Here to protect every citizen of the galaxy, the Empire will neither fail nor fall.
- The Galactic Empire’s value statement, according to a Google search.
Most organizations report having a clearly-defined set of values. Many of these values are espoused from their founders’ personal beliefs, while others (like the Galactic Empire’s) are a witches brew of marketing and PR-speak designed to abate otherwise ill-received business practices. In either case, it’s clear that business leaders have failed to put these values to any practical use — probably because they spend too much time authoring them and too little time actually listening, understanding, and creating alignment.
In fact, the extent of my prior involvement with corporate values has been to complete a Jungian-type personality test on my first day with no reciprocation or feedback provided by my employer. I was but a plumber on the Death Star: vaguely aware of the vibe, but removed by both practice and personal conviction from whatever actually happened. It so happens that, like me, most employees also share a rubbish relationship with company values.
I didn’t start Plura Interactive with an altruistic or philanthropic agenda. I started the company because I couldn’t find a job. I didn’t set out — nor do I know how — to save the world, but I’m sure that I don’t want to make it worse. So when we started taking on consultants and clients, I considered what might become of our work, and I immediately became anxious because I had failed to establish any principles to guide our behavior.
To create our first value statement, I asked the team to participate in an optional exercise wherein they could privately relate some characteristics and qualities that they admire in others and aspire to themselves. I received a frustratingly low response rate — less than half — no doubt because these exercises are commonplace but rarely result in alignment or integration. Those that did respond helped form the article that you’re reading now: a skeleton upon which I hope to construct richer convictions as we mature and diversify.
All I ask is that you judge our merit not by the values you read below, but by our commitment to their continued embodiment, since they will undoubtedly limit our ability to take on certain business opportunities and in certain situations may require more creativity than is often afforded to businesses like ours.
Authenticity is the absence of pretense — it is the underlying quality of credible people.
It requires, among other things, that we confront clients with difficult truths, even if it puts our relationship to them at risk. This could mean telling a prospective client that we are not the most qualified consultants to render a certain type of service, or that we do not share in the enthusiasm that clients might have about the potential outcomes of certain initiatives.
Being authentic also means avoiding misleading marketing and sales tactics such as back-loading service fees in a contract, sending confusing communications, and clever service/pricing tiers. Our clients should be able to recite both the total cost and ROI of engaging us with little mental effort.
We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.
- Carl Sagan
Allow me to speak in borrowed hyperbole: careers are a journey, not a destination. Everybody involved in this project will eventually leave. When they do, I hope that they leave a more capable person than when they arrived.
Our commitment to growth begets humility. It means understanding that we all have competence gaps and electing to grow past them. From a leadership perspective, it requires that I structure the business in such a way as to provide people with the opportunity to practice their skills in roles outside of their declared competencies.
The capacity to learn, among other things, is what separates humans from every other creature roaming the planet. While people have the free will to ignore or embrace learning, never should the opportunity be oppressed or discouraged — especially in the interest of business.
Embrace and Encourage
I related earlier that I had a difficult time finding a job before I started Plura Interactive. Companies post jobs looking for “unicorns” (mythical creatures), “gurus” (spiritual teachers), “ninjas” (spies), and just about everything in between. I resembled none of these things nor the adopted qualities for which they’re embraced by modern business culture.
Instead, I offered what I could: a normal (if unremarkable) CV and about as much enthusiasm for the job as I could muster without being inauthentic. Little wonder — given the business norms outlined above — that I did not succeed. Does this mean that I am a failure? No.
Why do we judge individuals’ merit based on such arbitrary precedence as whether they can achieve the same outcomes as the outgoing person that they are intended to replace? If failure is a predictor of success then I’d be best served to shutter the company now, because I fail more often than I succeed.
Unicorn-hunters and guru-seekers understand this principle too, re-branding failure as a ‘learning opportunity’ that should be done ‘fast’. Not always: sometimes a failure is just that — something neither to be worshipped nor feared. Rather than endorsing the activity, we should embrace the person.
Success is easy to recognize — especially when successful people share your belief system (self-validation) and/or their measures of success lie inside your plane of comprehension. It’s harder to embrace and encourage people who don’t succeed, or those who succeed outside of the confines of your beliefs, values, or understanding. Embracing and encouraging other people often requires an uncomfortable but liberating flexibility.
Do Some Good
Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
- Colin Powell
On Valentine’s Day in 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, zooming about at 38,000 mph, took this famous photo of our planet from near-as-makes-no-difference four billion miles away.
At that distance, Earth appears the size of a pixel. Carl Sagan commented, “our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position…are challenged by this point of pale light.”
As a consulting firm, our potential impact on the world is small — we don’t produce or ship products, we do not require expansive offices or infrastructure, and our business model is somewhat growth-inhibitive. It would stand to reason, then, that most consulting firms do not consider their impact on people or the planet when formalizing their core values.
The problem with this thinking is that while we are small, our clients are not. Their products can have a huge impact on the world, and they often hire us to help them grow their business. That is why we want to work with companies whose products and services, in our opinion, help to improve (or do not harm) both the human condition and that of our planet.
There you have it: Authenticity, Growth, Encouragement, and Doing Good. Thank you to those who have contributed internally — for those who haven’t had the opportunity to participate yet, please consider it! You have the opportunity to make an immediate, significant impact the principles that guide Plura Interactive’s business practices.