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Building Your Company Culture Through Values

April 30, 2014

Of all the aspects of building a big company from scratch, nailing a great company culture is perhaps the hardest to quantify and thus also one of the hardest things to do. It’s inherently difficult because it’s all about people – there will be all different types of people in an organization and the needs of the organization will require different skills and talents at different points along the journey.

Culture is not just a mission statement on a banner. We can all cringe remembering the class scene from Office Space, “Is this good for the company?” It’s not ping pong tables or free food or a decent vacation policy. Culture is the ethos of the company in practice: the guiding views or ideals that characterize the organization.

Is This Good For The Company? from Office Space

We spend a lot of time thinking about products and markets and how much capital is needed to grow a company. But at the end of the day, a really successful company is going to need people to work together to grow it and establishing values that are going to guide your organization early can be critical.

We made a lot of mistakes growing Square 1 over the years, but the thing that I’m most proud of and that is most amazing is that we are still guided by the exact same set of core values that were outlined the day the bank opened in 2005. Every single employee is aware of the values and can recite them from memory. This is partially due to the fact that we propagandized the values in the front of notebooks, at every all hands meeting, and in every all staff email for years. Was it cheesy at times? Yes. Did it feel like overkill at times? Of course. Did the values sink into every single person at the bank and become a part of our very being? They absolutely did.

Square 1 Bank Values

Our values are simple (which I think is the way to go with values):

Be a Partner

Everything should be about developing and nurturing relationships both internally and externally, by serving others.

Act Like an Entrepreneur

Don’t settle for the status quo. If you see an opportunity to make something better, do it.

Be Passionate

The magic glue that drives us.

TNT (Today Not Tomorrow)

Time is of the essence. We must act with a sense of urgency.

Be Square

Above all else, be open, transparent, and accountable.

Some of the ways that we put these values into practice include the following:

  • Before every single employee is hired, they are presented with the values and it’s made clear that these are the guidelines that we use to run the company. We have had “Values Teams” who assess the fit and set expectations for new hires.
  • We call the values out, even in the little things. If the coffee is empty and not refilled, an email might go out to remind everyone to “Be a Partner.” When there is a client that needs to close a deal on a tight deadline, you will see and hear “TNT” all over the place. And then we celebrate publicly those instances when our team lives out the values.
  • Finally, we talk about it. ALL. THE. TIME. As I mentioned, every notebook had it plastered on the first page and every all hands meeting has the values on the last slide. Our values are everywhere. And we’re still innovating – in the last few weeks we put up a new Values Wall in the middle of our headquarters to highlight top performers on a quarterly basis.

Square 1 Bank Values Wall

Square 1 is certainly not alone in terms of putting a focus on values. I’ve always been impressed with Moz over the years and their TAGFEE code. I recently saw that one of my clients, Automated Insights, lists their values on their careers page. Deciding on core values early in a company’s life – deciding WHO you’re going to be – is one of the most important things you can do. It will define HOW you will do it which will have a profound impact on WHAT you want to accomplish.

The views, opinions, beliefs, conclusions, and other information expressed in this material is not given, verified, or endorsed by Square 1 Bank, a division of Pacific Western Bank. Instead, this material is solely the work of the author, and represents his views, opinions, beliefs, conclusions, and other information he wishes to present, in all cases without any manner of endorsement from or verification by Square 1 Bank, a division of Pacific Western Bank.

This material, including without limitation the statistical information herein, is provided for informational purposes only. The material is based in part upon information from third-party sources that the author believes to be reliable, but which has not been independently verified by the author or Square 1 Bank, a division of Pacific Western Bank, and, as such, we do not represent that the information is accurate or complete. The information should not be viewed as tax, investment, legal, or other advice, nor is it to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. You should obtain relevant and specific professional advice before making any investment decision. Nothing relating to this material should be construed as a solicitation, offer, or recommendation to acquire or dispose of any investment, or to engage in any other transaction.

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