In studying early American history, there is a curious parallel between building a house then and building a modern organization today. When homesteaders pushed out onto the wild western frontier they would find a fertile spot of land, build their homes and settle. And they would stay put until the prospect of better land, better conditions or a brighter future appeared. Then they would move on. They lived lives of planned abandonment, what corporations today call constructive destruction, but with one important exception.
Before they hitched their oxen to the wagons and hit the trail, they would burn their houses to the ground. You see, this was the only way they could reclaim the most valuable thing within the structure, the nails. The hand-forged nails they had carried west were rare and the one precious asset they could not afford to ever leave behind. They were irreplaceable. The nails endured through the life of the current house and the next dwelling could not be built without them. Nails were the things that would hold the new house together to provide structure and strength against all the elements.
A company’s values are much like that. They are the constant that we must take with us and apply to everything we do. They are what we stand for and how we want to be viewed as individuals and as an organization. They become the tiebreaker when equally positive paths are possible. There has to be a set of values that you believe in, live within and can pass on to those you care about.
At NEI, our core values are represented by five words: accountability, cooperation, integrity, motivation and respect. These words express what we believe to be fundamental to our success, how we wish to be viewed by the outside world and how we want to interface with all who are a part of our business dealings. They are the “nails” that we will carry forward as our business matures over time and adapts to a changing global market. They represent the fundamental underpinning of our strategy.
These terms are incorporated in our core objective as a company which is: “To be considered an extension of our customers’ business.” By that we mean we will consistently act in our customer’s best interest – as if we are an integral part of their company. In doing so, we reinforce our core value which, when all is said and done, is: “To protect our customers’ brand, contributing to their success.” Everything we build and ship has another company’s name on it that our customers are entrusting to us. Making sure that everything that reflects upon our customer’s marque is positive remains our consummate focus. Our success is only achieved through the ultimate end user’s eyes.
But regardless of the soundness of our strategy, the excellence of our execution or the intimacy of our customer service, next to the value of our employees a company’s values are its most precious asset. As the technology develops and Moore’s Law continues to apply, everything else has the potential to become throwaway.
Inevitably, strategy will reach the end of its useful life and will have to transform, again. How we create and deliver value will change, as well as the systems we have put in place to support it. Our systems, structures, processes, roles, and technology are all configurable parts. They are all perishable, with one exception, our deeply held beliefs and core values.
Like the early settlers’ nails, they must be carried with us.
Greg Shortell, CEO, NEI