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Core Values: How Differences Helped Define a Sustainability Culture

Today Sustrana is publishing our company’s Core Values after more than two years of work to discern and describe who we are as a company. The process we went through has taught us a lot about ourselves. But it also revealed how our values help us succeed in our work with companies to embed sustainability best practices and reap the value promise of sustainability.

Core Values

There’s a lot of information available about how to develop company values. We were intrigued by a process put forward as part of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. The gist of using EOS is that you should discover your core values by looking at what is driving success.  Success should be defined on a variety of scales, such as productivity, loyalty, profitability, compliance, and innovation, to name a few.

One thing about discovering core values that stood out for us was the notion that they act like a homing beacon for customers and prospects. In other words, it’s not enough to discover how you see yourself; you have to evaluate how that aligns with what others see when they engage with you. That got us thinking about work experiences when we’re “in the zone”; when everyone in the room is so jazzed about the work at hand that a sense of time slips away.

So here’s what we discovered as the values that are operating when we are in the zone with each other and with our customers. They are our core values because they are the behaviors we engage in to be successful at what we do, sustainability management for businesses:

  • Listen Deeply
  • Have an Open Mind
  • Cultivate Authenticity
  • Create Positives
  • Inspire and Empower

Relationship-Based Values

We’ve had this list of core values on our white board for almost two years (seriously).  We experienced them as how we operate, but we wanted to live with them for a while before going public. We needed to be sure that they are truly descriptive of our culture as a team, in the zone and on a day-to-day basis.

About ten months ago, we had our first big setback. We discovered that some of us weren’t so open-minded and didn’t listen very deeply about personal political differences. We made assumptions and ran roughshod over some views, stifling open discourse. It created a bunch of negatives, including some serious misunderstandings. We were unwittingly inhibiting some employees’ ability to be authentic because others were expressing deep convictions as if they were true for all.

It wasn’t a very inspiring experience. In fact, it caused us to lose a highly valued employee before we could get back to, and find resilience in, our values. That was really hard. On the plus side, we felt empowered to examine the situation through a series of open and honest discussions. We used The Five Whys to get at root causes and learn from our mistakes. It validated our belief in these values as our identity and helped us understand several things about living our values and how we went astray. The experience and work that came out of it has made us a stronger team and more certain that these are our core values.

Sharing Our Values Experience

The key revelation for us was that living each of our values requires more than one of us; we can’t do it alone. It’s not enough for us to believe that each value is a good thing.  We realized that each value was about relationships, how we nurture them, and the importance of being vigilant about doing that. It showed us a fundamental truth: our values reflect and are grounded in building inclusive relationships within a diverse community to innovate together toward a common social and environmental good. This is the primary goal of our work, so it makes perfect sense that our core values are connected in this way.

Living with differences and encouraging change toward a world that considers the common good over generations (existing and future) is not easy for anyone.  What we’ve discovered is this:  when you intentionally engage in deep listening, openness, and truthful expression; when you recognize the problems we face, but focus on inspiring people to be their best selves and find strength in the positives we can agree on, you empower change for a better world.

We thought others working on sustainability might be interested in the connections we’ve drawn between our values and the success and growth of sustainability programs. So with this launch of our values, we are also embarking on a seven-part blog series.

Over the next few months, we will publish a blog on each of our five core values, linking our personal experiences and successes with each value and describing how the value supports the success of a sustainability program. In December, we’ll wrap up with an overview of how our values define who we are and why they are important for people who work in sustainability management.

We hope you sign up for our blog so you benefit from – and don’t miss – each installment of our series on Core Values.

This is the first in a series of blogs about Core Values:

  1. Core Values: How Differences Helped Define a Sustainability Culture
  2. Listening Deeply: How to be a Better Sustainability Professional, Sales Person, and Parent
  3. An Open Mind: the Super Powers of Diversity and Inclusion
  4. Cultivating Authenticity
  5. The Power of Positives: Creating a Community for Impact
  6. Inspire & Empower: Why It’s Better When More People Have a Seat at the Table
  7. Why Values Matter: The Common Ground of Creating Enduring Companies