Tips for HR Professionals from SF University

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March 17, 2024

Defining & Promoting Organizational Values: Tips for HR Professionals

Defining and promoting organizational values is not a one-time task but an ongoing commitment that requires dedication and strategic alignment. By embracing clarity, leading by example, fostering open communication, integrating values into processes, and recognizing alignment, HR professionals can play a pivotal role in shaping a culture where values thrive. With the aid of our free roadmap, HR professionals can navigate the employee lifecycle with confidence, ensuring that no opportunity to reinforce organizational values is overlooked.

Insights from HR Experts: Watch the Panel Discussion

Hear from a distinguished panel of Human Resources experts who are at the forefront of shaping the future of workplace dynamics and their takes on defining and promoting organizational values. Thank you to our esteemed panelists, Angelica Carter, Jaeah Fortune, Shannon Romeo, and Jason Nemoy for joining us.

Aaron Smith: I’m Aaron. I’m part of our business development team here at Strategic Factory. I Work alongside Ashley and Andrew, who you’ve all met and then our marketing as well.

So I want to introduce our panelists to start with the people who are way more impressive than I am. My bio is just that work in BD, their bios are very long. So to my right in order of one to four I have Jaeah. Jaeah is the director of Human Resources at Blind Industries and Services in Maryland. So Jaeah is also a recent BBJ 40 under 40 honoree. Congratulations. With certifications in interrupting bias and hiring and Sherm CP. As a creator of successful employee engagement and development initiatives that translate to bottom-line growth, Jaeah has been helping companies attract and retain top talent for 12-plus years as an HR professional. 

Jaeah Fortune: Thank you for having me. 

Aaron Smith: Next to Jaeah is Jason. So Jason is a partner and practice director at the Chesapeake Search Partners. Jason is a former HR Practitioner with 20 plus years and past president of the chesapeake association. Jason now leads the HR Recruiting arm and HR consulting subsidiary at Chesapeake Search Partners. Jason holds a Bachelor’s in economics from the University of California in, a PHR Certification from UCLA, and a Master’s in HR Development from Towson University with diversity experience in the fitness, hospitality, health care and distribution industries. So you’ve been in school for your whole life. 

Jason Neemoy: Thanks for having me. 

Aaron Smith: And then next to Jason is Angelica. Angelica is the director of business solutions at Carroll Community College. Angelica has a 19-year career comprising marketing, communication, employee engagement, training and development, AND HR. She holds a SPHR in CHR/MCP certifications, SHRM, as we all know it, and a Change Management Specialist from the Management and Strategy Institute. She also holds a Bachelor’s in Marketing Communications, a Master’s in Psychology, and a Doctorate in Business Administration.

So and then lastly, we have Shannon Romeo. Shannon is our chief impact officer here at Strategic Factory. With over 15 years in HR Management, Shannon is a certified expert in continuous business operations and growth. In her extensive HR career, she has implemented five S-strategies, company-wide EOS rollouts, and created HR departments from the ground up. Shannon earned an economics degree from Stockton University and holds an SPHR accreditation. So, again, way smarter than I am.

I’m just going to ask the questions and they’re going to give you all the insight. So we’re here to talk about core values. So I do want to open it up with all of your current organizations or businesses, I would love if you wouldn’t mind sharing to the group, what are your core values in your company or in another institution organization? What core values do they have? So maybe we should just let you know. Start with Jaeah and then go down the line here. 

Jaeah Fortune: Fantastic. Okay, so I work for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, and I’m going to run the risk of assuming that there are people who don’t know what that is. And so Blind Industries is a nonprofit organization in Maryland that trains employees, educates, rehabilitates, and provides other services and resources for people who are blind. Maryland is kind of a misnomer because we actually have businesses and we have a manufacturing facility in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in Salisbury, we have base supply centers, which are like Office Depot stores on military installations in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and an outlier in Fort Knox, Kentucky. And so we actually service more of the country than just Maryland. While we provide training and rehabilitation services to people who are blind, we also have manufacturing facilities where we manufacture military uniforms, Air Force, Space Force, which is a real thing, in addition to paper products, janitorial products, etc. We have blind people who work in our facilities who make those things, and we sell those things to make money to help further support our rehabilitation programs.

So that being said, we just went through a big reorganization and process where we created a brand new mission and vision and core values. And so I’m going to be speaking from a place of newness today. So I have my list of core values right here so that I didn’t get any wrong. So, our core values are the belief in the capabilities of blind people empowerment, inclusivity, innovation, collaboration, honesty and integrity. 

Aaron Smith: Jason? 

Jason Neemoy: Thank you. I’m with Chesapeake Search Partners and we have a number of lines of businesses, but I service the HR community from a search and consulting perspective. And I have a team of around ten and I started with the firm in 2016 as employee number two and we went from the founders to employees to about eight of us over a two-year period. And that’s when I sort of said to the team, you know, we don’t really have this sort of foundational structure. And they’re like, the HR guy wants to do this thing. And I go, let’s talk about it. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about that story later. But I invited someone to support that dialog. We went off-site, took a couple of times to figure it out, and we came up with communication, consistency, commitment, and integrity.

Angelica Carter: Hi. So I’m here with Carol Community College in Westminster, Maryland, and what I want to bring is a perspective from the Business Solutions Division, which is what I’m the director of. And so we work with other employers in the county to develop their values and mission statements. One of the things that I’m not going to reiterate, because there’s a lot of synergy and overlap between our core values, which is very cool, by the way. But we like to say that community is our middle name, right? And so that is inherently the highest priority of everything we do. And we’re trying to, right now, change the impression that we give Carol County because right now people think Carrol Community College, I don’t need a college degree, so I’m going to bypass that school and we offer so much more than that. And we’ll get into that a little later.

