Operating to the Core

At every police department’s swearing-in ceremony, new officers recite the ‘Oath of Honor’ in front of their family members and new colleagues. The Oath outlines the ethical values and beliefs that guide the officers as they serve their community. As a company that serves our first responders, we felt it was important to adopt our own set of values and beliefs that aligned with their (and our) mission.

While not requiring a formal oath, many companies in the private sector define core operating values for their employees. In the tech startup world, this is a classic example of something that’s easy to de-prioritize when facing an important patch or update the engineering team wants to get live. At Mark43, we felt the catalyzing need for these values during our first round of performance reviews. We had enough people, managers, professional aspirations, and clients to formally review each team member’s performance for the last six months. However, we needed something to measure performance against — the obvious answer here was to formally define our core values and use them as the basis for our performance reviews.

There are two ways in which our process was unique. First, our founders didn’t want a lot of core values. They felt that each additional core value diluted the potency of the other core values and would make it harder to track them all. Second, because we give our managers a lot of responsibility and use them as a barometer to understand what’s going on across the entire organization, we felt it made sense for them to define our core values. Our executives brought in an outside company to help our managers define our core values. They ran an exercise led by Brannon Skillern that helped our managers express what they valued in the organization and what they expected of themselves and their peers. From here, Brannon molded this brainstorm content into six core values. Then the execs reviewed the core values to make sure they were aligned with the mission and goals of the company. In the end, we compressed them from six values to four to make sure what Mark43 valued was very clear.

Our core values are the beliefs by which we operate. They guide how we find new team members, interact with clients and build our products. Below are our four core values:

Once determining our core values, we wanted to find ways to implement them into our everyday processes. We first made them visible in our office. Each value is painted on its own dividing wall spread throughout our space. This serves as a daily reminder to live up to these values as we work and collaborate with each other.

Our Hiring Process

But what other ways could we bake our core values into the company? As the Recruiting Manager, I immediately started to think about how we could inject our core values into our hiring process. The perfect place to start was in our values alignment interview for new candidates during onsite interviews. I took a hard look at the current behavioral interview questions we ask in this particular interview and decided to make some changes.

After putting together a dense list of new behavioral questions, I tested them out on my coworkers. From this I learned how people already on our team approached these questions and what types of responses they invoked. After they would answer, I’d ask them to choose one core value that they thought was reflected in their answer. This helped me determine what questions to ask that will lead to discussions or answers that reinforce or reject our core values, my ultimate goal.

Next, I invited the seven interviewers on our team who lead the Values alignment interviews to sit down and candidly ask and answer my new set of questions. After each one, I would ask “Which is the underlying core value that this question teases at?” It was enlightening to see how these seven individuals often had differing answers. Let me give you an example. One question was, “When was a time you didn’t know how to do something? Did you ask for help?” Without knowing how someone might answer, you could presume that the story they might tell could demonstrate any of our four core values in one way or another. It’s also possible that a candidate could show signs of rejection of our core values with an answer like “I usually don’t need help because I prefer to figure things out on my own. I generally feel that I can’t rely on others.” It’s the interviewer’s responsibility to try to dig deeper into their answer and get to the root of why they feel they can’t rely on others.

By adding new behavioral questions that were crafted with our core values subliminally baked into them, our team of interviewers were well prepared to objectively measure candidates against them and determine which people we interview will add to our culture. Recent analysis of our values alignment interviews show that in the six month period before injecting our core values into this interview, a candidate had a 14% chance of a ‘Strong Yes’ outcome from the interviewer. Looking at the six months after the change, we saw that number drop to 7%. What this tells us is that our interview team has become more objective and discerning in this important interview.

Our Performance Reviews

Mark43 employees undergo company-wide performance reviews every six months. During each review, employees complete a self-review and a review of other teammates. The first four questions review how closely a teammate aligns with each value. The five possible rankings are:

1 — My/my team member’s/my report’s actions and contributions were contrary to this core value.

2 — I/my team member/my report did nothing for this core value, but also nothing against.

3 — I/my team member/my report made a semi-consistent effort to live this core value every day.

4 — I/my team member/my report made a consistent effort to live this core value every day.

5 — I/my team member/my report is a paragon of this core value.

By using our core values as a guide to review ourselves and each other, we are able to make performance growth plans that are directly tied to these values. We have also learned which core values we can improve on and which values are inspiring positive collaboration and hard work. After our most recent round of performance reviews earlier this year, we surveyed the team to get their opinions on how the process went. The survey revealed that our team overwhelmingly supported the use of our core values as a measurement for performance and success. For us, our core values aren’t just fluffy, feel-good phrases painted on our walls. They are the tangible beliefs we use to hold ourselves accountable to our clients and each other.

We’re always looking for great candidates whose professional aspirations align with our core values. Check out our Careers page for current openings, or send a note to jobs@mark43.com.