Core Values – The Key to Attracting and Retaining A-Players

A Virtuous Talent Cycle

“ I’d love being a business owner, if only I didn’t have to deal with so many people issues!”

We often hear this from our clients when they are frustrated by not having the right people in the right seats, doing things right.

If they seem to have an adequate talent development process, but they still struggle to get, keep and grow A-Players, two questions pop up for us:

What are your organization’s Core Values?

How well would your employees say that you, as an owner, live and breathe these values?

When we talk about values, we’re not talking about slogans, tag-lines or other customer-facing messages. We’re not talking about feel-good, self-focused, morale-building platitudes or inspirational posters. We are talking about the decisions and actions that define character.

As an owner, YOUR values drive the organization’s values, which are the engine for just about everything to do with your people, culture and long-term success. Who you hire, how you treat people, the kind of workplace you create and your reputation or ‘gravity’ as the place for A-Players, all flow from your values.

Hire GREAT People

In the absence of clear values, organizations hire on the technical ability to do the work.  While that’s a good place to start, the heart of a great hire is an alignment of values with the organization. If you aren’t clear about your values, how will you decide who is right for your company? How will a candidate decide if you are right for them?

For example,  Nike knows exactly the kind of people it will (and won’t) hire. They want people who create, take risks and pursue greatness within their company – people who can ‘shatter limits daily’. While a message such as this will attract A-Players, only companies who can deliver on the promise will keep A-Players – and Nike does.

Learn more about hiring great people

Create a Great Place to Work

Creating a great place to work is the first step in keeping the great people. Your values drive HOW you treat your people, the kind of work you take on, the environment people work in and how you celebrate success and failure.

Your values show up in the daily actions of your organization.

  • If you value people seeing the impact of their work, create a metric that helps people see their impact on success.
  • If you value autonomy, create the boundary conditions and measurable outcomes so your team can make independent decisions, and know when they are successful.
  • If you value learning, recognize people who are learning. Make it safe for people to fail and make mistakes on the path to greater success.
  • If you value a variety of interesting work for your people, be selective about the kind of work you take on.

Consistently recognizing and celebrating values in the day-to-day actions of your leaders and team reinforces their importance in your company.

KEEP Your Great People – Help Them Grow

Equally important is helping your people grow.  The trend in organizations is to do many small coaching moments throughout the year, focusing on the work ahead of you, versus the backward-looking ‘performance reviews.’ As described in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, The Performance Management Revolution, traditional performance reviews  “hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future.”

Great leaders are coaching people on the skills, talents and values they need to advance, through immediate, constructive coaching in the day-to-day work of the company.  An excellent book for helping you improve your skills in coaching your team is: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, by Michael Bungay Stanier. There are now interesting web-based applications, such as Threads (threadsculture.com) that help you and your employee document and improve alignment between the values of the organization and delivery of results.

Create a Virtual Bench of Future Talent

Create and groom a list of people who you would like to have work for you. The list might include a former intern who will graduate in a year or two, someone your clients mentioned as a superstar in another organization, or a referral from one of your employees. One way of mining the network of connections already within your organization is to sit down with your best team members and work through their personal contact list in a process called ‘guided recall’.

The strategy here is to stay connected.  Get creative. Share information about your company’s culture and values. Host continuing education events. Invite your employees to bring prospective candidates to a social event, like a craft beer tasting, or through social media like Facebook or LinkedIn. Find ways to add value to those on your bench. When it’s time to look for great people to add to your team, the candidates will be looking for you.

Learn more about creating a virtual bench

Keep Your Values Real

Keeping it real means observing and naming the values you and your organization already live and breathe, today.

How do you test that one of your values is ‘the real deal’?

  • Can you point to a person in your organization who embodies the value?
  • Will you take a financial hit / turn down a deal as you stand for the value?
  • Is repeatedly violating the value a firing offense?

Keep your company’s Core Values front and center – keep them real and alive. They are a powerful magnet to get, keep and align a great team, and ultimately, to amplify your organization’s success!

Learn more about Core Values

– Ann Ralston, © 2017 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Monday, April 3rd, 2017 Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Leadership, Main Page, Personal Mastery, Scaling Up, Values Comments Off on Core Values – The Key to Attracting and Retaining A-Players

Leadership Lessons from the Craft Beer World!

‘Brewing Up a Business‘ by Sam Calagione, the owner of DogFish Head Brewery, was recommended by one of my sons, so I downloaded the audiobook. He brews his own beer as a hobby, and I thought – at best – I was getting into a book about craft beer counter-culture and start ups.

