JP Dahdah | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

JP Dahdah

Background:  

Phoenix-based Vantage Self-Directed Retirement Plans caters to individuals and small business owners alike. A self-directed IRA allows investors to direct their retirement savings beyond stock market-based options. Any IRA can legally hold real estate, promissory notes, private company stock and an unlimited array of other alternative assets, as long as the company administering your IRA allows you to do so.

The Mistake:

Believing that my core values represented those of the entire company.

When starting my company, I sat down and focused on the important task of identifying the core values and fundamental beliefs that would serve as the foundation for performing work and conducting business. What guiding principles did I want everyone who represented the company to live by and stand for? I did some personal soul searching and came up with five solid core values I was proud of.

Often, core values can be just words on the wall that are never effectively interwoven into a company’s culture. I wasn’t going to be one of those companies whose core values were meaningless. I made a real effort to communicate the importance of our core values and keep them relevant. My company grew, as did the employee count. As far as I was concerned, things were going great.

Over 12 years later, I was encouraged to revisit our core values by my newly hired business coach. Were the core values still reflective and relevant? Were these values resonating with my employees and creating an environment that really connected them with the company? Developing strong core values was part of his CEO coaching process.

In an effort to save money and time, I told him that I thought we were “all good” in that area and that it wasn’t something we needed to spend time or energy on. He challenged me to stick to his process and I am happy he did. Needless to say, the result was transformational for our company.

The words have more meaning because they had a say in them.

The Lesson:

What I’ve learned about establishing meaningful core values is that they mean the most when they represent the group of people who make up the entire company — not just the person who started the company. They were values I aspired my company to live by, not what we stand for and who we are.

I had no employees when I created the original ones, so they were really “my” belief system, not “our” belief system. An effective leader creates a company culture that is deeply seated in its core values and they connect with everyone in the company.

As we assembled an internal team to review the original set of values, I now had a team around me that would be part of the process. Collaboratively, we arrived at an updated “Core Values 2.0.” This time, the process was different. We asked ourselves, “Who are we and what do we stand for?” We looked internally, to our team members, and made a list of those among us that most personified our common belief system and wrote down what they stand for.

It was a very rewarding process for us because it allowed us to silently honor the people who have positively impacted our company. At the same time, it clearly communicated what our belief system really is. These new values represented what we stood for, not just me.

It was a huge eye-opener for me. I learned that the team took a heightened personal interest in the new core values when they were a part of the process. The words have more meaning because they had a say in them and those values are more closely aligned with their own belief systems.

It’s also been beneficial to our hiring process. We have a better, clearer definition of the type of people we want to be a part of our team. As a result, employee turnover is lower. We used to hire based solely on skill set; now we hire based on our core values. Skills can be taught, values can’t be.

Ultimately, our values are no longer aspirational. They represent the culture and belief system of our company, which is the secret recipe to our continued success.

Follow Vantage Self-Directed Retirement Plans on Twitter at @VantageIRAs.

Photo courtesy of JP Dahdah

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