Evolving Our Belief System: An Update to Our Core Values
Several years ago, I wrote about how founding Aequitas Partners made me better at my job – being an executive recruiter, that is. The underlying theme was empathy. That, as a founder faced with building my own team, wrestling with the weight of those decisions and the responsibility that followed, I had a new perspective that I could not have acquired any other way. It’s interesting then – strange almost – that empathy was not one of our company’s core values from the jump. To be clear, just because the word isn’t on a list doesn’t mean it’s not part of who we are and how we act, but it was only this summer that it formally became one of our six core values. Better late than never.
The last 3+ years have levied a heavy tax on everyone, leaving few unscathed. As recently as last week, as we bounced around the glitzy halls of the Wynn during HLTH, the visceral pain in people’s eyes as a result of terror attacks in Israel and the conflict that followed was evident. These are the very public situations we know impact people’s health and wellbeing, and day-to-day lives, but they are the tip of the iceberg. The silent struggles that everyone faces – loss, infertility, cancer, mental illness – are often not worn on their sleeves. This is why empathy exists, and why it felt paramount that it held a visible place among our values. Ours is a human business, and because of the level of our focus, we find people at a heavy time in their lives. They have student loans, spouses, partners, kids, mortgages, tuition, and aging parents. And that’s before you factor in life’s curveballs (and let’s be honest, very few of us can hit a homerun off a curveball like Bryce Harper - Go Phils!). Empathy allows us to give people grace; to give them the benefit of the doubt; to assume that they come to the conversation with good intentions and their heart in the right place. At times, it feels like the world has forgotten how to give grace, or receive it for that matter.
This empathy and grace needs to start inside our walls, with each other, if we’re going to be effective at treating each person we engage with daily in the same way. In a client services business, it’s easy to keep the focus external, hustling week over week to delight the partners that have trusted us with very important work. The pace is fast, the bar is high, and everyone at Aequitas cares deeply about the outcome. But in order to delight everyone else, we need to delight each other. We need to show up for each other. We need to default to the assumption that the teammate who uncharacteristically missed a deadline is far more likely to have something personal weighing on them that’s affecting their performance, than that they goofed off and forgot. The big challenge is creating empathetic accountability. How do you foster a culture of follow-through and goal attainment while allowing for the messiness of daily life in 2023? I’ll admit, we’re a work in progress, but we are working on it. We, as an organization have been privileged to support team members internally as they dealt with everything from Covid and war, to social justice movements and toxic election cycles. This is not the forum for the myriad of personal circumstances that affect people’s ability to bring their best selves to work, but we have tried mightily to show our team who we are when life has other plans.
The stories I could recount for you over the last ten years of life having other plans for the people we engage with run the gamut. If you could dream it up, it has probably happened. Cancer recurrence during the transition period from old company to new opportunity, loss of a relied-upon caregiver for a child rendering in-office work impossible, burnout so significant it was effectively trauma that demanded early retirement. All at the finish line after months and months of work. Earlier on in your search career, it is hard to see outside of yourself when things like this happen. As time wears on though, you get closer to the humanity of what we’re doing, and your focus on what’s important sharpens. Your perspective shifts, and you start to see that no one is immune from adversity, struggle, disappointment. This realization, and the sum total of our experiences demanded that empathy become a critical pillar of our value system and what we believe in. When you see it in action, it’s a beautiful thing. An elegant counterbalance to whatever required it in the first place. It’s not a business decision, it’s a human decision. It takes patience and practice, and we know we have work to do, but who says that core values can’t be aspirational?