Every single company is different. We all know this. Beyond the ideas and the business models, it is the individuals involved, from the C-suite down to the ground level, that make every company unique. So we can't expect the culture to come alive in the same way everywhere. Similarly, we can't expect the way we identify the Core Values or Core Purpose of a company to follow the same path.
The first two case studies explored how we identified the CoreVals at two very different types of businesses. I was deeply involved in the business at Lextech, so the drive from discovery to design of our CoreVals happened very organically. My work with SABRE involved a more deliberate process; by discovering their heroic CorePurpose, their Core Values came to light. This case study focuses on Lumiere Children’s Therapy. As you'll see, their CoreVals became the building blocks for a truly inspiring CorePurpose. In each case, the end result was the same: taking the steps to create a valued culture helped their businesses thrive.
When we step into a space where children learn and grow, like I found at Lumiere, an inherent sense of magic infuses us all. Yet that space still inhabits a world where adults must make tough decisions for the children's betterment. So while I'll begin by discussing the work that went into discerning their CoreVals, I'll also take some time to show you how Lumiere's CoreVals inform the foundational practices that both management and workers employ on a daily basis. Because when you understand how Core Values become more than just words on the wall, then you can truly bring your values alive, make them thrive, and use them to drive your organization forward.
As owner and Executive Director of Lumiere Children's Therapy, Kitsa Antonopoulos works tirelessly to make things successful for her clients, to understand their goals, and to create custom programs that fit the needs of each individual child. As an entrepreneur and business woman, she wants employees who love where they work and why they work.
Kitsa founded her pediatric therapeutic practice in 2010, and in the years that followed she had often given thought to the CoreVals of her business. But she wasn't sure the company had enough history to discern its CorePurpose. It's understandable not to focus too much on culture in the early days of your business. You may want to draft core values, but let them remain fluid until the company creates enough of a legacy from which a culture can be built and developed. In 2016, when Kitsa decided to rebrand her company as Lumiere, she wanted to properly realize her vision by fostering an environment that reflected her Core Values.
To create the valued culture she imagined, Kitsa decided to use the transition as an opportunity to implement a business operating system and a more culture-centric hiring procedure, two major elements of my Culture Czars methodology. Of course these practices must be informed by Core Values. If you want your values to come alive, you must do more than lead your business, you must lead a culture. This concept challenges many CEOs, but as Kitsa realized, "Businesspeople need to give themselves permission to do mental tasks, because we don’t think that’s work. Carve out the time you need on your calendar. Think things over at your desk, or go on a walk— but carve out the time."
Before we started working together, Kitsa had done some groundwork by sitting with her leadership team and brainstorming some ideas about their Core Values. This gave us a point from which to build. My job was to guide their discovery. Values clearly existed in her maturing company, so we began by exploring why those values mattered. Later I would interview and observe her team members, as Kitsa wanted the feedback received from her employees to come from a third party. “When you own a company, if you’re not careful, it feels like it’s you against them. That’s not a good place to be.” Having an independent professional who can reveal inside information from the front lines can be refreshing. Kitsa confided to me the value she found in this dynamic:
“Your team doesn’t want to hear you dictate. They appreciate (having) an outside facilitator to take on that role, because they’re neutral and unbiased. Doing that put me in the audience instead of at the podium. I loved it, because then I really got to be on my team’s side.”
In the time I spent watching and listening to Kitsa and her team work, I saw the values that were important to them open up before me. Sometimes we are so close to daily operations that we don’t notice the little things that define our culture.
I helped Kitsa with the discovery process by sitting quietly in her office, observing what went on around me and taking copious notes. Lumiere intentionally designs bright and comforting spaces for their clinics and offices. The setting feels welcoming and safe, perfect for a children’s therapy practice, In a space like this, the therapy begins as soon as you enter. I watched kids run around the big living room that serves as a waiting area. Other kids sat on the floor, pulling toys out of the chest and onto the rug. I listened to what the kids and parents were saying, and what the staff was saying, and what the whole vibe was saying. In particular, I paid attention to the values displayed by her best employees— the company rock stars, the ones who achieved the most and inspired others. They didn't know it yet, but I could see it: they were Culture Czars.
It's not always easy to put your values into words, even for the leaders of culture. So I spent time observing Kitsa's interactions with her team and her clients. I listened to the words and phrases she used and the way she used them. She would say “believe” and “its possible” to scared parents who had just received the diagnosis that their child was autistic. When I heard the staff repeating Kitsa's, “You’ve got this,” to the parents of a child in therapy, I knew we were getting warmer.
