August 14, 2018
Values Matter. Why We Evolved Ours
Exceeding our clients’ expectations requires talent, process, and technological mastery. But our mission and culture are what provide the foundation of our success. Our culture is based on an agreed-upon set of values and behaviors that has evolved over many years. Any successful large organization can make that statement. However, it is rare for a small organization like Arteric to have invested as deeply as we have in developing these principles, communicating them to our team, and acting upon them daily in a skillful and purposeful way. Our values are the compass and guideline that lead us to explore the boundaries of the possible, and to create life-changing experiences through feature-rich, defect-free software that works everywhere and every time for our pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and healthcare marketing clients.
Values Create Value
A values-driven culture creates tangible benefits for businesses. Data from a survey of 16,000 employees from multiple industries (including health, biotech, and pharma) in 17 countries show that organizations that embrace and apply well-defined corporate values satisfy customers at much higher levels than do companies that are less dedicated to a value system.
Ninety-nine percent of the respondents who worked for companies with a strong values-driven culture described their customers as “very satisfied”; but only 42% of the respondents who worked for organizations that rely on top-down command-and-control tactics reported that their customers were very satisfied.1
Nearly identical results were obtained regarding the level of effort that employees were willing to put into their work. According to research cited in the Harvard Business Review, a strong corporate culture can account for 20% to 30% of the differential in corporate performance between companies with a strong corporate culture and “culturally unremarkable competitors.”2
A values-driven corporate culture has also been shown to increase product and service quality, and it decreases employee turnover.3 Holding onto top-tier talent is especially important in Arteric’s ultra-competitive niche of digital healthcare marketing.
Values Must Evolve
In 2013, the 14 values and behaviors that defined the Arteric culture were published on our corporate website, arteric.com. For the next 4-years, we implemented those values and behaviors in our decision-making, culture, and operations. I vividly remember sitting with our head of quality assurance (QA) and having a conversation about the fact that quality is built into our mission statement (“works everywhere and every time”) and that profits are not part of our values. Actually, at the time, we specifically stated that we might have to forego some profit to attain our mission and delight our customers. This conversation realigned our QA Team’s practices and clarified our goal. It gave them a tool for making decisions about how to invest company resources in the delivery of products.
In 2017, we consolidated our value system to align with client needs, our ambitions, and our business practices. Plus, it was impossible for anyone on the team, including me, to remember 14 items. After doing some research, we decided that the max should be a memorable 6.
The evolution continued when our Leadership Team identified 5 characteristics that people at Arteric must demonstrate:
- Ever learning
- Extraordinarily competent
At first, we attempted to build a value system around these characteristics. Eventually, we realized that these are not behaviors or values; they are personality characteristics that would be present in a set of behaviors and values. We invested about 4 months of thinking into this and made many attempts to write a value system based on these characteristics. We realized that continuity in belief and behavior is critical to building a trustworthy, high-performance culture. Thus we could not abandon our original values; we needed to re-imagine them and integrate the characteristics.
Our value system explains how we think, plan, and act to overcome every challenge that we face. Our HR team relies on that value system when selecting candidates to join Arteric. We find that it usually takes 6 to 18 months for a new team member to become fully integrated into the Arteric culture and value system. So we begin by looking for people who demonstrate our characteristics. We hire on integrity, intellect, and skill – in that order.
Here is a practical example of our value system at work: Our onshore US development team identified and fixed a client’s third-party security flaw while our office was closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day—even though Arteric was not contracted to do so. We took the initiative to protect our client—with no strings attached. Ultimately, our values enable us to achieve outcomes in the digital space that other agencies can’t, an idea that our mission statement captures:
“Explore the boundaries of the possible and create life-changing experiences through feature-rich, defect-free software that works everywhere, every time.''
Now that you know how we arrived at our values and the role these values play at Arteric, here they are:
1. Delight the Customer
We want every communication and deliverable to create a supremely satisfying (informative, inspiring, triumphant) experience that delights our customer or partner.
We achieve this through thoroughness and industriousness. We are diligent and hardworking, choosing to do the hard and necessary before the fun and easy.
Practically speaking, each of us should be working from a list of tasks; do the hardest task first and complete it. Overlooking small but important details can spoil the customer’s experiences. To do the big things, you must first do the small things right.
2. Do the Right Thing
We consider every decision in light of what is best for the customer and the team—even if it means that we must sometimes choose to forgo some revenue; we play a very long game. We think and behave like owners of our company and our customer’s companies. Our strength and growth are driven by selflessness. This starts within the individual contributors and extends to our customers and partners. When we do that, revenue and profits naturally follow.
We hold each other accountable by establishing who is the responsible party, setting goals and outcomes, and committing to achieving them. By keeping our promises, we delight our customers and earn their respect. Of course, unexpected things do happen. Priorities change. But our team members know that whenever they have any doubt about delivering on a promise, they can immediately turn to each other for the help they need. We know that our mutual success depends on the success of each individual.
It is critical to do what you set out to do. Push through!
3. Be an Enthusiastic Listener and Learner
Our business is complex, ambiguous, and evolving. Ideas and inspiration emerge from unexpected sources. Recognize the power of knowing how to deal with not knowing. We have found that making space for new ideas is essential to our success; we are ever learning. Since 1999, we have experienced at least 3 major technical revolutions in our business. We’ve been able to anticipate and exploit these opportunities because we are creative and love to learn. Read voraciously. Listen to your peers and co-workers. Value their opinions. Test their ideas; and if you disagree, work to disprove them with data. Have an open mind as you challenge the ideas of others. However, if your idea prevails, be humble and adopt the heart of a teacher. We are committed to the merit of ideas. Recognize that each of us communicates in different ways.
Our commitment to learning and adapting is at the foundation of our extraordinary competence. We have the necessary ability, knowledge, and skill to build software successfully. We are efficient and capable. We are ever learning, continuing to adapt our technology and processes to succeed.
4. Be the Change You Want to See; Take Smart Risks
We pursue continuous improvement from each team member, process, and technology. We expect each team member to act as an agent for change by suggesting new technologies, removing roadblocks, and breaking down silos.
We are very ambitious. We take calculated risks in pursuit of extraordinary returns. Our growth and our customers' success are the result of nearly two decades of rigorous analysis, planning, and smart risk-taking. We analyze the data, consider multiple options for each decision, and choose the option that most aggressively advances our goals without running the risk of ruin. We reward people for testing the boundaries of the possible, even if some of the things we try do not succeed. We are building a “Just Culture” that accepts that failure is inevitable and that there is tremendous value in learning from failures.
5. Bad News Must Travel Faster Than Good News
Our success is built on our ability and commitment to rapidly address problems. If you see a problem, say something immediately. Do not hesitate.
Realize that you have nothing to fear from the truth. The most effective way to solve a problem is to address it quickly and honestly. This is accomplished through effective briefings, communication, analysis, escalation, and debriefings. We work in a business that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We are frequently successful; however, occasional failures are inevitable. Do not feel bad about your mistakes or those of others. Instead, value the mistakes and learn from them. To do this, we recognize, analyze, and learn from these failures. Resilience is the result of trying, failing, recovering, and learning.
We have adopted a concept from aviation called “Just Culture.” Just Culture is a culture in which team members and others are not punished for actions, omissions, or decisions taken by them which are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, willful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.
We do not tolerate dishonesty.
The truth is sometimes uncomfortable, but relationships that are built on honesty and transparency are stronger and more satisfying. Our meritocracy of ideas requires thoughtful disagreement. The key is to find the most tactful way to tell the truth.
Our dedication to fact finding and accountability makes us resilient. It is how we are able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
6. Complete the Circle
We believe that success is the result of a ruthless dedication to excellence and a compulsive drive to fulfill our commitments. This means that we must constantly get in synch and never assume that “someone else will take care of it.” Ask questions, a lot of questions! We do not assume that you will know the answer ahead of time, unless that knowledge is within your core capability. If it is within your core capability, be prepared because it is your personal responsibility.
One of the responses we value most is, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” This embodies our commitment to continuous learning that leads to extraordinary competence. We challenge ourselves and our peers to test whether an idea is true and can be supported with data.
The keystone of our success is our ability to synthesize disparate information and ideas, understanding them and connecting the dots. We strive to reach decisions quickly, and work diligently to disprove them. If we waited until we had all the information we would need to be comfortable about a decision, we would not achieve our ambitions. If your solution isn’t good enough, think harder or escalate that you can’t produce a solution that is good enough. Avoid the temptation to compromise on that which is uncompromisable. Don’t try to please everyone.
Creating a Durable Culture That Operates Efficiently and Autonomously
These 6 principles have proven to be essential to our success. They enable team members at every level of the organization to make decisions about what do to next. When we are unsure of how to proceed, we refer to them and evaluate the decision that must be made or the task that must be performed. Our goal is to never sacrifice the strategic objective for the expedient need.
We know that Arteric is different from most other businesses. While some things must remain secret, we believe in transparency and intellectual rigor. We practice idea meritocracy. Our goal is to create a business with reach and influence that helps people live longer, healthier lives. This is accomplished through extreme ownership and alignment.
So before I close this article, I will summarize the key ideas one more time.
Arteric’s mission is to: “Explore the boundaries of the possible and create life-changing experiences through feature-rich, defect-free software that works everywhere and every time.”
Arteric makes this mission relevant to our clients and the outside world through a derivative mission: “Connect patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers to the health information that patients need to live longer, healthier lives.”
Our team embodies the following values in pursuit of our mission:
- Delight the customer
- Do the right thing
- Be an enthusiastic listener and learner
- Be the change you want to see; take smart risks
- Bad news must travel faster than good news
- Complete the circle
These values are the lighthouses in stormy times. We operate in a business environment that is ambiguous, dynamic, competitive, and fraught with risk. Yet we have found that these values provide reliable guidance, regardless of the circumstances.
The ideas and values in our system have been inspired by or lifted directly from a long list of written works. Given the more than 50 different books read over 20-years, I am not going to list them all. However, one book that deserves particular recognition is Ray Dalio’s Principles. Although this book was printed in 2017, after our first attempt at a values and behavior system, it reduced the ideas that Arteric and Bridgewater Capital share to the essentials. So I have borrowed some of his words.
- The HOW report: a global empirical analysis of how governance, culture, and leadership impact performance. HOW Metrics website. http://howmetrics.lrn.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/HOW-REPORT-5-6-16.pdf. Accessed August 8, 2018.
- Coleman J. Six components of a great corporate culture. Harvard Business Review website. https://hbr.org/2013/05/six-components-of-culture. Published May 6, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2018.
- 5 ways a strong culture leads to increased performance. Novareté website. http://www.novarete.com/blog/5-ways-a-strong-culture-leads-to-increased-performance/10/2015. Accessed August 8, 2018.
Category: Agency Growth