Brewing up a BusinessWhat I found was a fun, fast listen chock-full of lessons on the leadership required to build and run a successful business:

  • about dedication and belief in what you are creating,
  • of commitment to your people,
  • of how the personality of an individual can shape a culture of innovation.

The company was built on creating innovative (and sometimes bizarre) products – which with craft beer means a combination of distinctive taste and ingredients, an evocative name, and a great story. (Liquid Breadfruit Ale, anyone?).

They maintain a constant awareness (and openness to) ideas that may be the germ of a new offering – and in some cases, rescue offerings in trouble.  Sales for the then-failing DFH Beer Shampoo Bar only turned around after they discovered that professional dog groomers loved it, and so repositioned it as a pet care product!

I think the thing that most struck me was their connection to and understanding of their customers. We all talk about knowing our customer, but how does that translate to action throughout a company? Calagione sets a great example, and I could see and feel his commitment to this principle, woven through every story he tells.

If you are looking for a down-to-earth and delightfully “off-centered” point of view on leadership, you are in for a great read (or listen!)!


– Ann Ralston

© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Leadership, Main Page Comments Off on Leadership Lessons from the Craft Beer World!

Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

Once upon a time, there was a consultant who wanted their business to be successful far and wide, because she cared about people, the earth and longed deeply to make a difference.

Everyday, she would beat herself up for not being able to sell her wares or write pithy articles that were relevant to their clients.

One day, she read a book – To Sell is Human

Because of that she developed greater skill (and confidence) and credibility with her clients, and more courage to find a financial win-win while helping the people and organizations she cared about.

Because of that, she saw their sales increase.

Until finally, she saw their business grow far and wide, making a difference to more people than ever, (and even wrote a relevant, pithy and timely book review).

(Example of a “Pixar pitch”, one of six successors to the elevator pitch)

“I’m not a salesman. That’s just not who I am

A client echoed my own thoughts last evening. Inwardly, I smiled. No, I may not be a sales person, but I am really good at helping people succeed, at holding their vision, at connecting others, and at marshaling knowledge and resources in their service. That, according to author, Daniel Pink, is the new world order of sales – a world where, like it or not, every one of us is in sales.

Information changes everything:

To Sell is Human Kindle Edition

Of course, for many of us, the old world of selling conjures images of real estate agents and car salesmen wielding secret books of data, and the cry of ‘caveat emptor’ – buyer beware! Pink observes that information is now equally available to both sides of the sale. Buyers come to a transaction knowing as much or more than the salesperson, so the value of the sales person as holder of knowledge has greatly diminished.

When we make a major purchase, Gary does his homework. When we got our last car, Gary knew more about price, availability and fit to my preferences than either the sales person or me, steering me to a car I never would have considered. Prescient? No. The information is readily available for consumers, along with the tools to make sense of and personalize it.

This information parity is perhaps most apparent in the real estate industry, where the old guard competes with agents more attuned and more wired to the new reality of how buyers approach their research and purchase. The typical home buyer today, smartphone in-hand, has walked through the house, scanned satellite images and toured the neighborhood, all virtually, before ever asking to step into a home. They have at their fingertips market pricing, school district grades, crime statistics, “Walkability” scores and the impressions and opinions of their social network living in the neighborhood. ‘Caveat venditor’ – seller, beware. (Agent, plug-in!)

If not “gatekeeper to information” what is the value and role of the salesperson in the new order?

The new ABC’s of selling:

In researching the book, Pink has delved into many diverse fields, weaving them into surprising and sometimes counterintuitive insights. He follows with practical resources and useful thought experiments at the end of each section. These little ‘sample cases’ are grist for the reader’s personal reflection, insight and skill development (and yes, make us squirm just a bit).

In the old world of selling, ABC stood for Always Be Closing. Ugh. Thankfully, Pink has come up with new ABC’s:

Attunement – being aware of yourself, your actions and attitudes in the current context,

Buoyancy – mental resilience before and after a sales opportunity, and

Clarity – finding the right questions to ask to help the client gain clarity.

As Gary and I reflect on the evolution of our approach to sales, these principles ring true.

The final section of the book focuses on what to do in the ‘new’ sales process. He draws from Pixar and others as he walks through six ways to ‘pitch’, and reaches into improvisational theatre to help the reader move from a world of scripted sales to deeper listening and awareness in working with customers and peers.