You want your CoreVals to extend beyond the walls of your business. It's not only Kitsa and her staff, but also the kids and the parents who work with them who would be creating Lumiere's valued culture. Months or years later, when a child graduates with social skills that parents never thought possible, they become part of Lumiere’s community of success stories. Those parents now believe it’s possible for their child to live a fulfilling life. They can tell themselves "You've got this," knowing they have the strength and tools to overcome their child’s challenges. I call these taglines “descriptive behaviors,” or subtexts that explain the main CoreVal words. By observing and listening, I helped Kitsa move beyond simple expressions of her personal values to capture what applied to her company’s values.
When we reconvened the leadership team, we went over my notes looking for repetitive words and themes. The goal was to search more deeply for verbal resonance and to tap into what felt right to the team. On a whiteboard we put themes into virtual “buckets.” We had a bucket for family issues & goals, a bucket for educational hopes and dreams, and we kept going until four clear values coalesced. The image of the whiteboard reveals a snapshot of our work as we neared the conclusion of the process.
When we finished, we had a set of values that felt deeply true to all of us:
Teach & Learn
Lumiere's CoreVals reveal a beautiful vision, one we would all hope guides the individuals involved in our children's growth. But we needed to continue working to describe these values in words that added clarity to this vision. I worked with Kitsa and her team to reveal the sentiments behind these newly discerned CoreVals. By asking hard questions and making lots of observations— about what makes Kitsa tick, why she formed the practice, where she thought Lumiere was going, how her team operated— we illuminated the real purpose of the company and the values Kitsa her people would have to act upon to fulfill it.
After years of thought, a rebrand in the right direction, and immersion in discovery, Kitsa Antonopoulos was well on her way to becoming a Culture Czar. To reach this point, her focus and sincerity were critical. As Kitsa realized during this Discern-Describe phase, your company’s core values are really a combination of your values, those of your team, and those values that develop naturally over time within your organization. They’re not “out there” somewhere; they’re inside you! You need only reveal them. At the conclusion of one of our sessions, Kitsa related to me with wonder in her voice:
"Every great boss eventually learns that CoreVals must become a part of you, and you must own them more than anybody."
This image reveals the happy result of Kitsa and Lumiere’s soul searching. You'll notice that we used some of the key phrases I noted during the Discovery phase to help provide more context to the CoreVals. And as we'll see later, one of these CoreVal descriptions brought us directly to Lumiere's CorePurpose.
When running a successful business, the trust you have in your employees to understand and follow your vision holds critical importance. If you cannot delegate, or find yourself clinging to control, you'll wind up needlessly exhausted. As Kitsa says, it leaves you in the weeds, bogged down by details, and this blocks progress. “I’ve seen a lot of companies not shift into growth because the decision-maker is not able to trust their team and let others take care of things.” Kitsa credits a regular meeting cycle with maintaining trust and holding people accountable to processes and schedules. The meetings also provide continuous opportunities to keep the company’s core values in the forefront.
How could you claim to “Make it Work”, for example, if you cannot keep track of your responsibilities? Suppose a clinical staff member regularly fails to complete the paperwork necessary for a client to receive treatment. That lack of accountability not only violates “Make it Work” and “You’ve Got this,” but it is not “Win-Win-Win” either. That’s how easy it is to use CoreVals. Periodic meetings establish goals, deliverables, and deadlines. Should people fall short of those expectations, you can point to your core values to insist that they improve their performance.
Kitsa also appreciates the more specific direction that values-based hiring allows. After narrowing the field, she likes to reach out to candidates in a Skype call to get an initial feeling about their fit. In addition to paying attention to her first impression and gut feeling, Kitsa now reviews the different responsibilities of the position and applies the CoreScore— a rating system based on core values— according to the following scale:
Do they / would they fit all of the time? = 3
Do they / would they fit most of the time? = 2
Do they / would they fit some of the time? = 1
Do they / would they fit none of the time? = 0
This process removes any guesswork from interviewing prospects. A low score obviously means the candidate in question does not meet the needs of the role. Similar to The EOS Model™’s The People Analyzer™ method of evaluation, the CoreScore can also be applied to current employees. Beyond making the right hire, Kitsa credits this scale with creating trust and building a culture of accountability. Using CoreScore to evaluate staff performance helps eliminate subjectivity, shows trends, and gets more accurate over time. “Now I automatically do it,” she says. In her therapy practice, hiring for integration into their valued culture has become the priority. “Lots of people are trained as good therapists. They’re highly educated and good at what they do. But the character they bring to their work is the biggest deal for us.”
