How Virsys12 Created Company Values to Inspire and Guide Employees
by Tammy Hawes, CEO and Founder, Virsys12
As Gallup Principal Louis Efron stated in a December 2022 article, while most organizations have company values displayed on their website and in marketing materials, if you ask an employee about those values — what they mean or even why values are important — you are likely to get a blank stare. In fact, Gallup found only 26% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their employer always delivers on its company values and less than that, just 23% of American workers, say they can apply their organization’s values to their work.
When I thought about opening my own firm, I knew it would be important to my company’s success to eliminate that disconnect. Our mission was going to be big: to transform the business of healthcare. The ancient Greek concept ‘aretē’ means the act of living one’s full potential. To achieve such a bold goal, I would not only need a team with intelligence, work ethic, and creativity. To fully tap their enormous potential, I would need a set a principles to guide how we worked together, how we worked with our customers, and how we worked within the complex and opaque healthcare system.
Here is how we determined our company values and why we are committed to them.
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How to Create Company Values
While I was aware of the principles that centered my own work, establishing our company values took time. C-suite leaders who think the practice of identifying values is a mere marketing exercise that can be handed over to consultants are wrong.
It took weeks, and some very raw discussions, to surface the four values that guide Virsys12’s work. We started, as many company leaders do, with a whiteboard. Members of our core leadership team threw out several dozen words that were meaningful to us as individuals. These words came from experience: values we had admired in mentors or, too often, that we had seen cast aside by other corporate leaders.
We left behind ideas — all good ones — that did not speak to each one of us or that did not speak to Virsys12’s mission and vision.
Here is one we kept: transformation.
As I said before, Virsys12’s mission is big. We are not trying to improve healthcare at the margins. We want to revolutionize care by helping our customers better leverage technology. Transformation had to be one of our core values.
Another value that stayed on the white board was collaboration. We love our customers, but we are intentional in deciding the companies with whom we do business. Because our mission is to revolutionize the industry, we need partners who do not view Virsys12, or its employees, as mere vendors. In fact, we have parted ways with customers for whom our relationship was transactional. That decision was not easy — as a young company, the thought of giving up revenue is never pleasant — but the cost of investing a relationship that was not a good fit would have been far greater. As an added benefit, we find that when collaboration is at the heart of a partnership, our own employees are happier because customers treat them with dignity. Additionally, we want people on our team that are collaborative with their colleagues. There are many smart people in technology, but working well with others and team work is a critical skill.
Developing a culture employees can trust is just one reason why values are important.
Why Values Are Important
What I thought about why values are important deepened during our process of identifying them. I knew having core values would help us succeed, but part of the reason I thought so is because I believed they would help us attract committed, visionary employees and loyal customers.
They did, and advertising company values is an important marketing and hiring tool.
But they are so much more than that.
Clear, concise values will inspire and guide employees when they need to make important and difficult decisions. Let’s take transformation again. Virsys12 develops apps and technology solutions that foster healthcare collaboration across the continuum. We want to eliminate waste from the entire healthcare system in order to create a better experience for our customers and the people they serve. When one of our engineers or developers pitches a new idea that we will need to invest in, our first question is not, is it doable, it is: could this product create transformational change?
When it comes to hiring, we talk a lot about another one of our company values: passion. Our talent team is, of course, looking for the most qualified candidates. But that candidate will not get past the initial interview if it is not clear that they are passionate about our mission. (Trust me: you can tell very quickly when a person shows up for a paycheck or for the job.) Our team members deserve to work with other team members who are passionate about the quality of their work.
Virsys12 would not have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic as well as it did if our values had not been the center of our decision-making framework. They were a compass when the world turned upside down. Or, as human resources experts at the University of Florida put it, “When we are in survival mode and the ‘fight or flight’ response takes over, leaders tend to shift to focusing more on the foreground of operational business decisions. Their field of vision becomes very restricted — often creating a false sense of ‘control.’ … Leaders who pay attention to [values] while leading through crisis are more effective: clarity about reaching goals combined with intentional focus on using values to strengthen team culture.”
That culture matters, especially over the long term.
Company Values and Employee Retention
“Competitors can take your ideas, products, employees and customers, but they cannot steal your culture,” noted Gallup’s Efron. “And a unique culture is what draws employees and customers to your organization and keeps them loyal.”
According to Gallup, strong company values help employees find meaning in their job. And, more than ever, employees want meaning. According to a survey by Purpose Under Pressure, a project from The Harris Poll, found 86% of U.S. workers believe having “meaning” is important. More than four-fifths, 84%, say they will only work at purpose-driven companies.
Values and purpose attract smart, creative employees and encourage them to stay.
Now, I will say that while company values improve worker retention, they are not the only thing employees want. Money still matters. Integrity is another one of our company values. We ask our employees to act with integrity in all matters. If employers expect company values to guide employees, we must also act in line with our values — especially when it comes to fair compensation and benefits that reflect the dignity of each individual worker.
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Evaluating Whether Your Employees Understand Your Company Values
In closing, let’s go back to the problem that Gallup identified: few employees can cite or explain their company values. Gallup provided several questions C-suite leaders can ask to evaluate whether their values resonate. These queries include:
- How well do employee stories align with our values, purpose, brand and culture?
- Do our values and culture drive performance?
- Is our culture consistent across all business units?
- Do our values influence employees to do what is best for our customers and communities?
- How clear are our purpose and brand?
We are constantly asking ourselves these questions (our chief strategy officer is in charge of the process) and to keep transformation, collaboration, passion, and integrity top of mind, we created Virsys12 University. This management training seminar helps teammates better understand our values and how to deploy them to achieve our mission — and advance in their own career. According to research compiled by the Society of Human Resources Management this type of soft skills development is important because:
- 89% of recruiters say when a hire does not work out, it comes down to a lack of soft skills;
- People with self-aware and empathetic supervisors are happier, more creative, and more innovative; and, in contrast,
- 70% of the employees whose managers were identified as having little emotional intelligence feeling negatively about their employer.
Gallup advises companies to share real stories about how company values come to life. This tool has been especially effective at Virsys12. We offer daily shoutouts to teammates who are performing with integrity, collaborating to transform, and are passionate. And, annually, we have the Virsys Awards — our version of the Oscars. Our statuettes come with bonuses for the employees who lived our values, demonstrated why values are important, and who, through, their actions, help guide employees toward our mission and vision.
The most important factor in making values stick, however, is what happens at the top. Principled, mission-driven teammates can smell insincerity a mile away. As part of the Virsys Award bonus, winners pick a nonprofit organization to which the company will make a donation. This aspect of the award is an added motivator and one more small way we, as company leaders, model our values.