Shannon Romeo: Did you guys learn our core values on the tour? So I’ll repeat them again. So, Can Do: that is the skill and ability to do the job or the interest in learning. If there is a skill that you’re missing. Will Do: being the type of person who does what you say you’re going to do when and how you say you’re going to do it. You follow through, you meet your commitments. You live up to your promises. Happy To is being the type of person that people want to be around. You say please, you say thank you and you really listen to understand, not just to reply. Internally, we phrase it as no assholes allowed and we really do to talk about that with our staff and it’s very powerful. And the last one is building lasting relationships. If you bring those three things to the table, you will build lasting relationships. Our goal is that people who come into our organization, whether they’re clients or whether they’re employees, we want them to feel comfortable to take us with them when they go. So if we are working with a client, we want them to have such a great experience and feel our values through that client service experience, that when they go to their next job they say you have to work with Strategic Factory. And for our beliefs, we would love it if, you know, not everybody’s going to finish their career with us. When they move on, they think fondly of us. They maybe become a customer. They definitely stay, you know, in our connection or network. 

Aaron Smith: So with that, I know Jason and Jaeah kind of touched on it a little bit. So if you guys want to add more, but kind of Shannon, more toward you, I have seen those core values everywhere. What strategies when you guys were kind of creating these core values, like how did you come up with them? What strategies did you use to kind of figure out this is what we want our core values to be? 

Shannon Romeo: So we run the business on something called EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, the standard program for strategic planning. And they have a really well-defined exercise for core values. So I’ve done it different ways before, but I think it’s been pretty similar to other experiences. The first thing that you do is as a leadership team, you do you know your offsite strategic planning. You make a list of all of the people in your organization who you’re really excited to work with, who you feel like are your top performers. And then we kind of looked and said, why are those people are top performers? We did the same thing with our bottom performers and the people that we struggled with the most. And so we wound up with this list of 70 or 80 words of why we loved the people who worked here and what our anti-values were from the people who were struggling or who we were struggling with. And we did this Keep, Kill, Combine exercise to say, is this something that stands on its own that should be a value? Is this something that is similar to something else that’s already a list? Let’s combine what we like or let’s kill it. It’s not powerful enough to be focused in our values. And we kept going through that exercise round and round and round. Funnily enough, before the exercise, our values were Can Do, Will Do, Happy Too. But they were defined differently. And when we finished the exercise we started talking about common language and how are were going to market this internally and how we were going to externally.

And we actually landed back on Can Do, Will Do, Happy Too with just different definitions and yeah so our process was really to look at the people who were already on our team and why we wanted to keep them on our team or why we might be happy to let them go. 

Aaron Smith: And Jack, I feel like you mentioned too, what you kind of do in your role is kind of to help businesses define their core values. If you wouldn’t mind sharing about it, what are some strategies that you bring businesses through to kind of figure that out?

Angelica Carter: So one of the first things that we do is we ask you to take an employee engagement survey, right? We ask them to assess what are the things that they love about their job, what gets them on their reading. And on the other side of that spectrum, what keeps them up at night? Right. And so in evaluating the data that’s tabulated from that survey, we’re then able to identify those key terms, those key themes. And then that’s the starting point for that conversation. I wish that I could take this and take it with me on my consulting engagements, which I will be stealing partially, thank you. And it’s just a beautiful way to outline the structure of how you land on something that resonates with everyone here. 

Aaron Smith: And Jason, you mentioned kind of briefly, you know, the HR guy wants to do this kind of, you know, what were some ways that you kind of overcame those hurdles that you were working through that?

Jason NeemoyWell, I knew there needed to be buy-in for sure with the partners and for them to really understand why, you know, the why behind it all. But they kept communicating their desire to grow and build teams. And, you know, I noticed that very respectfully there were some red flags in the way we were treating each other just a little bit. And so they were very open to the conversation. And I knew, like I had mentioned before, an outside facilitator was supportive. So they got it. They got it, 

Aaron Smith: Jaeah, you said you recently went through this process. What did that look like for you?

Jaeah Fortune: We did, so it looked very similar to the process that Shannon outlined. I think where we deviated some was in making sure that we really connected to every level associated in our organization. So as a mission-driven organization, we, you know, we employ 40 to 60% of our team is blind. And many of those people who work with our organization for 20 and 30 and 40 years. And so, you know, as a part of this process, very similar to what Shannon described, we had consultants that took us through the strategic planning, and we did certainly evaluate some of our top performers and some low performers, but we also wanted to make sure we stayed really connected to the people who came to work for Blind Industries 40 years ago, when we lived in a different world, the landscape was different, technology was different, and the idea of being able to work as a blind person was unheard of. Right now, in 2024, it’s still the case that up to 70% of all people who are blind are unemployed or underemployed. And so 40 years ago, that number was probably, you know, very close to 100%. And so it was important that we did focus groups that we facilitated with our associates who may not stand out as the top performers or even bottom performers, but who have just been consistent and have been with the organization for a long time, but who are our mission focus group, which are people who are blind and identify. You know, what they thought the values of the company were like. Not what they should be, not what those fancy pants tag words are. But what did they connect with about the organization? If somebody asked them about what blind industries have done for them, or what’s their favorite thing about working there or how it’s made an impact, what are the things that came out of that? 

And chiefly our primary value being the belief in the capabilities of people who are blind was a big one that came out of that. You know, having people say, because you believed I could work, I was able to buy a house and live on my own when I was never going to be able to do that or I was able to afford to put my children through college when I didn’t think that would be the case because I was blind. It really helped us ensure that that was one of our primary values.

Aaron Smith:  That’s great. Jason, let’s start with you for this next one, because, you know, you’ve kind of seen it all as a partner of Chesapeake Search Partners. But when you’re looking at whether it’s recruiting, interviewing, application process and you know, we can all share, but how do you tie in these core values into that process from the very start of that like employee’s kind of, you know, lifecycle?

Jason Neemoy: Sure. So with our firm specifically, so this was probably about four or five, right after we established our core values. I think the first thing that we established was a series of questions, some of them pseudo-behavioral based around the core values and we’re asking, you know, if you’re not our core values, it’s just not going to be, you know, you try to pull as much as you can. And from the core values, we have this set of questions. We’re, you know, as a team, kind of taking those questions apart and asking them. But then we also immediately brought them into our performance evaluation process. So, you know, it’s just integrated right away. And then, of course, it’s all over one of our walls. It’s very simply put and then we have just, you know, if we have a colleague that comes in to interview, they’re going to see some of that information right away. But we don’t overdo it. We try to simplify it as much as we.

Aaron Smith: Yeah. Shannon, I mean, I recently was about six months ago hired, so I feel like I can even answer this. But if you want to talk a little bit about our strategy with the core values and hiring.

Shannon Romeo: Yeah. So similarly, we really integrate their core values in our interview questions. We provide an interview guide for hiring managers and we ask some of those questions in the screening process in HR. So one of my favorites, for example, is “What do you need from your manager in order to be successful?” We find that one to be incredibly powerful about whether they’ll fit the management style of the organization based on how they answer it. But we have for each of our values questions that are integrated. There are a lot of behavioral, tell me about time when, give me an example of the type of questions that have been great for us. 

We also do a lot of it in our marketing, everything from very minor in being something that every candidate sees in our email signatures and things like that, like our core values and the logo. When they come in. we’ve tried really hard to make sure that our values are not this just aspirational thing on the wall that we hope to be like the marketing matters, but that they have that experience right from checking in at the reception desk with Ahmari, all the way through every person that they meet, that they feel that it’s authentic with every person.

And then we also, you know, how do we get in front of people who are thinking about applying for jobs? We were at Towson’s career fair yesterday, and every pitch of every student I spoke with who asked me about what it’s like to work here, I go to the core values. That’s how I describe the experience that someone will have, the energy they’ll feel in the workplace. Interviewing still is as much about the candidate as it is interviewing them. They need to know that it’s going to be an environment they’re going to be happy, successful, tenured in. That they’re happy to stay. And so for us, it’s communicating it from the first interaction and then repeating it in every interaction, even if you’re not necessarily specifically calling out, Can Do, Will Do, Happy Too, we’re building a lasting relationship. 

Aaron Smith: How about you guys? 

Jason NeemoyI was going to say one thing. One thing I have to admit is that probably one reason why I brought in the core values is because I needed an opportunity. I needed a foundation to call up my partner’s stuff out, and they needed something to be able to call me. And so that baseline of defined, meaningful, you know, that foundation was super key. And it’s just a whole accountability thing. You know, it just really makes sense for it.

Aaron Smith: Jaeah, what about you guys? 

Jaeah Fortune: Yeah. So definitely, you know, including questions in the interview process that are reflective of the core values and being conscious of the experience that people have when they walk into our facilities. We’re very, very mindful of that from the, you know, the person that greets you at the front being somebody who is legally blind. And, you know, oftentimes when somebody walks into our building for a job, they may not have ever had an engagement with a blind person, period. There are tons of assumptions and predisposed notions that people have about that. And we started spelling those right away. So we start kind of supporting their belief in the capabilities of blind people just in that space. 

I think with all of our other values, similar to how these leaders discussed, you know, we want our incoming associates to come in kind of committing to that or having that already. I think something that sets us apart is the belief in the capabilities of blind people. We’re okay if you don’t have that when you come in. We almost take that on the chin as a personal challenge because it’s very difficult to have that if you haven’t seen examples of it or you don’t understand what it looks like. And so it’s almost more of a belief than a value. And that if you come in with the rest, if you have the ability to be collaborative, you’re open to innovation, you have that honesty and integrity, allow us to show you why you should have a belief in the capabilities of blind people. And so if you don’t come with that one, it’s okay. Because of this ability, we’re probably uniquely positioned to help people develop that value. 

So similar to how Shannon described when people leave Strategic Factory, you know, it’s a sign of a job well done that they leave with a positive outlook. We feel like when people leave blind industries, if they leave, telling anybody who will listen about the positive impact we’re having on blind people in Maryland, but also expressing that blind people can do anything and that they didn’t believe that before they came to work for us. And now they do, and we’ve made an impact.

Aaron Smith: Angelica, I want to ask you kind of a little different also, you know, kind of this employee life cycle. What are some strategies that you’ve seen that kind of work as you’re onboarding? Because if you don’t have an onboarding process, you need to have one first off, you know. But as an employee is kind of coming on board, they’re training those first couple of weeks, months. There are, you know, big milestone indicators. How do you reinforce these core values? What strategies have you seen that work for this reinforcement during the employee’s onboarding process? 

Angelica Carter: So how do we advise our clients to embrace them and lean in, right? It’s to leverage your values as that touchstone to manage expectations for what’s encouraged, what’s not going to be tolerated right up front, right? So the more open you can be and the clear, the tone you can set up front, the easier it is to maintain that relationship and cultivate that talent and maximize people’s engagement while they’re there.

Aaron Smith: Shannon, what are some stuff that we do here for that?

Shannon Romeo: So I’m going to be like ultra-specific about a handful of things that we put in place. So the first thing that somebody experiences on their first day is an orientation with our HR. I’m sure most companies do that kind of as a first thing as a meeting with HR. But we’ve been really intentional about incorporating the core values into it through, I’m going to say, storytelling, giving visual examples of Will Do, Can Do, Happy Too, like, how do you picture that in your mind? We’re a creative organization, so we have a lot of visual learners that naturally gravitate towards working here. So there is a video we show that ties to one of them. There’s a story we tell that ties to one of them. After that, they go through this whole experience of onboarding into the values over about 90 days.

So once they’ve gotten that kind of picture of, you know, when we integrate Can Do, for example, in that orientation meeting, we talk about the fact that the Can Do has to be somewhat negotiable in the hiring process, to Jason’s point. They may not know or you may not have everything that they bring to the table. They’re ne. If they’re a marketing person and they use Salesforce as their CRM previously to do the marketing automation and we use HubSpot, we can teach them HubSpot. But we can’t teach them the Will Do, the Happy To.

So they have to bring that to the table during that onboarding process. And one of the things that we talk about with Can Do is being honest about what you know. We have spent all this time deciding you’re the best person for the job and invested in you. We’re not going to fire you now that you’re here because you misunderstood an interview question and answered it differently than we would have expected you to and now there’s a Can Do gap. So talking about those things and trying to remind them constantly of that, they then have three lunches with our CEO. They come and join wherever they are in the cycle. It’s a monthly lunch. So they go away in the course of 90 days to three of them. And each of those lunches is Keith, our CEO, talking about what Can Do, Will Do, Happy, To means to us. And in each one of those, he’s tying into that building lasting relationships concept.

