Let me start by introducing myself, my name is Timour Mobarak, the newest Practice Building Coach to join the Academy. While I am excited for the opportunity to get to know everyone and to start building the relationships that will be so important in my career here, this blog post is not about me or who I am. Instead, it’s about how my initial interview and onboarding made it abundantly apparent that the Academy lives and breathes their Core Values.
Patrick Lencioni divides corporate values into four categories: Core, Permission-to-Play, Aspirational, and Accidental. Each category is important, yet Core Values are the ones that are most talked about and that people are most familiar with. These values are integral to your company’s identity and serve as a guiding light, a decision-making tool. They provide the answer to questions like, should I take on this type of request or hire this person? The other three categories are not discussed nearly as much, yet they also have an enormous impact on your company culture, company image, and ultimately your company’s performance.
I first came across the Academy’s Core Values in my first interview when I was asked to interpret and share examples of how I demonstrated them in my past experience. As a potential candidate and now as a new hire, my perspective on how these have initially impacted me is still fresh. Like many in the job market, I was lucky enough to have the luxury of being selective with my next career, and was just as much interviewing the Academy as they were interviewing me. Asking me to speak to the Core Values signaled to me that their values were not merely lip service, after all, why waste valuable interview time asking about them if they aren’t important?
Here are the Academy’s Core Values:
- We’re an “A” Team
- We Take the High Road
- Our Members’ Success Is Our Success
- Learn, Innovate, Share, And Inspire
Now think of all of the conclusions that I as an applicant was able to draw from the values themselves, and from the fact that I was informed and questioned about them in my first interview! Then think about how well equipped I am on my first day regarding how to act and what to expect.
A lot of companies put clichéd messaging in their Core Values such as integrity, honesty, and excellence. These are essential values, yet they do not appear in the Academy’s Core Values. That is precisely the point though. These values are so essential and ubiquitous that they serve no purpose in describing what you stand for or how you are different. Imagine a law firm stating that “knowledge of the law” is important to them. Any potential client who reads that will think, “I would certainly hope so!” but what have they learned? “Honesty” is not a Core Value, it is a baseline, a minimum standard that every company will need to stay in business. These are Permission-to-Play values. Listing them as a Core Value can frequently have the opposite effect from what is intended. Imagine looking up a restaurant and seeing them advertise “We have passed our health inspection!” Would you eat there?
You may think, isn’t “We take the high road” the same as “Integrity”? It sounds similar, but “We take the high road” serves as a standard of behavior and a guide to decision making, whereas “Integrity” is a meaningless platitude. As an applicant, “We take the high road” lets me know what to expect, “Integrity” makes my eyes roll.
So what happens when a company cannot live up to a Core Value? Let’s say a company says they are “The Most Innovative” only it isn’t clear that they are. This company has listed an Aspirational value instead of a Core one. The risk with doing so is that it undermines the confidence in all of the other values. Remember, Core Values are the defining principles for a company, so it speaks volumes when they are failing to live up to one. “Learn, Innovate, Share, and Inspire” does not make such a bold claim. It says that we need to always be improving ourselves and our Members, which is a claim that I can keep my confidence in.
On my first day at the Academy, I found a “Welcome Aboard” card that had been signed by every person in the office. This aligned with the Core Value of “We’re an A team,” and also told me that the Academy likely has an environment that is fun, positive, and celebratory. Similarly, I spent five minutes listening to a coach share good news about a Member and noticed how excited the entire office was, which exemplified the “Our Members’ Success is Our Success” value.
Lastly, one of the unspoken values I quickly learned was how important it is to be prompt and timely. This is one of the Academy’s Accidental values that is a byproduct of the culture. Understanding the Accidental values that exist in your company will help you evaluate why your firm may be successful or struggling. They are not necessarily good or bad, but it is important to recognize that they exist. To discover your Accidental values, you need to look at the behavior of your team. Does your team repeatedly miss deadlines? How are new employees embraced when they start?
Within my first week at the Academy, I was happy to learn that my assumptions from my first interview were true. That initial interview laid out precisely what I could expect if I accepted a position here. By the end of my first day, everybody had personally introduced themselves to me and welcomed me. By the end of my first week, they threw me a big party and had a gift exchange! That last one may have been less for my benefit and more a product of the upcoming holidays, but what fun!
Now having shared what the Academy did to instill and demonstrate their Core Values for me as a candidate and new hire, I ask that you think about your firms’ values. Do you need to revisit them? Here are a few questions I want you to ask yourself:
- How visible are your Core Values? Does every person in your firm know them?
- Are they unique, meaningful, and attainable?
- How do they guide your actions, your decisions to hire, fire, and reward?
- How do your values create the culture you want?
I look forward to meeting you all, and hearing and working with you on your values at the Spring Summit!
Practice Building Consultant
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128