The Origin of Our Company Values


Over my career, it has become commonplace for companies to create Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. A Mission Statement should be aspirational and motivating but should also reflect what the employees believe in or buy into.

The word “mission” speaks to a higher purpose of the organization – the WHY. Mission is about the essence of the organization that inspires people to commit to it, sacrifice for it, and seek to make that mission part of their own personal purpose.

Similarly, vision communicates where the company intends to go while fulfilling its Mission. These two parts must be in sync. If the journey and destination don’t have a relation to the Mission, why are you on the journey in the first place?

Mission and vision are more forward-looking and immediate, addressing where a company wants to go and why. Values, on the other hand, are not time-sensitive. They speak to the soul and culture of the company.

Noted management consultant, Peter Lencioni, authored a great article on company values for the Harvard Business Review in 2002. He defines four different types of Values: Core Values, Aspirational Values, Permission-to-Play Values and Accidental Values. Of all, Core Values are the intrinsic cultural cornerstones.

Admittedly, the first time Austin’s leadership team set out to establish our Core Values, we wound up with Permission-to-Play Values such as Honesty, Integrity, and Respect. Nice. Important. But they are not uniquely Austin.

Enter EOS.

Entrepreneurial Operating System was devised by Gino Wickman and inspired by the works of Patrick Lencioni and Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame) and others. For us and thousands of other firms, EOS is a powerful tool to get a company’s leadership aligned and working toward the same goals together. EOS shows company leaders how to process issues with those goals in mind, and ultimately drive their teams toward the same goals.

It begins with an EOS process that shows company leaders how to define Core Values. The beauty and power of the process is that it is organic; it comes from within the organization. Start by making a list of those employees who embody the company culture each day and define what it is about them that caused you to add them to the list. Categorize those definitions into groups with similar themes and name each group. Congratulations, you have just defined your Core Values organically. They weren’t made up with the hope of being relevant. They are intrinsically relevant.

Within Austin, we identified people who were the problem solvers. They figured out ways of taking obstacles and developing new ways of getting past them. They carry our Innovation DNA, sending a message to their coworkers that we don’t let problems stop us.

Others seemed to always be there to pitch in. No matter what the issue is, these employees are there to help. There is a strong Commitment to Service among many employees who came to mind as true Austinites. Similarly, there were many examples of employees who, no matter what the project, task, assignment, or request can always be counted on to Get it Done.

We identified many co-workers with an unmistakable and contagious Passion for our clients and the important work they entrust to us, and our duty to earn that trust every day. For many, an assigned project or task is a personal challenge with which they exhibit an unrelenting drive to succeed, and failures are a personal affront. When given a project, they Own It!

Finally, we identified many people who had an innate ability to act as a catalyst, bringing teams together and making them successful. These employees are our Team Builders.

The authenticity of these values is that they were always there, making up the soul of Austin without ever having been examined or codified. These six Core Values are now part of our everyday work. They are branded throughout the organization. We have developed a Microsoft Dynamics app where co-workers can give a Shout Out anytime a colleague exhibits one of these Core Values in the course of their work.

Core Values have become an important part of our discussion in recruiting and evaluations. We sometimes find an employee who is competent but doesn’t seem to fit our culture. They tend not to demonstrate some of these Core Values. They also do not tend to stay around long.

On the other hand, many of the people named in this process have 20, 30 even 50 years with the company. We have consistent client relationships with major companies that span 40, 50, even 75 years. The thread that ties this all together is our culture, and the foundation of our culture is our Core Values. It is not surprising, then to read about our founders, Samuel Austin, and his son, Wilbert, and readily see these values describe who they were and how they built the company. These values have been unique to Austin from the start. It is our organizational DNA. It makes us a family. Taken as a whole, these Core Values define the essence of a career at Austin: the kind of people who work alongside you, your mentors, your work family. As business author Joe D. Batten put it, “Our value is the sum of our values.”


President and CEO

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