ISMs: What Values Are Found in Your Company Culture?

Altruism. Sexism. Nationalism.

An "ism" is a suffix that refers to a strong principle or belief. It is a set of values so powerful, it drives behavior and serves as a beacon for those who subscribe. The best companies and leaders have ISM's of their own driving their success.

In the midst of economic catastrophe, a new breed of hyper-growth companies emerged. Despite a global recession and financial meltdown, companies like Facebook, Zappos, and Google enjoyed meteoric growth and profits. The common threads of their success are powerful ISM's - shared cultural philosophies of business that enable breakaway results.

Quicken Loans is the #1 online mortgage lender, growing from a startup to a 4,000-employee market leader over the last 25 years. They are consistently ranked in Fortune's Best 100 Places to Work and they even won the JD Power award for the highest ranked customer service in an industry that is notoriously unfriendly. Ask Quicken Loans Chairman and Founder Dan Gilbert about the key to their success, he'll quickly tell you it's all about the 18 Quicken Loans ISMs. They include:

  • "Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play"
  • "Obsessed with finding a better way"
  • "Always raising our level of awareness"
  • "You have to take the roast out of the oven"

The leaders and team members at Quicken Loans live by these values, driving them deeply into the DNA of their company. As a result, the company is a shining example of endless innovation, soaring profits, and market dominance. They realize that their beliefs and values—their ISMs—drive unified performance.

Zappos, the online shoe and apparel retailer, used a powerful and well-articulated culture to drive incredible entrepreneurial success. The 10 Zappos cultural values include:

  • "Do more with less"
  • "Create fun and a little weirdness"
  • "Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded"

Netflix is another great example of using culture to drive results. Check out this amazing slideshow about their culture of "freedom and responsibility." It should be required reading for entrepreneurs and business leaders hoping to drive their organizations forward.

Today we live in a world of dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and ruthless competition. Building and nurturing creative cultures is no longer a luxury; getting the culture right is mission-critical to success. Creating a framework that enables creativity, responsible risk taking, and autonomy can be the difference between a champion and an also-ran.

This week, examine your own corporate culture. Explore your beliefs and values and see if you're in need of a tune-up. Not just the salute-the-flag platitudes that are displayed in your lobby yet mean nothing. I'm talking about the values that you live, breathe, and sleep. Empower your people with a clearly-defined framework for operating, and you'll unleash the true potential of your organization.

It's time to focus on the ISMs. What are yours?

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  • Ann-Marie

    I've also worked for Quicken Loans for five years and I have to say, I think it has spoiled me. I can't imagine going anywhere else and suffering the typical hierarchical, bureaucratic, uninspiring environment that most companies provide.

    We often joke that Quicken Loans is a welcome haven for "corporate refugees," people who say "enough is enough" to the regular corporate nonsense, and demand to be acknowledged and empowered. The ISMs - and maybe more importantly, team members' proud adherence to and defense of these philosophies - are crucial to this... to both the success of the business and the success of its individuals.

    If ever I dare to leave somewhere as special as Quicken Loans, I will definitely look scrutinizingly into the cultures of the companies I consider. Having experienced a powerful culture like the one at Quicken Loans, I truly believe it may be the most important thing in finding the "right fit" professionally. I would encourage anyone who's currently looking for a job to consider culture as an important piece of the hunt. Look to "rankings" like FORTUNE'S "Best Companies to Work for" list and other awards that are given based on employees' opinions and satisfaction. There is a right fit out there for you; just make sure you're looking at the right criteria.

  • Clayton Closson

    I've worked at Quicken Loans for just over 5 years and I completely agree with this article. The ISMs truly are part of our daily life at Quicken Loans, which I absolutely think is a very good thing.

    In my time here, I've had the chance to channel my creativity and innovation toward projects that are both fun and good for the business. I don't feel burdened by the stifling bureaucracy I've dealt with in other places I've worked. I know I can take risks and try new things - something that's very important to me as a professional. Don't get me wrong, not every idea I have flies and not every project is a success. I've worked on some failures, but as long as I understand what didn't work, why it didn't work, and use that knowledge for future successes, it's fine. Looking forward to the next 5 years and the challenges/opportunties they bring!