Core Culture Can’t be Faked

Danielle Gillespie
4 min readNov 9, 2021


“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” ~proverb

I was recently talking with a young friend of mine who started a new job at the beginning of this year. She is super outgoing, very positive, organized and smart. She would be an amazing addition to any team — and, to be clear about how great she is, I rarely use the word “amazing”. As she was talking, it was very brightly highlighted to me the importance of a good team. Her new team is horrible; she was hired to build a program but has not been given the support or authority to grow. She fields phone calls from angry clients for most of her day and spends the rest of the day doing routine paperwork; both of which could be eliminated if she were allowed to implement new strategies and structure to the environment. Although my friend isn’t specifically saying so (she wasn’t even really complaining), I doubt she will last long at that company. It’s her first job and although she doesn’t have a lot to compare to, she instinctively knows something isn’t right. But that is how the company operates…no respect for team or employees, no upfront contract, no core values.

The Upfront Contract (Extended)

The Sandler Training sales method developed the concept of an upfront contract as it relates to sales deal flow. According to Sandler, “A great sales call depends on what we at Sandler Training call an up-front contract. If you’re not familiar with the term, an up-front contract is an agreement, made ahead of time, about what will take place during a meeting or discussion — an agreement that clarifies what each person’s role in the conversation will be.”

The concept of an upfront contract can be extended beyond sales deal flow and can be woven into many aspects of relationship management. Heck, we even used it on our kids when they were growing up; they would always know what was expected of them and the reward/consequence that would follow. Likewise, if we made a promise to them, we agreed that we wouldn’t flake on the commitment.

This concept can be easily extended to facilitate employer/employee relationships in the workplace. If an employee has a clear understanding of what is expected of them, it is easier to choose a path that will lead to mutual success. If an employer has clearly articulated and fulfilled their side of the bargain, the employee can focus on their job rather than wasting time and energy trying to figure out the relationship. With consistency, follow through and clearly stated operating guidelines both parties will earn trust and respect, ultimately boosting productivity and collaboration.

Core Values Isn’t Just a Buzzword

While the upfront contract will determine the “what” for workplace relationships, your company’s core values will give you operating context for successfully navigating team interactions (ie the “how”).

I read a great article published by the Harvard Business Review talking about intentional core values. In the article the author talks about different kinds of core values and how to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. To summarize the article:

  • Core values will drive your culture and are intentional; they are not aspirational, they are not a set of checkboxes required to keep your job and they do not happen by accident. Your core values may be tough to adhere to but will align your team to achieve your mission.
  • Core values should be authentic; you don’t want to be spewing rainbows and unicorns. A good set of core values may not be easy but will be fair. They will help employees understand how their strengths can contribute to the overall success of the company.
  • Founders should lead by example and own the process of adoption. It’s your job to make sure the initiative is embraced by everyone in your company; you do this by behaving in a way that reinforces the core values and by personally helping others understand the mission.
  • Make core values the fabric of your company. Everyone who is hired should be held to the same standard and should be rewarded for their contribution.

Your core values should create an environment of respect and collaboration. Employees who exceed expectations in modeling core values should be acknowledged and applauded. Each member of a team should be able to take pride in their particular contribution to the overall success of the company.


I was recently a guest on Ryan Hartley’s Always Better Than Yesterday podcast. We talked a lot about what startups do right and what they get wrong. One important takeaway, that I hope listeners absorbed, is that “the ultimate long term success [of the company] is not about the quality of the idea, it’s about the quality of the team.” A founder’s leadership sets the tone for the culture and can set the team up for the collaboration and accountability needed to take an idea into the world and provide real impact.

You should take some time to define your culture and core values. Building a startup is demanding both emotionally and physically, there are a lot of obstacles to balance and to navigate around. If your culture is not intentionally crafted, you’re going to be in trouble before you start.



Danielle Gillespie

Defining the intersection between technology and human connection (I also help entrepreneurs build rock solid tech products: