100 years ago, my grandfather Rocky Clancy founded the Rockwell F. Clancy Company, our predecessor company. Rocky was born in 1893 and grew up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in the Union Stockyards of Chicago where my great grandfather was a Methodist minister.
From the Civil War until the 1920s, Chicago was the center of the American meatpacking industry, producing more than 80 percent of domestic meat consumed nationally. The slaughterhouses got their livestock from Chicago’s Union Stockyards: 475 acres of cattle, hogs and other animals shipped from all over the country. Life there was notoriously tough, as depicted by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 novel The Jungle which detailed the horrid conditions in the stockyards.
My great grandfather Franklin moved to Chicago from Canada as a teenager in the 1880s to attend Northwestern University. For more than 25-years he was the preacher at the Union Avenue Methodist Church in the heart of the stockyards where he was an agent of change and earned a reputation as one of the city’s great social leaders. He was known for his “beautiful but practical sermons” and his deep belief in the power of education.
Three of Frank’s children, including my grandfather, graduated from Northwestern. Money was tight and Rock paid his way through school by working at the post office. Given his family’s love of education, it isn’t surprising that post-graduation he would start a company which served colleges and universities. In time, the Rockwell F. Clancy Company became the country’s first alumni directory publisher.
100 years later, we are still going strong. This week we’re going to explore five lessons which have helped our company to survive and thrive for the past century.
Lesson #1: the power of shared values.
Articulating our values twenty-five years ago is the single best decision we’ve made during my time at PCI. We were deliberate about capturing and articulating the principles my father and grandfather used to build our company.
These values became our foundation, our North Star. When we find ourselves off course, they provide a path “out of the ditch” and back onto the road heading forward.
Our values shape how we respond to adversity and provide us a common vocabulary to discuss and make decisions. Today, our 400 associates talk with over 10,000 clients a day. We are constantly making choices about how to handle different situations. Because we are clear on our values, we sift our responses to issues through the same grid, which leads us to consistency across the organization.
Our selection process screens on values first. Before we ever consider how much experience a candidate has or if they have the necessary skills to do the job, we first assess whether they share our values. We don’t hire someone and then teach them our values. Instead, we are intentional about seeking candidates who share our values.
Having shared values also allows us to go much faster. By articulating our values, we’ve already decided how we will respond in many situations. We already know we will act with integrity. We already know we will lean toward excellence. We already know we treat people with respect and love.
But the greatest benefit to having a strong set of core values is they provide clarity during uncertain times.
It can be a scary world out there. The pace of change is unrelenting. Then, there are the unexpected shocks to the system. Seismic shocks. In the past 20-years, we’ve experienced the “hanging chads” 2000 election where we didn’t know who would be president for almost a month, the horror of September 11th, the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, the 2008 global financial crisis, a worldwide pandemic, and now the attack on the Capitol.
And, I think we need to get used to it. While we don’t know what the next major shock to the system will be, you can bet there will be one, and then another, and so on.
Here’s the beautiful thing: at PCI, as long as we are (1) clear on and (2) live by our shared values, we can remain calm and resolute. Our values are aligned with universal principles like integrity and courage and excellence and progress and service and love. These ideas, these principles, they endure. The entire world around us will continue to change and jerk back and forth. But as long as our beliefs and actions are aligned with these greater universal truths, we will survive and thrive.
For those of us who are religious, it’s similar to the comfort we find in our faith. Whatever happens to us or around us, we know we will be safe in God’s steadfast love.
No matter how strong the storm rages, no matter how hard the rain falls, no matter how vicious the wind blows, our values provide us shelter and strength in the storm.
Reflection: When in the past have I taken a stand for my personal or organizational values?
Action: Take some time this week to articulate or review and revise my personal values.