists of authentic core values that would represent QIP and differentiate us from other companies. Employees gathered in their traditional daily working groups this time. Each of the groups brainstormed a list to share with the full team.

Step 5. Combine and refine the lists of core values. We happily discovered that the groups, working separately, drafted lists that were strikingly similar to one another. Many of the words chosen by the groups were identical or synonyms, and nothing on the lists stood out as wildly divergent or unexpected. We were happy to learn that QIP’s culture truly does center around a few important principles that we all intuitively understand.

Step 6. Finalize and adopt our core values. Upon returning to our home offices, the Communications & Content group at QIP edited, proofread, and visually designed our new core values. Senior managers sent a polished draft to the entire company to request any last individual input. We took this feedback into consideration and made some minor changes. Finally, we adopted our core values and published them on our website.

Reflecting on the process and keeping the core values relevant

In the end, we were glad that we engaged in the multistep process of coming to a group consensus on core values, instead of imposing ideas from the top down. This effort gave everyone on the team a voice, and a stake, and we discovered that our team truly has the values we thought we saw at QIP.

Our next goal is to make sure our core values stay relevant. We plan to refer to them often in the future. This may happen during interactions within our team and with external clients and contacts, during recruitment and hiring of new employees, through our website and blog, on social media, and during annual performance reviews.

We can now confidently say that we nurture, promote, balance, celebrate, and commit—and this is what makes us QIP.

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Evaluations: Because We All Can Improve

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The holiday season has ramped up, and everyone is busy with work and personal obligations. It’s a time of busyness not just for our company, but also for education stakeholders in federal, state, and local agencies. But even in the midst of this joyful but harried time of year, QIP chooses to take a short hiatus from our day-to-day responsibilities to reflect on staff productivity and satisfaction over the past calendar year. Yes, the last two months of the year is the time when we conduct our annual staff evaluations.

In some organizations, evaluations are largely a formality, but we have a different perspective on the process. Evaluations offer our organization the opportunity to (1) evaluate individual productivity and work quality; (2) discuss the future direction of staff responsibilities; (3) assess staff satisfaction; and (4) gather feedback regarding how our people, projects, and organization are managed. 

At QIP, the evaluation process begins when each employee receives a written evaluation from his or her supervisor. The written draft is followed up by telephone meetings, during which staff members can discuss the evaluation with the supervisor and set goals for the following year.

As managers, we understand that a review—particularly when it comes to areas for improvement—can sometimes make people feel defensive, unappreciated, or undervalued . . . but we hope to convey the opposite: our employees are very much appreciated and valued. When conducting evaluations, we stress our belief that we can all improve in some way—and that includes the Principals. As such, we encourage staff to get the most out of the evaluation process by welcoming constructive feedback on both demonstrated strengths and areas in which they can grow and improve.

We also tell our staff to think seriously about how to set achievable goals for next year that are meaningful to both QIP and the employee. We are confident that all of our staff want to do a good job and improve their skills and performance. Our annual evaluation process contributes to our individual and collective development, and we encourage employees to embrace the process. It’s an opportunity to exchange perspectives, think about evolving roles within the company, and grow as valued professionals.

Thank You, Lunch Ladies and All Who Work to Help Others

“A thank you can change a life.” This assertion was shared by Jarrett Krosoczka during his 2014 TED Talk “Why Lunch Ladies are Heroes.” Krosoczka is the author of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series, and his talk and novels focus on the school lunch ladies who play an essential, but often overlooked, role in the education system. This reminded us of education data—essential for everyday district and school operations (such as planning, evaluation, and improvement), but often overlooked relative to other aspects of the education enterprise.

As emphasized in Krosoczka’s talk, lunch ladies do a lot more than serve chicken nuggets. More than 30 million kids participate in school lunch programs every day—that’s more than 5 billion lunches made each school year. In one district in Kentucky, where 67 percent of the students relied on schools to serve them meals each day during the school year, the lunch ladies retrofitted a school bus so they could feed 500 kids a day over the summer, when the children might not otherwise receive regular meals. Thank you, lunch ladies, for making the effort, and thank you to members of the data community for collecting the data that drives education decisionmaking and action.

