Blog: John Gongos

John Gongos is the President and CEO of Auburn Hills-based Gongos Research. Moving from neighboring Ohio to Birmingham in 1987, John has seen his company flourish in the struggling economy. He'll be writing about why diversification is important, how to leverage emerging technologies and how to keep and nurture young talent.

Post No. 4

Core Values – Living HIPP 

In my first post, I discussed the importance of attracting young talent to Michigan companies, and today will address one of the keys to keeping top talent. The February 4th issue of Fortune Magazine ranks Google and Quicken Loans as the #1 and #2 "Best Companies to Work For" which is quite an honor.  As I read some of the detailed stories about those companies and others identified in the Top 100, I noticed that many of them credit their strong company culture and their core values for much of their success.  

I learned a lot about core values and their effect on company culture several years ago while embarking on a Strategic Planning Process with Troy Shrock of The CEO Advantage. Troy utilizes many of the concepts developed by James Collins who is a renowned expert on "Building Company Vision". 

Company culture is driven primarily by their existing core values. The most interesting thing I learned, however, is that the majority of companies do not really know what their core values are.  This may sound hard to believe, but according to James Collins, there is a common misunderstanding of core values.   

There is a huge difference between deciding what you want your core values to be and discovering what your core values are.  In developing core values, most companies make the mistake of identifying what they want them to be, which can lead to stating values that are not in fact "core".  In these same companies, if you walk around and talk with employees, many of them cannot tell you what their company core values are. 

Mars Exercise 

To discover our core values at Gongos Research, the facilitator of our strategic planning meeting took us through a Mars Exercise that was challenging, yet fun.  First we were forced to choose four employees who best embodied who we are as a company. We were then told to imagine sending these four people to Mars to telecommute for the week, letting the Martians observe them working. Finally, we discussed the common characteristics that the Martians observed among the four people working on their planet. 

Basically, this exercise forces you to examine your people and yourselves, and "discover" what your company core values really are. Typically a company has only a small set (3-5) of true core values. 

In our case, it took hours of discussion, but we narrowed in on Pride, Passion, Intelligence and Humanism as the common denominators of our people on Mars.  While discussing and defining these core values in more detail, we noticed that we could rearrange our core values and create an acronym that everyone in our company would always remember! 


Living Your Core Values 

While we love our core values, it is not because we feel they are better than the core values of other companies, but rather because we truly know what is core to our people and our company. Now we can better target our recruiting, while attracting people with similar values knowing they will be successful in our environment. 

We also took the time to examine people who were struggling in our company and determine whether it was a bad fit for them — perhaps they had different core values. Ironically enough, a few people that subsequently left our company flourished with their next company, likely because it was a better alignment of core values. 

Ultimately, our efforts gave rise to two major benefits: 

  • Our success rate with new hires has dramatically increased.
  • Our retention rate has improved as well (people enjoy working with other people who have similar values.)