The Value of Values at Workday

Folks at Workday have been thinking a lot lately about the secrets to high-performing organizations, mostly because of the successes of our own high-performing customers. These organizations—many of which have joined us for Workday Rising in Las Vegas this week—are aligned and ambitious. They’re people-centric and honest. They outperform their competitors, empower their employees, and place a high value on corporate beliefs. And they’re exceptionally fun to work with.

Thing is, Workday is all these things too.

When Aneel and I started thinking about forming Workday in 2005, we knew we wanted it to epitomize all the good qualities of our past experiences. We had both learned that success doesn’t matter unless it’s rooted in good and considerate of people. And we knew that the real measure of success would be the degree to which Workday abided by a set of core values.

The idea of defining an organization’s core values was brought to my attention 20+ years ago by the book, “Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business Into an Enduring Great Company,” by Jim Collins and William C. Lazier. Collins and Lazier wrote of core values as “where vision begins,” “a company’s genetic code,” and “an absolutely authentic expression of the values and beliefs you hold in your own gut.”

PeopleSoft was the first company at which I worked where we defined and reinforced core values, and I think it’s safe to say the exercise panned out. PeopleSoft had a reputation for a very strong, unique, and positive company culture, and people enjoyed working there.

Consequently, Workday also operates according to our core values: Employees, Customer Service, Integrity, Innovation, Fun, and Profitability. These values drive our business behavior, define what’s important to us, and inspire our company’s culture. Internally, we’ve been talking with employees about Workday’s cultural identity, and interestingly, they keep reminding us that we’re a values-driven company above all else. Our employees tell us this; we don’t tell them.

Over the years, many people have asked for business advice. I’m known for a few quirks, like demanding clean restrooms. (If you can’t keep a restroom clean, customers will attribute the same sloppiness to your products.) But my best advice is to establish and live by core values, and hire people you know will be a good cultural fit. As author Jim Collins wrote in a more recent book, “Good to Great,” “… good-to-great companies [place] greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”

How do I know core values work? I’ve received quite a few emails from former PeopleSoft colleagues who moved on to other companies and proudly took the concept of core values with them. That’s pretty good proof of “paying it forward” in my mind.

More importantly, people at Workday respect each other and get along. We care about and trust each other, our customers, and our partners. Our arrows are all pointed in the same direction instead of at each other. And we get excited about new ideas and solutions, just like the like-minded, high-performing companies we do business with.

I’ve always said that as an entrepreneur, I’ve looked for market opportunities, but as a human being, I want to enjoy work. Workday works from its gut. We’re completely mobilized by what we do as a team. We value our relationships. We love to let loose. And I really enjoy being here. That’s how I know our core values are working.