Companies with well-defined values know they create a virtuous cycle. First, the values attract top talent who are able to be picky about the tone of their workplace, and then, those people affirm the company values through their voices and actions. This is the case at Artemis Connection, a strategy consulting firm founded by Christy Johnson two years ago.
To succeed as a boutique consulting firm in a crowded market, Johnson knew she needed to hone in on how her offering would be different.
“We are a consulting firm, but we’re super results-oriented and want companies to build strategies to get executed thoughtfully using people’s time at work,” Johnson said.The values attract top talent who are able to be picky about the tone of their workplace Click To Tweet
When most companies invest in external firms for strategy, they lack execution, so Artemis is able to stand out by focusing on results. How this happens has a lot to do with the values Johnson created in order to scale her company culture.
We spoke to Johnson as well as some early employees to learn how the values were created, and bring results to the firm through motivated and loyal talent.
Values were always part of the culture at Artmeis, but as Johnson began to hire more and more people, she realized it was time to formalize the company values, so they could grow with the company.
“We’re at a size where we’re going to scale, and we’ll scale our values, which are very important to us. We need to be intentional about that,” Johnson said.
She uses company values to make decisions — everything from which lawyers and accountants they use, to who they collaborate with on research, to contractors they hire.
The second reason formalizing the values was important was to bring the fast-growing team together. Values only used by leadership could go only so far. Having a team that was collectively committed to the values would ensure Artemis had harmony both with customers and with the team members who were joining.
“Getting the entire team to commit to being lieutenants of the values is really important. Have that be part of what people are opting into when they come work for you — because it will cause so much conflict if somebody does not agree with your core values,” Johnson said.
How They Did It
When Johnson sat down to formalize the company values for Artemis, she reviewed an existing culture manifesto.
“The process at first was just me reflecting and looking at communications I sent out,” Johnson said. “It was a bit of a brain dump, and then it was thinking about our biggest mistakes and where our values play into that. And then we reversed — what are the biggest successes, and what came out of that?”The values creation process was iterative, and everyone at the company had a voice. Click To Tweet
The hire who didn’t fit in. The most difficult clients. To Johnson, these were opportunities to create a process around vetting for the values.
Then, she had her team do an exercise where they brainstormed what things at work made them glad, mad, and sad. The results were powerful, and helped define a set of values the team could commit to collectively.
The process was iterative, and everyone at the company had a voice.
“Christy printed them out — every month or so we’d dig them out and talk through what they mean, how they apply, some examples, and how are we living these,” Michelle Perez, principal at Artemis, said.
“We found it really helpful not to say ‘What is integrity,’ but ‘What, to us, is not integrity?’ A lot of people can say, ‘Oh, it’s all these wonderful things,’ and they are not willing to say, when we identify the situation, and our reaction is this, that is not following our value of integrity,” senior analyst Morgan Salama said.
There is a shared document that holds the company values at Artemis, including bullet points on what each value means — and perhaps more importantly — what it doesn’t mean.
- Greater Good and Lifelong Learners
The core values document is not the only place the values are held. With a 100% remote team, Johnson got creative with developing ways for her team to connect with the values. They’re listed in other documents, such as an employee’s sales bonus, and in company surveys and performance reviews.
They are also used in learning labs, where employees spend an hour building skills for a specific project.
“The whole team is in the meeting, and we learn something together. It’s pretty often that we either bring up values or tie in values to anything that we’re learning,” Salama said.
Lastly, employees are able to nominate and give feedback on who best embodied the company values for an annual values award.
The values are visible to partners, clients, and potential hires, as well as the team.
“We’re in a client-services business. We wanted to make it clear for our clients, while they are our clients and even before they are our clients, what we stand for. Going back to that point of honesty — that we will be the kind of consultants that are going to say, “I don’t know if this is a good idea. I think this could be even better if we do X, Y, Z,” Salama said.
It’s easy to make a list of values and talk about how inspiring and motivating they are — but what’s most interesting about the Artemis values is that they’ve already been used to make hard decisions — something that’s already paying off.
When Johnson found out a partner firm had said inappropriate things to a team member, she addressed the situation — which led to her company walking away from a lucrative deal.
“We’re willing to walk away from this piece of work and say this is actually not the right fit for us — because this is not what is going to bring us forward as a company, to where we want to be,” Salama said.
The fact the values held up in a difficult situation proved to everyone involved that they are real. When talent is attracted to your company because of your values, this is a sticking point in retaining that talent.
“Everyone who works as a full-time employee for Artemis was involved in iterating on [the values]. We were drawn to the company kind of because of the values,” Salama said.
“Integrity – that’s kind of a nebulous term — for us it’s really doing the right thing,” Perez said. “We’re trying to build something that’s more impactful for our clients, proving our value is really important. It’s a point of differentiation in a smaller consulting market.”
More in our company values series: