A Conversation About Values with Tristan J Walker
By: Matthew Duncan, Culturati Steering Committee
I had the opportunity to sit down with Tristan Walker, founder of Walker & Company, which sells grooming products for people of color, which was acquired by Procter & Gamble in 2018. Tristan is an inspiring entrepreneur, black business leader and authentic culture advocate. I asked him to share his view on the role values play in defining corporate culture. It was a fascinating conversation, shared below in his words. — Matthew Duncan, Culturati Steering Committee
I was recently asked how I defined culture within my company. For me, the answer is easy: First you have to define your values. About a month before I started Walker & Company Brands, I went to a Starbucks and reflected on my life. It struck me that there are certain values that make me who I am today: Courage, Inspiration, Respect, Judgement, Wellness and Loyalty. Those same 6 values that I jotted down in the Starbucks that day became my company values.
When it comes to defining their culture, companies all too frequently have no idea what their values are. But my values are the basis of all I do: Decisions about who are my friends, what companies do I want to associate with, and what things do I want to do? Everything we do is built around them. Why should you do anything that doesn’t start with your values? We even interview potential employees based on questions that get to the heart of adherence to these values. And your values should be both professional and personal — why would they be different?
This past year has brought a lot of awareness and (hopefully) changes around diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, the pandemic has forced people to expand their capacity for empathy. You know the motto “the customer is always right?” Now it’s “the employee is always right.” There’s a pull of action on leadership now to see that employees are people first. And as people we have demands. It’s important that leaders listen.
And as leaders consider how they can support a diverse culture moving forward, they need to have respect first and foremost. But honestly why are leaders lazy about DEI when they can make more money? Don’t treat diversity and inclusion as an HR issue but as an enterprise-wide competitive advantage. If you care for your employees, the end result is more profitability. And for those leaders not willing to do that? It’s OK. They won’t be around long.
So sit down, give yourself 45 minutes and write down your values. The definitions will get more precise over time. But give yourself the grace to think about the things that force you to take a side. There will come a point where there will be a conflict that you might not even realize yet. And it’s better you see that conflict before someone else does.
I’m keynoting at Culturati Summit, the virtual event of the year on corporate culture, April 6–8, 2021. Culturati Summit 2021 will focus on the most pressing corporate culture issues this year, including Mental Health & Well-being, Manager Empowerment and DEI Leadership.