In the panel interview, Kitsa puts the candidate in a hypothetical conversation with a parent who expresses a specific desire about what they want their child to obtain from treatment. These outcomes will often be as simple as their child getting invited to play date. For parents of children with developmental disabilities, having their child discover what they consider normal behavior is what Lumiere refers as a “magic moment.” The goal of the question is to have the candidate show how, as a therapist, they might fulfill the parent’s wishes. The ideal candidate will earn a CoreScore of 3 or 4 by demonstrating their understanding of Lumiere’s "Connect" value and recognizing that “The family’s goals are our goals.” A candidate who instead tries to muscle the parent to a different point of view, citing their training and experience to insist that they know what's best for the child, will fall short. This response gets a CoreScore value of 1 or 0. When you later reveal your CoreVals, go back to the question and give the prospect a chance to comment on their answer again. Do they get it now? Or are they defensive? Apply these steps to all of your values, and see what the final CoreScore is.
Kitsa Antonopoulos points out that this type of measurement shows when either an individual or an established workflow underperforms. “If something falls off in a metric, we dig around and poke, poke, poke to find, ‘Oh, this person is not following the workflow or not doing something they’re supposed to do.’ Then it’s easy for us to course-correct, make adjustments in hires, or whatever we need to do.” Note that by acknowledging that the workflow framework itself might be faulty, you can demonstrate flexibility in management style and earn greater trust from your staff.
Having a clear idea of what success for the company looks like provides transparency to both employees and clients. Knowing why you are in business helps you to articulate the values that will guide the actions of your company. To find the Why, first you look back and then you look forward. As I mentioned in the introduction, Lumiere's CoreVals gave structure to the company’s overarching purpose. Let’s look at them again, and root them in their purpose.
Believe. Connect. Teach & Learn. Have Fun.
Each of these values builds upon the last, allowing the kids and their parents rediscover the magic of childhood. I mentioned magic moments earlier when discussing the evaluation process Kitsa uses for potential new hires, and how the idea reflects one of the descriptive behaviors, that "family goals are our goals." The term "magic moment" was something Kitsa had been using since the early days of her practice. A magic moment occurs whenever a child achieves a desired outcome: writing their name or eating a certain food for the first time, being able to socialize with their parents, being called Mom or Dad. For developmentally challenged kids these moments can be huge. When a kid gets invited to a party for the first time, that's a magic moment. By reaching the specific goals set out for them, kids actually graduate from the program.
In searching for the CorePurpose, we needed to understand the tangible benefits the practice provided to their clients. Each of these magic moments pointed to direct evidence of good things for both parents and children alike. The magic moments proved that Lumiere's treatments worked; they were transforming lives. In looking back, Kitsa and I had found the Why. The CorePurpose looks forward. Lumiere uses a counter that that increases the tally every time a client has a magic moment. Each time the bell sounds employees are reminded of the Why for where they work, and Kitsa is reminded of her company's purpose, with no doubt about the ultimate beneficiaries. So we articulated a vision for the company, one that identified that by generating these magic moments, Lumiere was transforming forever the lives and achievements of both clients and their families.
CoreVals are the fuel behind Lumiere's reason for existing. Based on real achievements for their clients, by providing physical and mental therapy for children, Lumiere makes it possible for families to celebrate special moments, big and small. These are the memory-makers that most families anticipate, but take for granted they will experience: birthday parties, soccer and Little League games, trips to amusement parks, a play date with a friend. Children with different learning or physical abilities, or other special needs, may not be able to enjoy dinners out, team sports, or big events. When therapies can enable breakthroughs, Kitsa’s clients rejoice at new opportunities. For these parents and children, enjoying simple pleasures with family and friends truly are magic moments. Kitsa and her team live for these moments as well.
I hope in reading this case study you noticed the close link between CoreVals and CorePurpose, and how they inform each other. Creating a valued culture helps you and your team realize your company's purpose. In the case of Lumiere, do you think unsatisfied or disgruntled employees would be able to connect with their clients or help parents believe their children could discover their magic moments? The work we do together empowers your employees to love where they work and why they work, so that it’s not work.
The CorePurpose of my business is to create two-thousand and twenty Culture Czars by 2020. I need your help to achieve this. I need you to become a Culture Czar within your own company. I need you to lead a culture, and give your employees the tools they need to become Culture Czars in their own right.
But for me, it's not just about my business, or your business. I want to improve our global community, and I hope you do too. I believe that by creating valued cultures in our workplaces, by valuing our employees and each other, we will not only improve our bottom-lines, but also uplift the immaterial stuff within us all.