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When core values evolve

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I used to work at a company where “Relentlessly Improve” was a value. Of all of the values, this is the one I saw show up time and again from my colleagues, and one with which I most identified. For one, it took the personal out of work (it’s all about improving the work, and improving yourself as a technical practitioner doing that work), which worked for me as a lower level manager and individual contributor.

Before there were other Stories teammates, Scott and I created a list of core values for the company we wanted to create, with a plan to evaluate and change as our culture and team did.

First on my list was “Relentlessly Improve.” It worked so well before!

I’m sure you can see as I do now that not all values fit all companies. At the time, as co-leader of a two person company, I likely gave more weight to the idea that culture comes from us and it will be what we make of it.

A few years later, we have a great team. And I’m focused on relentless improvement for all, as I think it’s my favorite value. But this company is not my previous company. And my job is not just to do the work accurately, but also to make sure others are inspired to do and be their best. That’s a very human part of what leaders do.

I was pointing out small mistakes in a way that totally aligned with Relentlessly Improve. One day a Stories teammate pointed out that I only focused on things she could do better, but never how far she’d come, or Stories had come, and the actual improvements that we had made along the way (good thing Communicate Openly, one of our values, is still a winner).

She was totally right. So, we changed the value to Relentlessly Improve While Celebrating Success. To only hear about what you can do better, and never what you’ve done right, is not the experience I want our awesome team to have. Also, it’s not a sustainable motivator and wouldn’t inspire others to do their best work in the long term (Take the Long View, another winner), so that value is counterproductive to another.

It’s as easy as it sounds: listening to what your team says the culture is and/or what they want it to be is critical to organizational growth and engagement, and to leadership enlightenment! Building an innovative culture is worthy of relentless improvement. One of my favorite things about where I work: every person cares that the values we espouse truly lift people up and contribute to creating the best possible workplace. That’s a reason to celebrate.

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