They get materials that tie to it as well. So they get a challenge point for each lunch they complete. They get, oftentimes, a book or a piece of promotional material that speaks to it as a visual reminder. So for Can Do, they get a multi-tool. A lot of our guys on the shop floor, they use it and they keep it on them. But it’s really just about that visual cue of what are the tools in your toolbox? How do you expand the tools in your toolbox?

And then from an HR standpoint, the person responsible for recruiting them also does check-in with them at 30, 60, and 90 days a little more formally. we’re doing those check-ins less formally with their managers, and we’re integrating it immediately into that, like what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable behavior so that we’re getting in front of them very quickly to say, “Hey, the way that you dealt with that attendance issue that you had or that training gap that you had did not align with our core values.”

So we try to really hit it on the first 90 days so that by the time somebody is working independently and autonomously, they’re thinking that way in the back of their mind and they can go when they have a difficult situation or a tough decision to make. They can go to their core values naturally and let that guide their decision.

Aaron Smith: Right, and the lunches are also free lunch. So I love it as somebody who’s currently going through it. I love a free lunch on a Friday, it’s great. So Jaeah, what you guys do as you’re kind of, you know, onboarding that process of how do you reiterate them? You know, you’re in a unique situation. 

Jaeah Fortune: Absolutely. So I did mention that we, you know, a lot of this has been a redo. So with our core values being one of the things that we’ve updated, we are slowly integrating it into the onboarding process for all of our teams. It looks different at different levels though. So when you’ve got, you know, instructors that teach the blind, but you also have hourly manufacturing employees who use sewing machines and then you’ve got members of the HR team, what the onboarding looks like varies across all those levels. We do incorporate it into the onboarding video to all of our associates, and we make sure that it’s a part of the 90-day check that they have with their leader. We have an established program in place for all of the members of the leadership team and people who come on in administrative roles, who are new to blindness especially, to help kind of immerse them into our world. We have a 2 to 3 week immersion program where you come in and it usually takes place during your first 90 days and you spend 2 to 3 weeks under sleep shades, which are basically shades that cover your eyes and you actually go through a compressed version of the core training program that our blind students do when they’re in our rehabilitation program. Our rehabilitation program is a living program. They live in apartments that are downtown. They take public transportation to our location every day, along with an instructor. 

And so by immersing new members of our team who don’t have access to this right into that world, it kind of forces our values like fast and hard. It does help us have an idea early on how somebody is going to respond to our values and leaning into the belief of the capabilities of blind people. And we haven’t had anybody running and screaming from the building. We’ve definitely had a few people, 

Audience Member: But it can happen. 

Jaeah Fortune: It can. 

Audience Member: Which is why it’s an excellent technique. 

Jaeah Fortune: Yes, there’s a portion of it where you’re with an instructor and you’ve got sleep and you’re at Washington Boulevard and you’re being taught how people who are blind listen to understand how to cross the street independently. And if you, I don’t know about you, but typically within 2 to 3 weeks of starting a new job, you’re not usually out on a corner with a cane and a blindfold, trying to figure out how to cross the street alone. And so it ties you to our mission and to our values very quickly.

Shannon Romeo: Like built-in empathy, right? 

Jaeah Fortune: Absolutely. 

Aaron Smith: I know you even said you feel like you can teach that very you know, knock on the chin. 

Jaeah Fortune: Right! I’m happy to show you.I’m not saying it’ll be easy. 

Audience Member: It’s like the definition of talk. The talk, walk the walk.

Jaeah Fortune: And you don’t forget the experience. I mean, it was life-changing for me. And I still think back to learning how to flip a fried egg blind. It landed on my shoes. 

Angelica Carter: Can I tack onto that? So I think another exercise that a lot of us have probably experienced or recommend is that whole cross-training across your organization. And that rings true to this because it really lets you walk in your counterpart’s shoes, right? So if you’re ever wondering why is taking so long? Look at all this red tape you have to cut through. Why are you, you know, where are you dragging your feet? When you walk in their shoes, you get it a lot better and you have more patience, right? So we had an Alzheimer’s client who used to do a comparable exercise, but they didn’t do to their staff. And I think that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Aaron Smith: Jason, you kind of touched on, like, an accountability thing when you’re looking at performance management. How do you, you know, they’ve been here for a while, you know, two, three, 15 plus years, however long. How do you tie in these core values, when you’re kind of looking at some of these performance, whether it’s a fellow partner, whether it’s, you know, someone who reports to you, you know, kind of across the board.

Jason NeemoySo we, our performance management sort of system that we have in place, it’s pretty continuous. It’s a little more structured mid-year then end of year. And again, it’s just the dialog around core values, you know, just continuously. And we do take some notes and, you know, during the course of the year, but we’re also facilitated by a coach on one of our teams that facilitates just conversation about it. And so I was going to touch on the onboarding piece. We also do kind of a 30 and 90 day and during our weekly meetings, we’re usually touching on the core values somewhere. So I always say for us, we don’t want to overdo it, especially because we’re such a small team. But from a performance management perspective, there’s usually no surprises when we’re having conversations mid-year or end of year, but it’s built into the documents that we have for our team.

Aaron Smith: Angelica, how about some strategies that you’ve seen or recommended to people about how the performance management and core values are going to be tied together?

Angelica Carter: Again, it just comes back to being that touchstone when you’re managing, like you just said, when you’re managing the expectations the whole time, whether you’re being coached on something you did great and how you can improve or what are some opportunities for improvement. There shouldn’t be any surprises, especially if you keep threading those values in the whole way.

Jason Neemoy: I had one of my colleagues…somebody on my team kind of call me out on something really small a few weeks ago, but it was pretty key just to kind of get back in my lane and, you know. 

Angelica Carter: What was it Jason? 

Jason NeemoyHow much time do we have? 

Aaron Smith: Shannon, what about long-tenured employees? What are some strategies you’ve seen to, you know, I think we all mentioned, core values is not something that’s stagnant. It’s growing and changing. As businesses grow, you need to change them. But people who’ve been here a long time who it may be different to them, what are some strategies that you use for reiterating that?

