Keeping Core Values
Illustration by Eric Jackson

How do you get your entire company to support and live your core values? By engaging staff and leaders in defining what your organization stands for. That was the approach taken by Listen Up Español Founders Craig Handley and Tony Ricciardi. The two launched the business—a bilingual call center for the U.S. Hispanic market—in 2006. A strong focus on enthusiastically exceeding expectations for clients and customers produced rapid growth. As the company ramped up to meet the increased demand, Handley and Ricciardi realized that hiring the wrong people was a costly practice.

“We wanted to instill a standard for the type of person who fit well within our culture,” Handley says. The leadership team worked with Chris and Janet Attwood, authors of “The Passion Test,” to learn how to apply the authors’ model for personal growth to the business. Developing the right set of core values to define the culture was a key component.

The leaders enlisted the entire company in the process, says Ricciardi. “Craig and I didn’t want to push our core values upon the employees who work with us, so we came up with them collectively as an organization. It’s much more powerful when you can enroll your employees in helping to shape your company.” LUE’s core values make up the company’s Code of Awesomeness, which includes principles like: “Being true to ourselves and true to others,” “Living life as an extreme sport,” “Growing brain cells,” and “Going beyond ourselves.”

When you have built a company of individuals who share the same passions, it is easier to act upon them. For instance, Handley and Ricciardi discovered definite links between charity upsell programs that they tested and higher performance, as well as the staff’s positive impressions of the workplace. “We attributed that to a happiness level that employees take on when we’re living our value of going beyond ourselves,” Handley says. As a result, LUE expanded its charity upsell activities and now donates more than $150,000 a year to BuildOn, an international nonprofit organization that runs youth service after-school programs in the United States, and builds schools in developing countries. In addition to building schools in Nicaragua and Haiti (a project which several employees were able to participate in), LUE also has created an after-school program for Benito Juarez High School in Chicago. The contact center agents selected the inner city school because 95% of the students are first- and second-generation Mexican Americans. “It’s a great tie-in to our passions for going beyond ourselves and growing brain cells, and helping those kids in the inner city to get a good education, build self-confidence and be productive in life,” says Ricciardi.

Handley and Ricciardi believe that the culture plays a key role in their company’s success—and that it needs to be continuously cultivated and promoted. To ensure that the organization stays focused on it, they assigned that responsibility to a senior-level role.

The company’s director of culture reports directly to the founders. “It’s important to have somebody with a creative mindset keeping our corporate values in front of us by looking for ways to acknowledge people demonstrating their passions and presenting opportunities for us to engage in our passions, as well,” says Ricciardi. In addition to collecting feedback from employees on weekly basis, the “culture ambassador” creates fun and educational activities that support the values, while continuously learning from other companies how to enhance the culture on a daily basis.

What has been the impact of LUE’s culture-driven efforts? “It has helped us to create an environment where people are passionate about awesomeness, and continue to strive higher,” says Handley. “It’s a group of people who will never settle for where we’re at.”

Adds Ricciardi: “Our staff has fueled our company’s growth. We can feel comfortable letting go and trusting the people that we work with to help run the organization, so that we, as leaders, can continue to lead and strategize and continue to grow the business for everyone.”