Q&A with Dan Oltersdorf
As Chief People Officer, Dan Oltersdorf oversees the People and Culture division of Campus Advantage — the driving force behind learning and development, human resources, and the overall “people experience” of the company. Dan is also responsible for a wide range of internal processes, from employment and benefits to ongoing training and policy development. Because of this, Campus Advantage’s core values play a vital role in his day-to-day work. And after 20 years with the company, they also serve to inspire him as a leader.
Join us for a discussion on the importance of strong core values — and how companies and brands of all sizes can integrate them into their culture, workplace, and processes.
Tell us a little about Campus Advantage’s four core values.
When I first joined Campus Advantage in 2003, one of the first things Mike Peter shared with me was that he wanted to build a company around people who had Integrity, Intelligence, and Passion. After sharing these three simple words, he continued by saying, “…we can train the rest.”
In the years since, we have continued to define and refine what those words mean in action, and later, when we were looking for a word to describe our culture, we landed on Mojo. Since then, these four values have defined and guided us as constants in an ever-changing industry and world.
We define them as:
- Intelligence: We live the Golden Rule, always trying to do the right thing to make our families proud.
- Integrity: We believe that learning is a lifelong endeavor, and we strive to stay ahead through innovations.
- Passion: We desire to do our best, and we never, ever give up.
- Mojo: We attract and charm others through our success and outlook on life. We take our work and our communities, but not ourselves, seriously.
What are the benefits of establishing clear core values for a company?
Core values are more than just words on a page. When thoughtfully conceived and well-implemented, powerful and clear core values carry real substance and help your company to be its very best. They also serve as navigation points during challenging times — guiding you through obstacles and to success. This idea really rang true for us as a company during the pandemic; even when faced with big decisions and unprecedented situations, our values became the things that really carried us through as individuals and as a team, and I am proud of how our team put our values into action, even during that difficult time.
How can a company incorporate values into everyday operations, whether internal or for clients and partners? Are there any ways Campus Advantage currently does this?
Our core values are woven into as many touchpoints as possible for our residents, partners, investors, and employees. Our business development division leverages these values in conversation to help us stand out as an organization, and operations uses them to inform day-to-day decisions. Our investments division shows them in the way they approach deals and in the integrity of the data they’re delivering. For employees, we incorporate them into our onboarding processes and Mojo committee, to name a few. On site, we weave them into conversations with our teams and potential residents. In recruiting and promoting people, we look for candidates who align with these values, as that is where it all starts!
Ultimately, it comes down to walking the walk — values are just words on a page until they’re put into action. We believe that a company’s core values should inform decisions and become a litmus test on how we are doing. While it may be difficult to quantify “integrity,” we know this value is a measure of success for us that goes right along with the bottom line.
How can a company help keep core values top of mind for employees and/or make them part of the company culture? Are there any ways Campus Advantage currently does this?
The first step would be to incorporate them everywhere. Secondly, make sure people hear, read, and experience these values on a repetitive basis. Introduce them early (say, during onboarding) and then point them out. Talk about them. Then go back and do this again. And again. And again.
It’s also important to recognize when these values are demonstrated in real time. Pointing out when you see examples of a core value in an employee — not just during our CAmmy Awards ceremony at the end of the year, but in everyday interactions. Saying things like, “Hey, that was an awesome example of integrity” or “Wow, that innovative new approach is a great demonstration of our core value of intelligence” helps people recognize these values and makes them legendary.
In your opinion, should company values be incorporated during the hiring process? How does/would this help with recruitment or attracting like-minded candidates?
Absolutely. Every position description, website, job posting, and interview we have for Campus Advantage references our core values. Mike Peter’s original statement about wanting to build a company around our values has driven that approach. And though it may seem impractical to prioritize that when you’re looking for specific skills, a values-centric approach to evaluating candidates helps to build an incredibly strong foundation for a great fit and powerful impact. An employee might have the most impressive resume or experience, but if they’re lacking your values, it likely won’t be a good fit.
Is it possible to measure the effectiveness of company culture or values? What does success look like when it comes to this?
A lot of people metrics can absolutely be attributed back to core values — things such as company engagement surveys, high retention rates, low turnover rates, and our overall reputation. These are all measurable data points that can point back to a strong foundation of a value-driven culture. However, for me, I feel the most clear-cut success when I see our values being embodied by our team in ways large and small. It’s great to hear them being talked about, but at the end of the day, seeing those values in action is what matters most.