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7 Things My First Real Boss Taught Me--Lesson 2

Giving a new employee a clear idea about your company right from the start is important. Most good companies have a formal employee orientation and onboarding process to build cohesion. It typically involves reviewing and signing the employee handbook, getting a tour of the facility, meeting key people in various departments, and learning about the business, products, and mission. It’s standard for getting new hires to understand the expectations, fit in with the culture, and hit the ground running.

Lesson 2: “Core Values & Coffee Breaks”

I received my first real job offer after a 20-minute interview (see: Lesson1: “The Power of a Paper Route”), and I showed up the following Monday bright and early. There wasn’t an orientation or even a handbook. My new boss (CEO of this small, growing company) met me in the lobby, introduced me to a couple of people, and dropped me off at my desk with a very simple admonition:

“Around here we take our coffee breaks on the phone and the customer is always right.”

Core Values successfully imparted.

At Ignite, when we help organizations with their strategic planning a vital part is the discussion of core values. It is a critical step and always interesting because most companies and non-profits haven’t really spend much time on this area. They certainly aren’t able to explain their core values so plainly to a new hire in within the first 5 minutes of him showing up to work.

Core values are important. They are those guiding principles that make you who you are—your organizational soul. They’re the things you’re committed to without compromise. Things like innovation, compassion, or service. Your core values should impact everything, and they should cost you something.

Values aren’t theoretical or just philosophical. They are guardrails to keep you fully engaged in pursuing your mission. Values are about knowing who you are and translating that identity into what your organization should be involved in and how you operate. Having effective core values demands vigilance.

Perfect Search Picture.jpg

At Ignite, we use this photo as an example when we’re helping organizations with their strategic planning. It’s in the lobby of a Marketing firm in Chicago that takes its core values seriously. Every employee, vendor, and customer understands what the company stands for the moment they walk through the front door.

There are plenty of ways to communicate and reinforce your organization’s values. Big boards and signage like this are great. Listing values on your website and including them in marketing collateral are good. But my boss was also very effective when he delivered that simple sentence 30 years ago:

“Around here we take our coffee breaks on the phone and the customer is always right.”


That one sentence told me everything I needed to know. In 3 seconds, he explained the company’s culture, core values, and highest priorities. Even more impactful was watching that sentence being lived out the rest of that day and consistently throughout the company over the next 20 years. There are lots of good ways to communicate core values… but perhaps none of them are as effective as simply practicing them.

Bill Neiland, Managing Partner

We love business, we think about business, and we talk about business. We are passionate about the day to day and the big picture. When we meet a new business or see a client wrestling with strategy, messaging, or operations we roll up our sleeves and pitch in as part of the team.

Your organization is faced with a sea of opportunities and distractions. Ignite’s Strategic Planning Workshop provides materials and guidance to help you set measurable priorities for successfully implementing your vision.