Integrity Doesn’t Buy Boats

When it comes building an organization everyone agrees that having a core set of values is paramount. But, we all know what it’s like when an organization doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches.

And many of us, unfortunately, have experienced organizations where the values become more of a token requirement than an actual organization system and a way of doing business.

This means that the values, themselves, becomes commodities, a transactional layer that can be prioritized and deprioritized at will, whenever it becomes useful.

via Dilbert

I’ve been thinking about this a lot more recently with the news of my previous company shutting down and many conversations with staff members and my previous cofounders.

As I chat with them and reminisce I know that there were certain times where the values of the business were definitely challenged, where we asked ourselves if our values were more than just words.

The values of The Iron Yard that are currently captured via the website are:

People First, Always

We absolutely love what we get to do every day, but more importantly we’re passionate about who we get to do it with and the entrepreneurs and students we get to serve. They are the reason we come to work.

Flat Structure and Highly Entrepreneurial

We don’t manage people. We give them a goal and let them use their skills to accomplish it in the best way possible. This can be difficult if you like a lot of structure and daily direction. For the self-starter types, though, it’s vocational bliss.

‘Being Home for Dinner’ Policy

We work really hard, but a constantly imbalanced life isn’t healthy for anyone. We work in a way that is fast, efficient and fun so we can invest in important areas of life outside the office.

The Iron Yard Values as of July, 2017

The first and third value were some of my favorite (I don’t remember the second one being written out in that way) and in a tribute post (which might get taken down soon as they wind down the company) my friend and cofounder shared this:

John was (and is) the #1 advocate for our company culture. Sometimes I go back and look at the early drafts of the formal mission and values documents that we codified for the team. Defining those components of The Iron Yard was an incredibly important step in our journey. On every team call and in almost every team communication, John reminded our team of the mission—the reason behind the work we were doing.

It was an honor and privilege.

But, the beginning of the end was when we were acquired. “People first” became less of the operating principle and more of a “if we can include that as part of the decision making grid then great but if not, well, sorry” type of thing. Even in the final hours, it seems, people first seemed to be the last thing on the mind’s of those who had control.

I have no regrets and I know that the greater team doesn’t either. We made the best decisions at the time and we knew that our values would be challenged all along the way.

But now I’m better for it and I’m better prepared for what can and will inevitably come: People who do not really care about the value systems of an organization and who only care about them when they are in their own best self-interests.

I’m not surprised but I am now better equipped to consider the long-term effects of key organizational decisions as we face them. It doesn’t have to be an inevitable conclusion of a sale or acquisition.

I believe that it doesn’t have to be the 90%.