Shannon Romeo: So a couple of different things. One, I think it has to start with the top. So our EOS consultant has actually challenged us in the leadership team to openly rate each other on how we perform to the values in a group setting, which is not easy for some people, and we do it on a regular basis. So we’ve been through it twice. The first time we went through it was deciding our values and saying, does our executive team live our values? Because if they don’t, we’re not ruling them out. And we had some really tough conversations surrounding that. And then when we came back for our second year, it was talking about giving feedback to people. What do they do well? What’s one thing you want to see them change in the next year in terms of that, like, how they fit to the values? And that was really hard for a lot of us to go through. But I think that it was powerful to realize back in the, you know, front line, whether it is employee to employee like on a character basis, or managers to employees. 

We have a tool in our payroll system. I’m sure a lot of people do in their payroll systems, For us, it’s called impressions. We’re in Paylocity where we have each of our core values as a badge, and anyone in the company can award that to anyone. So managers will often give them to their employees for things that they’ve done. But it’s not uncommon to see that, you know, Aaron had a flat tire and Melissa helped him change it, and they get that impression for that. So there’s constant recognition of our core values coming up at our team meetings. So we do a monthly all-hands that is much more, I’m going to say, celebratory of what’s going on. And then we do a quarterly all-hands that is repetition of the core values as well as how is the company performing financially? What are the initiatives that we had in the last quarter and how we going to do them? And then what are our financial goals and initiative goals for the next quarter?

So those are things that we’ve done. We did find that our long-tenured employees were really upset when we started this whole breakfast-lunch kind of concept that the challenge points for the new hires to get to go through. One, they wanted free lunch. Two, they really felt left. They were seeing these people get these things they were earning from these meetings and they felt left out of it. So you recently just completed a series of condensed lunches and breakfasts for every departmen. I think we have one team left, our installers because they’re hard to track down. They work in the field. But to bring them through and let them have this abbreviated version of it that was a little bit more advanced for somebody who’s been in the company a long time to talk about. Not just the core values and what it means as a new hire with fresh eyes, but what does it mean now that you’re here? And how are we trying to challenge you to grow, to specialize, to advance yourself, to educate yourself, to work as a team? So that was something that was really powerful. And then the last thing I’ll add is just again, you know, EOS was initially the flavor of the month. I know I’m an evangelist of it, and I love it because we’ve managed to stick with it for two years and have it be really transformative in our business.

Audience Member: I go back and see what it was again.

Shannon Romeo: EOS. The Entrepreneurial Operating System. They encourage these quarterly meetings. They call it 5-5-5 meetings. 5 minutes on what happened in the last quarter, 5 minutes on what’s coming up in the next quarter, 5 minutes on professional development. You take the 15, the employee takes the 15. So if you’re each exchanging about 5 minutes on those three topics, you can have a lunch or breakfast or a cup of coffee over it and you can align that person. I started doing that with my team recently, so it’s still a little lumpy because it’s new, but we’ve done, I think, three of those meetings so far and that’s been really good for me to understand where people want to go in their own careers and to be able to tie that back to core values if that’s coaching that they need. 

Audience Member: I’m sorry, can you repeat that again? The 5-5-5? 

Shannon Romeo: What happened in the last quarter, what’s coming for the next quarter and what are your professional development desires? 

Aaron Smith: We also, when you give impressions during our celebration day, we put everybody who received an impression in a bucket and we raffle off a couple

Shannon Romeo: Target gift cards. 

Aaron Smith: Target cards, whatever. So that’s one of the things where as an employee we are excited to be giving impressions and receiving because it’s an opportunity, you know, to get Starbucks or something like that. 

Shannon Romeo: We also, too, we have a Rockstar of the month. It’s a pure recognition program. So the whole idea is managers nominate but we want employees to vote on who wins and they get some swag or some things like that. But you get nominated because you align to the core values and you get rejected as a nomination if you don’t. So I think that’s pretty powerful. And then at the end of the year, the company’s holiday party, all of the Rockstars of the month, get to walk around with their sashes like they’re Miss America. You know, I’m Miss July. And they get voted on for the Rockstar of the Year. And then the top impression getters as well. They get recognition, they get gift cards, the Rockstar of the Year gets a cash bonus. There’s a whole bunch of things that go into it. But that’s all core values-based. And that starts at the front line. Again, there’s a management committee that nominates, but it really is run by the employees. They vote, they select, they recognize their peers.

Aaron Smith: Yeah, I like it. But I also got a little gift card and in our last celebration day. So, yeah, you know, I’m on the receiving end and I enjoy it. Jaeah, what about you guys with your long-tenured employees and stuff, kind of reiterating these things that people have been through and yet again, maybe you don’t know yet because you just went through it. 

Jaeah Fortune: So interestingly enough, something that came out of the focus groups when we were facilitating this is that we probably have more work ahead of us getting new associates and newer team members ingrained into our core values than our long-tenured employees. And I think part of that is just because the landscape of what we do and how far blindness has come and the process of rehabilitation has changed so much that our long-tenured employees are the most loyal, dedicated, like, I mean, these are people that I’ve laid down in the street if they have the opportunity to. They’re very loyal. And so they feel connected to our core values in a way that it’s not as easy to get our new associates to connect to. They weren’t with us when we were the app. So the only place where you could work if you were blind. Now Amazon has automation that makes it so that they can employ people who are blind, and we love that. Like, that is a win for my organization.

But it’s, you know, there’s a different level of commitment tied to the values. And so we actually use our long-tenured employees to help newer associates feel connected to the values by sharing things that are more like story-oriented, like Shannon mentioned, so that they understand where we’ve been as an organization in addition to where we’re going, because we have lots ahead of us. But where we’ve been is really important to how our values were established and our long-tenured employees are the absolute best champions of that.

Aaron Smith: Alright, so a final question for me. We’re going to have them all answer it and then we’ll take some questions from you guys. Angelica I’m going to start with you because I feel like you have a unique perspective on this. How, if any of you guys do this, but how do you pitch your core values to potential customers, clients, prospects, the people that you’re, you know, the business that you’re getting, how do you represent these core values to your customers?

Angelica Carter: So from the college’s perspective or how I advise our clients? 

Aaron Smith: Either let’s say both, yeah, let’s do both. 

Angelica Carter: So when I’m approaching new business from the client’s perspective, it really, I zero in on that community, right? So how we supported your organization in the past thus far, because chances are we have since we’ve been around since the seventies. And here are things that we’ve done successfully here, things we love to do based on what we understand now that we’ve studied up on the organization. Right? And we take that we do apply it in terms of recommending that our clients are the same thing, right? It’s really understanding who their target audience is. Does their target audience need to resonate with their values? And if so, explain to me the ways that that needs to happen and then we can look at strategies to avoid that.

Aaron Smith: Right. Jason, what about? 

Jason Nemoy: I just thought of this, my quick story is when I graduated college, I grew up with California Pizza Kitchen restaurants for 12 years. On the first day of training, they talked about rock. And rock was their core values, Respect, Opportunity, Communication, Kindness. I mean, I remember it after all these years. So I sort of grew up with this core values thread. And what they did was, and I think it kind of mirrors so what they did, they would communicate. Rock was so easy and cool to talk about in their collateral to employees, but also they had it on the website and they would tied in to just some of the dialog and it hit the customers. It eventually hit customers. 

So my answer is just sort of we kind of try to do the same thing so that there is some level of dialog with a new client or existing client relationship, we’re talking about our core values, some way. Not overdo it, but we may just pull one, you know, piece of it and elaborate. And then we would say we feel the same about you. It’s important for us. We want it to be important for you as well. I will say, we’ve had some relationships in the past. The client, maybe, that didn’t treat us so well. There was something that happened, maybe with one of my team members six months ago, and I had to, I protect my team in a way with our core values, so I’m able to go back to the clients. You know, it didn’t really work. That doesn’t feel so good. And we talk about it. And then if there is a breakup then there’s a breakup. Jaeah, what about, you?

Jaeah Fortune: So there are two things that come to mind for me when I think about customers. So first, with our core values, right? In addition to be representative of who we are as an organization, they’re kind of our commitment to our associates. They are also our commitments to our customers. So we’re committing them. This is how we’re going to engage with them and operate with them. I think we as a non-profit, mission-oriented company that also needs to make money to support the mission. Right? It’s a lot of moving parts. We need our customers to purchase from us. 

As a preferred provider for the state of Maryland every state organization is supposed to purchase copy paper from us. That’s just one example. At our location in Halethorpe, we make, manufacture, cut, and package Maryland State copy paper. So if you’re in a state building, that’s our paper. We made it. But we can sell that paper to anybody. We make janitorial supplies. The state is supposed to buy it from us because we’re a preferred provider, but we can sell it to anybody. Additionally, we don’t want state agencies to buy it from us because we’re a preferred provider. We want them to buy it from us because of the mission and the values that they’re supporting. So our sales team is trained to communicate, not help the blind people and you have to because the state says so. 

It’s this is our mission and these are our values and this is the positive impact we’re having on the State of Maryland. So you can buy this paper from Office Depot or you can buy this paper from us. And this is the impact you’re going to be having on the lives of others. So our core values were really far in helping to encourage people to shop with us for what we consider the right reasons. 

Aaron Smith: I like that. It’s almost more like a partnership and like,a guilt trip.

Jaeah Fortune: Exactly, let’s the thing together.

Aaron Smith: You know the Sarah McLachlan video. You know. 

Jaeah Forutne: For $0.05 a day

Aaron Smith: Shannon, what about you? How do we communicate here to our customers? 

Shannon Romeo: So marketing organization, we’re incorporating it into our marketing materials, our sales exchanges with clients as much as humanly possible. Again, we’ve given core values a logo so that we can make it front and center. The concept of it being something that people can connect with and having a common language around that helps a lot too. So a lot of our employees do it naturally. We’ll get an email from the customer and their response will be Happy To. 

They do it, they integrate it into their language. We try to run different things that engage different types of people, and then they get really proud to show off the work they’ve done in tours and things like that. And I think they naturally integrate that Can Do, especially in the customer service experience, by showing them what capabilities, our functionality that we have, the breadth of services that we offer. It’s in the sales presentations. They get a slide deck to go present to somebody. It’s baked into it. If you go on a tour with Aaron, Andrew, or Ashley and they give you that tour, they’re going to talk to you about core values as one of those introductory pieces of that tour. 

So it’s just really in the repetition. We also have historically done a lot with our employees to just keep it top of mind with them so that we can keep it in conversation. So we have a program we call Stollars, which is our company’s store and our company money that they can earn things through, and with Stollars, they can purchase a number of things. We also give them a number of things like swag. And some of that swag we’ll have that Can Do, Will Do, Happy To logo on it so when they’re at that golf tournament or that client meeting and they’re wearing those core values. They’re not just wearing our logo. So that really, I think, helps bring it to the forefront of the customer. 

But I think the big thing at the end of the day is we’re really focused on our Net Promoter Score. So for anyone who’s not familiar with that in a non-marketing-minded person, Net Promoter Score is that survey that you get at the end of a service that says, would you recommend us to a friend? We want that number to be really, really high. We want a lot of promoters in our database. And we talk about the concept that someone who experiences our core values will be in that promoter. So we use that as a measure of whether we’re living our core values to our customer and we talk about it from a quantitative standpoint, often at least quarterly. 

Jaeah Fortune: And I would say to Shannon’s point about repetition and the way that their values are just baked into everything, including employee communication and engagement. I worked for Strategic Factory. I had the honor and pleasure working for Shannon 9 years ago, and I still, 9 years later, respond with Happy to or Can Do or Will Do to emails. Like, it became very quickly an ingrained part of how I communicate and how I make commitments to other people and I get compliments all the time on that. Like people are pleased as punch when you respond that way and it’s 100% because of my time here. 

Shannon Romeo: I swear I did not pay her to say that. 

Aaron Smith: So we have about 8 minutes left. Right around there? 

Caleb Townsend: Around 10. 

Aaron Smith: 10 minutes. Great. I’m sure you all have a million questions for these guys, whether it’s for all of them, whether it’s for one person in particular, you know, please don’t all yell at once. Yeah. 

Audience Member: So it’s just with, you know, social media trends and how you talk to people, that’s kind of changed over the course of time. You know, always from my perspective, business development and financial wellness, you know, with that being said, from a core values standpoint, I mean, this could be for anybody. What has changed, you know, from core value, depending on how long you’ve been with your organization? What it was to maybe what you’re implementing now in terms of being able to cater towards your fellow employees as management level to your other people? I don’t think it doesn’t matter who it is. Anybody can speak up in and address that because things have changed over time. And, you know, maybe we’ve had to tweak our core values a little bit from a standard standpoint, you know, from that. So whoever.

Aaron Smith: Anybody chomping at the bit?

Angelica Carter: So, may ask for more context for the question? 

Audience Member: Yeah, no, that’s right. Just from my perspective, you know, I always feel face to face interaction is still the best for it. Yes, technology has our lives easier. Virtual presentation. Do I think it’s kind of behind the scenes? You know, I go to do an impromptu visit. I’ll knock on the client’s door at a moment’s notice, not even really have an appointment. You know, not because I want to bother them, just kind of make that face to face, that introduction. So from your standpoint, core values have, you know, it has that trend from maybe from the nineties, from 2000. How is it nowadays in terms of how you structure your organization? 

Angelica Carter: I would say yes, it does. Thank you for the additional information. I would say it still comes down to meeting people where they are, right? And figuring that out in a way that you can exude those values that you have established at the corporate level. And I repeat this all the time, so forgive me, but it comes down to managing the expectations. Right? And so whether you have been with the company for 40 years or you’ve been with them for four months, as long as you’ve set that stage and it’s built, it’s threaded in for all of your communications, in the work that you do and the way you communicate with each other. That is inherently going to change over time. And it should, especially with the people working, they’re retiring 10,000 a day and will until 2031. 

Figuring out ways to leverage your core values and capture some of that legacy information. I mean, speak to them in a language that they understand. Meet with them in a way that’s comfortable to them, don’t force the zoom on them. don’t force the in-person. And that changes by generation. 

Aaron Smith: And also, you know, you just again, I’m not the expert in any this, but I think that the technology and stuff honestly even better. Our email signatures across the board, our email signatures are our core values. So you could get an email that’s typed out like Happy To, then you’ll see the person’s name, with our core values, in the email signatures as well. So it’s one of the things that’s like utilizing that technology to just reiterate the same thing. I don’t know if anybody else wants to. 

Jaeah Fortune: I think for us, because we just went through this process of kind of reassessing and redoing, we did find that we had to make some changes to our core values so that we were staying up with the times. So, accessibility is really important to us as an organization that serves blind people. Innovation is a word that’s one of our core values now that, when they created the core values the first time, I think really like 45 years ago was the last time we reviewed, innovation wasn’t a buzzword. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar and it didn’t even mean the same thing back then.

So we recognize that while, you know, you want your values and your vision to be very solid and to stand the test of time, we have to change with the times to meet people where they are and to keep up with the way that we engage with people and communicate. And you mentioned social media. You know, we didn’t have a social media strategy 45 years ago. And so we recognize the need to make those changes to kind of adjust to the times.

Audience Member: Appreciate that. Thank you. Yeah.

Audience Member #2: So I learned a lot from the panel. So thank you so and similar to the members of the panel, we just had a some updates to our core values as well. And our growth stems from a lot of M&A’s. And I think core values are something that we’re continuously working on, believing and breathing, and we’re actually still working on our cultural project. How do we live and breathe that? Especially coming from the M&A world. 

Shannon Romeo: I think ten years that I’ve been here, we’ve acquired everything from one-person companies to an established 30-year business with 25 employees. Some of those people have been really happy about the M&A, other people have not been happy about it. And working in a larger business is maybe not what they signed up for. It has been an uphill battle for us and we always have to look at it and say, do we go to this whole really Rome New World Order piece where we come in on day one and your brand is dead and your values are dead and your company is dead, or do we respect what’s there and integrate them slowly?

We’ve had success with, I’m going to say, a mid-range approach. Certain things have to change day one. So we put these people that are acquiring through as if they are new hires. They go through all of our new hiring processes. They have that same experience, and that’s the slow integration. From a brand standpoint, there are certain things that we say as of today. We don’t want you answering the phone as, typical example, AA Signs or Spokes Marketing. These are companies that we’ve acquired in the last five years or so. We have to make that shift. You shouldn’t be answering the phone that way. Yes, there’s a lot of things that your organization did right. There’s also a lot of things that we do right. We have the best from both, is a conversation that we have a lot.

So you bring fresh eyes to the organization. Tell us what you see that you think we should be bringing with us from your organization. We did integrate a factor of, signs for example, is the most recent significant acquisition that we did. That was in December of 2020. Their core values were not, I’m going to say, super well defined, but they did have a decent performance appraisal process that had some value elements into it. And one of their core values from their thing was think it through and it was just the concept of the complexities of the projects, the cost of manufacturing. And trying to find a way to put that think it through piece into Can Do, Will Do, Happy To, to give them some comfort. But we did a lot of treating them like new hires and that helped a ton. But three and a half years later, we still have challenges with some people that, you know, they worked there for 30 years. They were not interested in necessarily making the shift. And for them, it is coaching, it is the storytelling. It is connecting them back to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And it’s also not being afraid. Like we have a gentleman who I would say is a pretty big issue from a core values standpoint. They came up from one of those acquisitions. I use the core values in every conversation I had with him, whether I intend to or not.

He actually participated in the leadership development program that I teach for the company last year, and right around the time that we were doing the core values. And I brought him in and I said, you’re not showing respect for the other people in the class by showing right attendance, by engaging properly in discussion.

You’re behaving like an asshole. There are no assholes allowed in this conversation. So I need you to not participate in the leadership development program anymore if you can’t make that shift. And he ended up self-selecting out. He still works for the organization. He’s decided he doesn’t want to be a manager of people. He wants to be an individual contributor, and that’s okay. I’m meeting him where he is, but he is hearing in the values for me in every conversation that I have. Anything is such a challenge. 

Angelica Carter: Does anyone know what emanating is?

Aaron Smith: I’ll be the one to say it. I just learned what that meant. 

Jaheah Fortune: So our facility in Raleigh, we actually acquired years ago, and I don’t know that there was a strong focus when they initially did that on incorporating that organization into our core values. So when I came into the organization two and a half years ago, they used the term redheaded stepchild. And I was mortified that there was this sort of outlier out there where they were never pulled in, you know what I mean?

So while it’s a little bit different, I know I had to be very strategic about kind of redefining what living and breathing even looks like, like living and breathing our values looks different in my Baltimore facility than it did in my Raleigh facility. I had to set reasonable expectations for myself and like reasonable benchmarks and say, okay, down there, living it and breathing it might be like, how do I get them to stop seeing themselves as a separate entity? Or if they’re a separate entity, how are you going to get them to see it as a positive way to contribute as opposed to being a redheaded stepchild? You know? So give yourself grace and I would say like set your expectations about what living and breathing it looks like at each facility or with each the M&A. 

Aaron Smith: We have time for about one more question. If anybody has one more. 

Audience Member #3: I’m here as part of the workforce organization in the state of Maryland, and I think most people realize the challenges of sustaining our workforce and what’s going on with it. And so we’re here talking about core values and one of my concerns and one of the strategies that we’re looking at now has to do with the Can Do. But what do you do with that? I can’t do right now. Okay. There’s someone that can be Happy To do, Will Do. But right now I can’t run your print copier machines. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I can probably do it, but I just can’t do it right now. So how do you feel about that person in comparing them to someone who walks in and says, I can do that? And then trying to make the hires and then looking at the apprenticeship model of trying to have employers embrace this thing, saying we better take on the responsibility of actually helping them can do.

Aaron Smith: Jason I think you’ve touched a couple of times just on the accountability aspect of it. So I don’t is you want to kind of, you know, talk a little more about that.

Jason Neemoy: Yeah, I mean, I’ll go as far and deep as I can on this. I don’t want to oversimplify whatever trying to say, but I think the accountability piece and just there being very open communication and transparency. I was thinking about the M&A dialog too, a little bit too, about the whole empathy piece. So really my response to that would just be the communication, the transparency. I don’t know if I have a potential solution for what you’re saying. It is that it is an issue. And I understand, you know, kind of things that you’re going through, but I don’t know if anybody else has any feedback.

Jaeah Fortune: Are you, Scott, when you say you “can’t do” right now, do you mean like they don’t have established the necessary skill level currently?

Audience Member #3: Correct. The knowledge, the experience. They come in basically at zero, you know, but they have some other things they bring to the table. And you’ve selected them. maybe for an interview, but they’re competing against both those that have a lot more knowledge and experience. Who do you hire? You know, and we know what employers have been doing. How do we get that ship to a different strategy? You know, let’s bring in someone who can’t do and maybe they’ll be the better, productive worker.

Angelica Carter: So I’m going to put my small business owner hat on. And I will say any day of the week I will hire someone with aptitude before skills because I can teach skill, right? My husband is the best at what he does. He can teach skill rather, it’s about that aptitude, right? So if you have that attitude that Can Do, Will Do, Happy To, yeah. I don’t know how to do it right now, but I’m willing to learn and I’ll show up on time and look you in the eye and shake your hand and not be on your phone all day? Hired!

Jason Neemoy: Well, yeah. It’s about taking. Taking a chance. Yeah. You know, we always take a chance or a risk on everybody that we bring on the team. To the points up here, it’s, you know. 

Aaron Smith: And the EOS as well, also as a strategy which we call Right People, Right Seat, which, I haven’t been here long, but I’ve heard, you know, our executive team will move people from department, from role, based on you know you have the Happy To, you have the Will Do but that Can Do maybe doesn’t quite fit and so, Shannon, I don’t know if you want to…

Shannon Romeo: Yeah I mean I would echo Angelica’s statement wholeheartedly. I would much rather have somebody who is a Will Do, Happy To a person that doesn’t have the Can Do. I’m really trying to integrate when I’m working with a hiring manager of who they’re hiring or if I’m working with a manager on how they’re retaining. Are you making that decision based only based on Can Do? Because if you are, that’s a short term decision. And I need you to understand that–either way, whether it’s they have the skill and they don’t have the values fit, or they have the values fit, but they don’t have the skill and that’s what’s making your decision. It’s short-term. 

If they don’t have the skill, we can teach them that, we can solve that problem in a short-term capacity. If they have the skill and they don’t have values fit, is short-term because we’re going to end up firing them or they’re going to self-select out because they don’t fit into the organization and work well with others. So I’m totally behind that. The right people, right seats concept is constantly saying let’s define the seat. Of the person did these 3 to 7 things and was accountable to these 3 to 7 things, 80% or more of their time, the company will achieve its goals. 

Those are the things that we have to be able to get them to do from a Can Do standpoint. And if you’re well-suited to a role from the interview standpoint in sales and we find that as you’re in the practice of that, you’re not a hunter, maybe you don’t belong on the BD team, going out and generating leads. Maybe you belong on the account management team, nurturing the people that we’re already working with and growing those relationships. We can shift you to the right seat and teach you the 3 to 7 things you need to be accountable for in that right scene. So we’ve always kind of taken that philosophy and I’m just trying to integrate it more to say, you know, you’re keeping this person based on a Can Do decision. They’re able to do the work. No one wants to work with them. They’re going to be gone by the end of the year. Stop investing. And let’s make an alternative plan.

Angelica Carter: And what you said, like they can’t do right now? Great. I’d rather you say I can’t do it right now than I can’t. Because the right now at least is demonstrative of the willingness, the want now. 

Jaeah Fortune: As a state employee though, I would challenge that the onus is on us. Right? You mentioned apprenticeship. If you’re going to invest your time into under-skilled but willing, you have to have the programs and tools in place to do the training and do the teaching. Otherwise, you’re doing your company a disservice and you’re doing them a disservice because, you know, if you’re committing, I’m going to pay you maybe a little bit less than the super highly skilled person, but I’m going to get you those skills. You have to have an infrastructure in place to get those skills.

Aaron Smith: Sadly, we do have to end this amazing conversation, and I just want to say thank you to all of you and thank you to our panelists. I don’t want to speak for you guys, but I’m sure if anybody else has any burning questions, I’m sure they would love to, you know, talk to you afterward. So we do have a fun surprise if everybody grabs their box that is underneath their seat and opens it up, there should be two lucky boxes that have a little heart on them

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