Krosoczka’s presentation made us think about the unsung heroes in our lives. In the context of QIP, sometimes some of our staff become very busy with a large, important assignment. When we finish a big project, it is natural that we should thank the folks who worked on it—for example, the management planners, content leads, reviewers, editors, and graphic designers. But we sometimes forget to thank the people who didn’t work on that particular project, but carried the weight of all the other projects—also extremely important—that needed to be completed at that time, allowing others to focus on the large assignment. We want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone on the QIP staff—no matter which projects you happen to be involved in.

There are also many people beyond the work environment who deserve thanks. As Krosoczka states, “Before a child can learn, their belly needs to be full.” Who feeds your belly, literally or figuratively? Who helped you along your journey, but wasn’t noticed, or thanked, often enough because they were quiet and humble or, like the lunch ladies, didn’t have a high-profile position, even though their contributions to your life were real and meaningful?

Late November is a great time to share gratitude. Perhaps we should all reach out to the “lunch ladies” in our lives and share a heartfelt thank you. As shown in Krosoczka’s TED Talk, it can mean the world to someone, especially if they are feeling otherwise unnoticed or undervalued in our busy world.

[Source of TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/jarrett_krosoczka_why_lunch_ladies_are_heroes]

Success: The Tip of the Iceberg

Success is something we all crave, and people seem to talk about it endlessly. But what is it, exactly? The Free Dictionary offers these definitions:

1. the favorable outcome of something attempted

2. the attainment of wealth, fame, etc.

At QIP, we’re more interested in the first definition than the second. But there’s another definition of success that resonates with the type of work we do: Success is the product of effort.

The image of an iceberg as a metaphor for success has been making the rounds through social media. The lower, and bigger, portion of the iceberg represents all the unseen attributes that contribute to the higher, and smaller, portion, which represents observable success.

Over the years, we have noticed that six foundational attributes lead to success within our company:

  • Persistence – We keep trying, even when the road is difficult.
  • Failure – We all fail at times, but do we learn from our mistakes and keep trying? As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life's failures . . . did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  • Sacrifice – Putting energy into one thing means that we are forgoing the opportunity to put it into something else. This is inevitable; we work to make good choices about where to invest our energy.
  • Good habits – For most of us, success is the result of good practices and routines, not flashy ideas, charisma, or brilliance.
  • Hard work – Very few things come easily; you must work for them. To quote Thomas Edison again, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
  • Dedication – Sticking to a winning formula is important. We focus on the attributes that have led to past successes as reasonable launching points for future successes.

When teams display these attributes, it’s amazing how powerful the results can be. Focusing on the six foundational attributes is much more efficacious than striving for wealth or fame. The former goes deep; the latter is too shallow to build real results.

However you choose to define success, it always seems to emanate from deep down. Dig deep, and you will rise high. That’s our philosophy at QIP.

Teamwork: Greater than the Sum of the Parts

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If you are an athlete or theater goer—or both—you’ve seen how a coordinated group effort can produce an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts. Coaches, stage directors, task managers, project directors, and other leaders recommend a wide range of sometimes competing philosophies for inspiring and improving teamwork, but here’s how we approach the concept at QIP.

The Business Dictionary defines teamwork as “the process of working collaboratively with a group of people in order to achieve a goal.” That sounds right, but we think there’s more to it. In fact, we like the way artist and author Zero Dean explains the concept in more interpersonal terms:

Teamwork is the combined commitment to overcome obstacles. It’s support. It’s encouragement. It’s working together.

It’s rising to the challenge of bettering yourself for the benefit of the whole. It’s providing the support & encouragement necessary to help others better themselves and succeed in their endeavors.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, many experts believe that, after identifying a shared goal or purpose, the most important aspects of teamwork center on relationships: effective group communications, efficient collaborative processes, and positive interpersonal interactions. We consistently put these ideas into practice here at QIP.

No matter what your workplace role is, it’s a valuable exercise to consider how you contribute to the teams you work within—internally, with business partners, and in client settings. What is your role? What do you contribute? What could you contribute? To evaluate yourself, you can ask questions such as these:

  • Am I a consistent contributor?
  • Am I a person my colleagues can count on?
  • Do I volunteer to pick up the slack when I see opportunities to do so?
  • Do I share credit and acknowledge good work in others?
  • Do I encourage others?
  • Do I treat others with respect?
  • Am I a person other people want to work with?

If your assessment suggests that there’s room for you to improve in your team skills, why not give it a try? No one is perfect, but people who collaborate as teammates can do great things together. Up your game in the teamwork department, and see how it improves your professional products, interpersonal relationships, and job satisfaction! That’s what all of us at QIP are continually striving to do.