The Value of Having Values

Recently I was listening to a really impactful podcast interview between Dr Peter Attia and Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures. On January 15, 2009, Ric was a passenger on US Airways Flight 1549, which took off from LaGuardia Airport and struck a flock of geese while still climbing, which cut out both engines. Captain Sully Sullenberger had microseconds to make decisions on how to save the situation, and meanwhile in the cabin Ric became convinced he was seconds away from a certain death. Due to his extensive training Sullenberger was able to figure out how to land the Airbus plane on the Hudson river and saved not only the lives of everyone onboard, but also prevented further loss of life had the plane come down into a crowded New York or New Jersey neighborhood.

Ric walked away from that incident feeling like he had been given the gift of a new life, and devoted himself with intentionality and mindfulness to his family, business and philanthropic ventures.

The way Ric talks about his business, Red Ventures, really resonated with me, especially when he talked about defining the business culture through belief statements instead of values. In his view values are nouns, not verbs, and he only knows how to run a company through actions.

As a person on action myself I thought he had a fair point, and it made me reflect on the EOS Core Values process I facilitate when I work with my clients.

When Ric talked about further about their belief statements, the connection between our approach and his became clearer.

Leaving the woodpile higher

One belief statement Red Ventures uses to shape its culture really stood out for me:

“We believe in leaving the woodpile higher than we found it…..Our true purpose is to do all we can to positively change the trajectory of the people and communities we touch.”

To me, this belief statement is really telling an evocative story. The idea of leaving a woodpile higher than we found it pulls in a lot of imagery. The hard, physical labor it takes to create a wood pile. The wood pile as a source of future fuel. That fuel creates heat for cooking and bringing families together around a fire on a cold winter’s day. So the woodpile is a sustaining resource that creates a better future, and the culture of Red Ventures is focused on doing all they can to create a better trajectory.

When I work with my clients in the EOS process we define the Core Values of the leadership team and then roll them out through the company through the use of story. Similar to the belief statement, we use stories to illustrate what a Core Value looks like in action.

For example one of my clients has a Core Value of “Go above and beyond”. What does this mean? It means that when a delivery truck shows up in the rain, whoever is available goes above and beyond by putting on a raincoat and going out in the rain to unload it.

Stories shape your culture

The point in both these examples is the use of powerful stories to help you shape the culture of your organization. The shaping happens in three ways:

1) Use your Core Value stories to attract the people you want into your organization. Tell these stories during the interview process and help the interviewer and applicant see if there is resonance around the value and stories.

2) Use your Core Value stories to help your team see what it looks like when the Core Values are put in action. In EOS we use Core Value call-outs to recognize when a member of our community has displayed a value. In Ric’s interview he related that after they had all been rescued from the aircraft and were standing on a pier in New Jersey, Ric saw Captain Sullenberger standing alone. Ric went up to him and thanked him for what he had done that day. Sully replied “I was just doing my job.”  The humility in that statement is very moving, and certainly points to very deeply held set of core values. Sullenberger was later recognized publicly for his heroism by outgoing President George W. Bush and incoming President Barack Obama.

3) Use your Core Value stories to help people see they aren’t a good fit for your team. If you have a Core Value of “Get it done” and that value means doing what it takes to get shipments ready for UPS pickup at 6pm, then someone who expects to walk out the door at 5pm sharp just isn’t the right person. In my yacht design days on Friday afternoons we used to have a frenzy of printing blueprints, rolling them up into courier tubes and speeding across town to make the latest pickup that sent them on their way to the other side of the world. Everyone pitched in, and we got it done before we cracked open the beers and celebrated another great week. That was our culture, and knocking off early that day just didn’t fit.

Getting on the same page

I hope none of you have to go through such a cataclysmic life changing event as Ric Elias did. But learning from his epiphany and focusing on how you build your business and team with intention, through focusing on your values and what they mean to you, can help you bring together a world-beating alignment and cohesion of your team.



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