Core Values: Reaching Your Goals by Staying True to Who You Are

By Jackie Paplaczyk

Editor’s Note: Since introducing our ‘Sit Down with Summus’ series earlier this year, we have sat down with various leaders to learn more about Summus Group. This month, we realized we needed to sit down with multiple people to help tell the story of Summus Group’s core values. We hope you enjoy our first roundtable discussion!

As a small company, each person must play a part in making it better. “We need people at every single level to do things like lead by example and drive to be great,” said Summus Group founder, Bill Sanders. “Everyone has their own personal goals, but we are all part of a collective goal too, which is creating a growing company where people want to work. Our core values serve as a foundation everyone can stand on while we are working towards this.”

Core values are guiding principles which help a company understand if they are on the right path to reaching their goals. When there is a group of people who possess the same core values and leadership instills them into everything the company does, it naturally becomes pervasive in the culture.

In the early days, Summus Group had twelve core values which were a lot to remember. Bill said, “I felt like our core values were good, but more like a marketing tactic.” After Bill and another leader attended a conference, it was evident Summus Group needed to revamp its core values; that is when Summus Group decided to bring in an executive coach. “We wanted to come up with core values that spoke to our culture…something we believe in and could fully embrace.”

One of Summus Group’s earliest associates, now Senior Principal Greg McNamara, remembers the revamp of the company’s core values occurring during a time of growth. Greg said, “We were revamping a lot of different things. You have to be able to evolve as the company grows. During this time, we were trying to figure out our identity and a key part of this was figuring out what we wanted our mission statement and core values to be.”

To uncover those core values, the executive coach walked the group through a 3-4-hour process. By the end of the working session, the glass wall of the conference room was covered with sticky notes and Summus Group had new and improved core values. Megan Rineman, Summus Group’s HR Generalist, was one of the individuals in the room. She said, “I remember an exercise where we were asked if we were to be stranded on an island with our co-workers, who would we bring with us and why. We didn’t disclose any individuals’ names, but instead described the individuals we had in mind and provided an explanation for why the attributes they possessed were important.”

The group of individuals involved in the working session spanned across various levels of the company, but it was clear everyone in the room was saying much of the same thing, just in slightly different ways. That is where the executive coach came in to help organize and connect the group’s collective thoughts. “We knew we should only have a few core values. We wanted them to be short and say exactly what we mean. We wanted them to be memorable,” said Bill. The group ultimately landed on four core values which they felt were universal and easy to understand: Drive to be Great, Lead by Example, Take Action and Be Resilient.

This simplification has allowed Summus Group to focus more on their core values and what they really mean. As Greg said, “You can’t be everything, but it is important to be true to yourself; core values should be representative of who you are.” With this better understanding of what Summus Group values, it became clear who they needed to look for – people who embody these core values.

When attracting talent that aligns with an organization’s core values, posting them on the company’s website is a good place to start. Most candidates’ first step when applying for a new position consists of navigating to the website to learn not just about what the organization does, but what they stand for. In fact, Summus Group’s new core values are what led to the decision to also revamp the company’s website in 2018.

For one of Summus Group’s newest senior associates, Liz Sykes, her first stop was the company’s website and the core values did not go unnoticed. Liz said, “What really stood out to me when first reading Summus Group’s core values was the focus placed on the individual. The core values said things to me like ‘What kind of person are you?’, ‘What are you going to bring to the table?’ and ‘How can you drive your own career?’. I felt Summus Group was the perfect place for the opportunity to grow and become the owner of my career.”

But it doesn’t stop at posting core values to your website. Liz also remembers asking about Summus Group’s core values during her interview process. Her interviewer responded by pointing to the four core values posted on the conference room wall behind her and sharing a handful of anecdotes which spoke to each one. When she met with Bill, Liz remembers the core values finding their way into the conversation as well. And again, on Day 1 with the company, they were one of the first items covered as part of her onboarding. “When I joined Summus Group, the quarterly core value recognition cycle had just wrapped up. I thought it spoke volumes about the company that individuals were being recognized for demonstrating these principles in their everyday work. I was impressed because it’s so easy to throw something on a website for marketing purposes, but Summus Group genuinely practices what they preach.”

This is a result of the conscious effort made to incorporate the core values into all facets of the company. Summus Group not only posts their core values on their website, but you will also find them posted throughout the office on the walls of the conference room and over office doorways. The core values aren’t just introduced during onboarding and then forgotten; they are mentioned at every company meeting. In fact, the core values are a part of Summus Group’s goals and performance review process, as an associate’s performance is partly based on their ability to demonstrate the company’s core values. Bill said, “Our core values are something we don’t want to lose sight of.” By engraining the company’s core values into everything Summus Group does, this helps to provide constant reminders of what the company stands for.

Of all of the ways Summus Group’s core values are incorporated into the associate experience, one of the most impactful ways the core values are kept front of mind is through the quarterly core value recognition awards. Each quarter, any associate can nominate another associate for demonstrating one, or many, of the company’s core values in an exceptional manner. This not only provides a platform for associates to be recognized for the work they do which goes above and beyond the status quo, but it encourages accountability amongst the associates to ensure the company’s core values are something each individual constantly strives to exemplify.

Behind every core value recognition, there is a story, which is shared with the company during the quarterly All-Hands meeting. One of these stories is about Senior Associate, Mike D’Ettore, who was recognized last quarter for demonstrating all four of Summus Group’s core values. Reflecting back, Mike said, “It was a culmination of about eight months’ worth of hard work.”

Mike is not a career consultant, nor had he ever worked in Financial Services prior to Summus Group. In fact, the vast majority of Mike’s career has been through the military which has played a role in his success at Summus Group. “Throughout Mike’s time at Summus Group, he has picked up all the things you need to in order to be a good consultant and he has continued on to become a leader in this firm,” said Bill.

In officer candidate school, Mike recalled the guiding principle for the officer core, ductus exemplo, which translates to “Leadership by Example”. Mike said, “When you look at what it means to lead by example, people don’t care about what you have historically done, but instead, what you continue to do to set an example and ensure others can follow. It’s also about taking action when action needs to be taken as opposed to waiting for someone to ask. You remain resilient because as consultants, we know no project is forever; in the grand scheme of things, we are running a sprint, not a marathon. And you always drive to be great.”

All four of Summus Group’s core values are truly intertwined; it is hard to be one without another. And it’s not enough just to talk about them, but it is expected to live them. Megan said, “The most successful people at this company are those who have led their own careers and embodied all four core values. These are the attributes we know the most successful people here possess.”