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The Longevity of Values-Driven Leadership

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

These days, we expect peo­ple to change jobs fair­ly fre­quent­ly. When some­one has been with a com­pa­ny for a decade, we’re sur­prised. When they’ve been there almost 25 years and seen the orga­ni­za­tion grow from a dozen to around 350 staff, we real­ly sit up and take notice.

Some­one who’s had that kind of longevi­ty is Mered­ith Bronk, CEO and Pres­i­dent of Open Sys­tems Tech­nolo­gies, Inc. (OST). She recent­ly appeared on The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast and shared the sort of deep insights that come from work­ing at and lead­ing one com­pa­ny for such a long time. In this arti­cle, we want to share a few of those insights with you.

Live Your Values First

While more and more com­pa­nies start­ing up these days are putting togeth­er some kind of state­ment of val­ues at the out­set, that’s not been the case for most com­pa­nies over the years. Mered­ith told us it was 15 years into the growth of OST when they took the time to write down their com­pa­ny val­ues, which are:

  • Hon­or (our employ­ees and families)
  • Delight (our clients)
  • Serve (with humility)
  • Embrace (entre­pre­neur­ship and innovation)
  • Learn (through curios­i­ty and empathy)

The first four were the orig­i­nal val­ues and, in a meta moment, the fifth was added when an acqui­si­tion was made of a human-cen­tered design firm. It made sense for the tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny bring­ing in the design firm to embrace curi­ous and empath­ic learn­ing, not just in tem­po­rary actions but in per­ma­nent words.

Keep Your Values in Front of You (Literally)

Mered­ith is not a tech per­son but she’s in charge of a tech com­pa­ny, so she sees a big part of her job as ensur­ing that peo­ple have the place to do their best work every sin­gle day. Part of cre­at­ing such an envi­ron­ment is mak­ing sure that com­pa­ny val­ues are expressed, preached, and lived, not just in words but in actions.

She keeps on her desk what OST calls a ​“blue card,” which has the company’s val­ues writ­ten on it. She loves these val­ues and helped to write them, and she still enjoys being remind­ed of them frequently.

This is also part of the onboard­ing process. New team mem­bers are asked to raise their right hands and agree that they accept these val­ues and are com­mit­ted to liv­ing them per­son­al­ly and encour­ag­ing them in others.

Don’t Allow One Value to Supercede Another

At OST, all the val­ues are equal­ly impor­tant, so it’s impor­tant not to let one val­ue ​“argue” against anoth­er. When faced with seem­ing­ly con­flict­ing com­pa­ny val­ues in a giv­en sit­u­a­tion, look deep­er or ask for help to see how you might resolve it.

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

We all remem­ber Mas­ter Yoda’s advice to Luke to ​“unlearn” bad habits. Mered­ith thinks this applies to team mem­bers who come in with habits or prac­tices that may have been in line with their pre­vi­ous com­pa­ny but are prob­lem­at­ic at OST.

Dur­ing OST’s onboard­ing process, the ques­tion is posed: ​“What do I have to unlearn in order to align myself with these values?”

But Your Voice Matters, Too

But Mered­ith doesn’t see this as one-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in which new team mem­bers are told this and asked to abide by that. She wel­comes feedback:

  • If team mem­bers see ways that the com­pa­ny or oth­er team mem­bers are not liv­ing values
  • If team mem­bers see ways that the com­pa­ny could improve or do things better

She believes that peo­ple have to feel a sense of belong­ing, and that can only hap­pen if they are invit­ed to make their own mark on the cul­ture and see that they are part of it, not just sub­ject to it.

Cultural Hypocrisy

Mered­ith points out that the val­ues have to over­come our own per­son­al reac­tions. There may indeed be a time when you don’t feel like ​“serv­ing with humil­i­ty” but you can’t tele­graph that to oth­ers through a shrug, an eye roll, or that gasp of exas­per­a­tion, because then your per­son­al prob­lem becomes every­one else’s.

If you don’t let long-term val­ues over­ride your short-term feel­ings, you miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow per­son­al­ly and professionally.

Be Understanding of Fellow Humans

If that eye roll hap­pens or that gasp of exas­per­a­tion slips out, Mered­ith says we should be under­stand­ing to our fel­low humans.

We all make mis­takes, and enforc­ing and liv­ing com­pa­ny val­ues can’t be done with a met­ric of ​“zero tol­er­ance” for fail­ure. Have com­pas­sion for someone’s bad day, react empa­thet­i­cal­ly, but also gen­tly remind them not to make their bad day every­one else’s, too.

Don’t Permit Weaponization of Values

While it’s impor­tant to be com­pas­sion­ate when someone’s hav­ing a bad day, it’s also impor­tant to call them out on bad behav­ior. Meredith’s exam­ple was, ​“Some­one might say, oh, I was just being entre­pre­neur­ial in that sit­u­a­tion,” and her response would be, ​“No, you were just being a jerk.”

Don’t allow some­one to con­flate bad behav­ior with com­pa­ny val­ues. This weaponiza­tion is a slip­pery slope that can poi­son inter­ac­tions (and feedback).

Values Stay the Same, But Culture Must Adapt

When val­ues are con­sis­tent, they pro­vide a sta­bi­liz­ing force for the com­pa­ny to grow and thrive. But com­pa­ny cul­ture can’t be con­sis­tent. It grows and adapts and evolves, tak­ing on the per­son­al­i­ty, skills, and chal­lenges of every team member.

Mered­ith point­ed out the strength of OST’s con­sis­tent val­ues dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. It allowed them to use a frame to encounter a new sit­u­a­tion and adapt accordingly.

Ask for Input and Feedback

Mered­ith used to do a new-employ­ee lun­cheon once a quar­ter (it’s in a dif­fer­ent for­mat now after the move to hybrid and remote) dur­ing which she asked two questions:

  • Have you seen us live our values?
  • Have you seen us not live our values?

The answer to the sec­ond ques­tion ties into what was men­tioned above: being under­stand­ing of fel­low humans. Was this some­one not liv­ing val­ues or was this some­one hav­ing a bad day? How can you tell the dif­fer­ence? That con­ver­sa­tion helps rein­force the impor­tance of team mem­bers’ feed­back and how impor­tant com­pa­ny val­ues are.

Check Out the Full Episode

Are you inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Mered­ith and OST’s phi­los­o­phy of val­ues? Lis­ten to the full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.

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