How one BHAG, 13 Core Values and a Bigger than life Vision Statement helped save my HVAC company

Team goals values and vision

Jamie and I bought Brown Heating and Cooling in September 2015. We were eager to implement fresh ideas to help our 55-year-old company spring into the new world of technology and social media.

We hit the ground running.

We implemented new and improved processes but we quickly learned great processes are worthless if an employee ignores an important step.

We updated our prices but we quickly learned setting the right price is impossible if an employee does not perform their responsibilities right the first time.

We added pages to our employee manual in an effort to clearly communicate the rules only to find employees searching for loop holes.

The turning point…

Less than two years later, I declared enough is enough. 

Our plans of taking the business to the next level seemed impossible. We learned everything in business starts with great people that sincerely care about the long term well being of the company.

Thankfully around this time I was introduced to the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It gave me hope that we could fix the company if we attracted the right people and ensured they are in the right seat on the bus.

The book encourages readers to create a list of Core Values and identify your BHAG.

I was skeptical, but what did we have to lose.

Every Tuesday morning for about six weeks, my leadership team met to create our list of Core Values, our BHAG, our mission and vision statements.

We had no idea how we would accomplish these goals. We simply dreamed of a better tomorrow.

Please notice we did NOT create a 50-page business plan or a 20-page financial projection.

We knew we needed a better way of operating. We believed we could eliminate the emotional drain and create a work environment everyone enjoyed.   

Why it worked for my HVAC company

  • Created a common language and vision for our team

Great employees want to be a part of a winning team that works together toward a common goal. We shared our vision with the team and painted the picture of how great the company will be.

  • Hire, retain and fire based on our core values.
    We intentionally searched for people that believed in our vision and were searching for a career not only a paycheck. During our intentional hiring process, we asked questions to help us determine if they will fit into our culture and share our core values. It’s really cool to see how some applicants are drawn to Brown while others seem to run away.
  • We used our BHAG and core values as a decision filter.

We constantly faced new challenges and opportunities so it was important to create a consistent way to make decisions. When faced with a decision, we ran the idea through a decision filter. For example, when we were faced with the decision of continuing to offer 24/7 HVAC service, we asked ourselves

  • Does 24/7 service align with our core values?
  • How will 24/7 service help us achieve our goals?
  • If we continue to provide 24/7 service, will we limit our ability to attract great talent?

  • We lived our core values.

We did not go through the exercise of creating our core values, present them to the team one time and then file them away. Every month a team member selects their favorite core value and teaches the team what the core value means to them and how they use it.  Our customers even noticed our core values in action and mention them in their 5-star reviews.

  •  We empowered our team.

Instead of adding pages to our employee manual, we taught our team how to make decisions based on our core values. We use the core values as guiding principles to operate. Living by our core values is a lot more fun than all of the rules in the employee manual.

What is a BHAG?

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG is a “long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence,” according to Jim Collins in his book Built to Last.

We’re talking about a goal so outrageous and crazy that it feels like you will never achieve it.

Tips for creating your own BHAG

  • If you find yourself in the same situation I was in when, you may have a hard time thinking beyond tomorrow. Instead of trying to predict the future 25 years from now, consider creating a 5-year BHAG.
  • Brainstorm with your leadership team. Grab a stack of sticky notes and write one idea on each sticky note.
  • Think about your BHAG from every angle. Here are few conversation starters. Use bullet points to complete these sentences…5 years from now
    • My Company will _________
    • Our Team will ____________
    • Our Customers will ________
    • Our Community will ________
    • Our Financial Statements will __________
  • Check out this great blog article for more guidelines and inspirational examples 

Here’s a peek into our BHAG brainstorming session back in January 2017.




What are Core Values?

Core values are “a small set of vital and timeless guiding principles for your company.” 

Tips for creating your own list of Core Values

  • For inspiration, read your customer testimonials and reviews. Note the key words that you are proud of. You’ll start to notice a pattern. For my HVAC company, I noticed a common thread of words like trust, care, professional and patient. Use these words to jump start the core values brainstorming session.

  • After you brainstorm the values you want to use, invest a little extra time to play with the words. It was important to me that we did not simply copy a list of words that everyone else uses like integrity and excellence. Of course, we incorporated those principals in our values, but we use words like Careoholics®, Circle of Safety and Take 5.
  • For inspiration, search online for Core Value examples. Here’s list of companies with great examples:
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Zappos
    • Ramsey Solutions
    • Motley Fool
    • Starbucks
    • Chick-fil-a

  • Don’t worry about the number of values you end up with. Wickman recommends three to seven. We started with 13 core values. We now only have 8. Of course, less is more, but this exercise can be draining and never-ending if you let it. Narrow it down and share it with your team.
  • Allow the list to breathe. As I mentioned, we shaved off 5 from our original list. After you discuss them with your team and use them during your hiring process, you’ll notice one is not as important as you originally thought and a two are similar. Clean up the list to help keep it simple and relevant.

Here’s a peek into our Core Values brainstorming session back in January 2017.


How to Live Your Core Values

  • Share them with your team at meetings. At every monthly company meeting, one or two employees share their favorite core value, why they like it or how they have seen it in action. After they finish their short presentation, they pass the torch to another employee that will select their favorite core value and lead the discussion at the next meeting.
  • Incorporate in your hiring process. Create interview questions around your core values. Search for the core values when you read the applicant’s DISC report. Add a way for the candidate to demonstrate your core values during their job audition. (link to Slow hiring process blog)
  • Train your team to make decisions without calling you by using your mission, vision and core values as a guide.
  • Find a tangible connection. One of our core values is Take 5 and it turns out there is a good candy bar with the same name. We pass out Take 5 candy bars to remind our team to double check themselves when they think they have completed a project.
  • Display the core values. Paint your core values on a wall or print your values on your coffee mugs.

The Bottom Line

The change in our culture did not happen overnight. In fact, it took about 18 months for us to really see the difference. This may sound like a lot of work and a long time, but I promise it is worth it! I cannot imagine going back to the old way with endless rules, disengaged employees and daily emergencies.

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