This part 2 of a 2 part series. Part 1 is here.

Last time, we reviewed what goes into good company values. Let’s take a look at the values of a successful company that has strong cultural direction but hasn’t quite figured out how to express it:

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow
  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well
  • Fast is better than slow
  • Democracy on the web works
  • You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer
  • You can make money without doing evil
  • There’s always more information out there
  • The need for information crosses all borders
  • You can be serious without a suit
  • Great just isn’t good enough

Anyone who’s been inside Google can tell you they have a distinct culture but yet their stated values are cluttered. If they were to follow the pattern set by Facebook and Virgin America Airlines, Google’s values might become:

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow
  • Fast is better than slow
  • Great just isn’t good enough
  • Do ‘Information’ better than anyone

The first three values establish Google’s commitment to excellence: flawless, lightning-fast, focused software. The last value states their goal: dominate all things information related.

Southwest Airlines suffers from a similar problem; not only do they suffer from a little too much personality obscuring their underlying imperatives, their stated values hint at a theme, but lack a unified goal.

  • Live the Southwest way
    • A Warrior’s spirit
    • A Servant’s heart
    • Fun-LUVing attitude
  • Work the Southwest way
    • Work safely
    • Wow our customers
    • Keep costs low

Once you clarify that ‘warrior’ and ‘servant’ represent hard work and respect, what Southwest lacks is a goal to tie everything together. The first section, Live the Southwest way, is succinct and representative of the company values. Were it followed up with a strong goal that reinforces those values, it would be much more effective than the generic ‘Work the Southwest way’.

Consider:

  • A Warrior’s spirit (work hard)
  • A Servant’s heart (be respectful)
  • Fun-LUVing attitude (have fun)
  • Keep costs low
  • Fly with the Southwest family

Unlike the other companies we’ve looked at so far, Southwest is not a company emphasizing innovation. Rather, I believe their strategy is to combine a reputation for value with an unbreakable culture that can weather the ups and downs of market changes. The metaphor of a family seems strategy-appropriate: A family takes pride in its hospitality. A family won’t let each other down. A family is loving but holds its members to a high standard.

Goal setting

We’ve seen a few company goals (both stated and implied) and we can imagine how each inspires the employees that follow it:

Facebook: Build social value

Google: Do information better than anyone (implied)

Virgin America Airlines: Together we make the difference

Southwest Airlines: Fly with the Southwest family (implied)

Once a company has values and a guiding goal, it’s time to spread that goal throughout the company.

Many companies already utilize some form of employee goal setting and typically this involves asking employees to agree to certain performance metrics and then tracking their progress towards meeting them. Most employees do not enjoy this form of goal setting. At best it is perceived as busy work, at worst it is perceived as big brother watching for weakness.

But there is a better way. Employees naturally seek autonomy and purpose; they are motivated by opportunities to think big and own their own destiny. “A company with well-thought-out values and a corresponding visionary goal has the opportunity to use goal setting to inspire and motivate employees.”

The four companies we’ve covered are implicitly asking their employees:

What can you do to build social value?

How can you do information better than anyone?

How can you make a difference to the air travel experience?

What can you do to make this family strong?

Open-ended challenges like these are an invitation to become more engaged with your work: Instead of a mere employee, you are now a mini CEO. You are an equal owner of this goal and its success depends on you. Under this mindset, goal-setting is no longer about task management. Goal-setting is about giving everyone a seat at the table of dreaming big. It’s about distributing the company vision down to where the real opportunities for innovation are.

The catch

If you’re thinking ahead, you might have noticed a potential problem. By making every employee a mini-CEO, you’re turning the company upside down. Without a corresponding shift in management thinking, the innovation will be stamped out before it can take hold and you’ll be left with a disillusioned workforce. Do not update your company values and goal setting process if you’re not prepared to also adjust your management practices.

In a typical company, strategic responsibility scales with status in the company. Higher-ups are both expected to have the big ideas and to coordinate the big ideas. The typical company is not a system that scales innovation. It is top-heavy.

If you’re committing to a company that drives innovation from the bottom up, managers need to be taught to delegate the generation of big ideas and turn their focus on coordinating and fostering those ideas. Management has to leave the egos at the door and this starts at the top. Responsibility and power require a broader perspective: leaders are important for their ability to coordinate and steer in broad strokes. Leadership means maintaining the big picture, setting priorities and delegating the innovations to those who have the freedom to get lost in the details. In reality, an overworked CEO is never going to have a big idea that changes the world. But an overworked CEO is able to provide the vision and guidance that leads one undiscovered genius in their workforce to find the big idea that changes the world.