Servant Selling:

In closing, Pink talks about a fundamental shift in values underlying selling. Taking a page from Robert Greenleaf’s “Servant Leadership” philosophy, he creates a version for the new world of sales
 He calls it “Servant Selling”:

“ It begins with the idea that those move others aren’t manipulators but servants. They serve first and sell later. And the test – which, like Greanleaf’s, is the best and most difficult to administer is this: If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over will the world be a better place than when you began?”

The book, like Pink’s previous work, is a fast read, a bit cheeky, and packed with useful tidbits. Most important, for the many of us who protest “I am not a salesman!”, it touches our core of doubts, fears and biases. It offers the opportunity and a pathway to change our frame from sales as something to be avoided to sales as a caring service aimed at helping both parties succeed.

This is certainly true for me. I’m far better off for having read this book.

– Ann Ralston

© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.

Link to Kindle e-book at Amazon.com: To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Leadership, Main Page, Sales, Values Comments Off on Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

What’s Your Soundtrack for 2012?

“For next lesson, pick a few songs that have some meaning for you, and speak to your focus in the next year – a soundtrack for 2012.”

For over 30 years, growing up in BC, I sang – in choirs and bands, and summer stock theatre. While I wasn’t big on hymns, I’d carol at Christmas, and I even wrote a song or two.

Then I fell in love with Ann, joined her family in Midwestern USA, and life so filled and crowded and rushed with consulting and raising kids and caring for parents and teaching and volunteering. While I started the decade in song, by the end I had elbowed singing into the shower, where I’d occasionally hum a few bars and snatch a passing fragment of lyrics from memory’s mists.

Thinking back, I came to see singing and many forms of joyful expression incompatible with the “serious, credible” pursuit of business and consulting and organizational transformation. In many (not all) of the business settings I worked in across North America, including my hometown on the decidedly New Age west coast, suggestions of opening up and expressing and connecting more deeply were not usually well–received. “Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!” someone would scoff, and, well, that was that and it was time for something more productive.

I know my experience is not unique, and that many are coming to view this “us” and “them”; this disciplined corporate compartmentalization of mind and intellect and power and ambition from heart and doubt and expression and vulnerability – from the generative spirit – as unworkable for the complexities we face in the decades ahead. Without question, much has been accomplished, both great and terrible, with such a mindset, and we owe the majority of our today to it. I just wish very much we hadn’t borrowed so heavily from our future, and from our kids’ future to pay for our today.

The fundamental shift facing anyone who has modeled their leadership on predominant patterns of prior centuries is one Richard Barrett captures so eloquently in a phrase from his paper: The New Leadership Paradigm – A Response to the Global Leadership Crisis’ “
the shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world.”

It was at my blackest, lowest point in my relationship with my chosen craft of catalyzing organizational transformation for the greater good that I realized my own complicity in reinforcing old roles – patriarchal models that would not serve our future. I discovered it through my work with First Nations clients in Canada, through my interactions with my closest colleagues, friends and family, and even in my act of exiling my heartfelt musical expression to the shower!

So imagine my hair-blown-back surprise at rediscovering music and song during a corporate engagement where I was introduced to two new colleagues. These alchemists of corporate culture who, in addition to wit and wisdom and insight, brought their extraordinary gifts as  musician / composer and singer / songwriter, respectively, into the corporate arena.

Did I get what these two remarkable beings were offering? Was I humbled by their vision and courage? Did I immediately see the error of my ways and re-integrate? Heck, no! First, I scoffed to our team lead and said: “Like THIS is going to fly with the client. Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!”

This was not my proudest moment.

A couple of years later, with the love and candor of my family, friends and colleagues, a good deal of stumbling, soul searching (soul–scraping?), and a stubborn determination to learn in support of my aspirations (thanks, dad!), I’m told I’m making good progress. I now sing with real COMMITMENT in the shower!

I also might be better prepared to join the community putting their hearts and minds and backs to the impossible but worthy task of finding and amplifying what’s right with the world, and shaping the future we want to live into.

I study with my singer / songwriter friend when I get the chance, and it was she who in January suggested I select, with clear intent, songs that fit the coming year. While many I chose have been favorites for years, one in particular hit me as I was driving home after receiving my assignment, listening to a cappella groups on internet radio. The King’s Singers were rendering a truly beautiful, straight-up version of “The Rose”, by Amanda McBroom. The second verse:

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

What will you choose for your soundtrack in 2012?

– Gary Ralston
February 11, 2012

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Article Archive, Leadership, Main Page, Values Comments Off on What’s Your Soundtrack for 2012?

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