Values: the bedrock of startups



Vision is one of the most commonly used words in the startup lexicon. Usually, but not always, vision is followed by mission.

I’m a very satisfied client of Atrius Health, formerly known as Harvard Vanguard, and have been for many years. While like any large organization serving thousands of customers they have their faults I believe they are unsurpassed in delivering medical care. Unfortunately, I am somewhat of an expert in this area having dealt with the medical issues of both my aging parents, my wife’s serious issues, and several serious issues of my own.

I’m not exactly clear on when Atrius took over Harvard Vanguard, but I believe that shortly afterwards I started seeing  the word Atrius at Harvard Vanguard sites and placards with their vision, mission and values.

Citing values is unusual for any size company, but I believe values are the bedrock of a startup, up which mission and vision rest.

Here’s the vision, mission and values of Atrius Health. I’ll comment on each in turn.

Vision, Mission and Values


Transforming care to improve lives.


We provide the right care with kindness and compassion every day for every person we serve.


  • Patient-centered care:  The patient is first in everything we do.
  • Quality:  We are passionate about consistently delivering the highest level of safe, timely and appropriate care.
  • Compassion: We treat our patients, their families and each other with understanding, respect and empathy.
  • Service: We provide exceptional service to patients, their families and each other.
  • Innovation: We shape the future by innovating better ways to improve health.
  • Education: We are committed to teaching, research, continuous learning, and sharing what we learn.
  • Diversity: We value the unique needs and preferences of all individuals.
  • Stewardship: We hold ourselves accountable for managing resources responsibly.
  • Integrity: We demonstrate the highest standards of professionalism and personal responsibility.
  • Workplace:  We create an outstanding work environment in order to recruit, develop, and retain talented clinicians and staff to enable Atrius Health to achieve our vision.


While many companies tend to have a mission, far fewer have a vision. However, I tend to see vision as vision of the future. For example, at Course Technology, Inc., a company I co-founded, our vision in 1989 was, Technology will transform teaching and learning. A much better known vision is that of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft in April, 1975: In the future there will be a personal computer in every home and on every desk, running Microsoft software. That was quite a prescient mission in 1975! However, it might help explain why Microsoft missed the smartphone revolution and still is hardly even an also ran in mobile computing.


The Atrius Health mission to provide the right care with kindness and compassion every day for every person we service has proven to be true in my decades of experience. What’s interesting in the the word timely does not appear before care. But one reason I consider Atrius Health to be far superior to any other health service I am aware is how timely their care is delivered. Not only do I seldom wait more than 5 or 10 minutes, for every time I might wait a few minutes I’m also taken early! In fact they’ve trained me to get to all appointments about 15 minutes early because they odds are good I will be taken early.

I believe the mission of all companies should be to delight their customers and Atrius does that, not only with timely service, but with greatly extended hours of care and even follow up calls. So they both surprise and delight their patients.

Again, one could possibly quibble with their mission, but like their vision it is very short and concise – one sentence.


What really got my attention though was the list of their values. (And here we do find “timely” as part of their definition of Quality.) Each of the ten values is a single word, followed by Atrius’s definition in a single sentence.  Notice that the Values include the workplace as well as patient care.

Several months ago I looked up someone who I hadn’t seen in literally decades, Gunther Weill, who is the founder and principal in a firm called ValueMentors. I had breakfast with Gunther and learned how his executive coaching firm puts values at the heart of what they do, as Gunther says on their web site:


After talking with Gunther, reviewing his firm’s services, and reading the materials he sent me, I’m convinced that Vision and Mission are meaningless unless built upon a foundation of values. So I recommend to founders that first they discuss and agree upon the values they want to drive their company. From those values they can then determine the company’s mission – how they will deliver on those values to their customers, and vision – their view of the future as it relates to the firm’s mission.

This is a bottoms up approach and is by no means the only approach. The team may first start with the vision that attracted them to the founder(s), then the mission, and finally the firm’s values. As Jean-Luc Godard said, Every film has a beginning a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order. Where you start is not nearly as important as ensuring that your venture’s values drive the mission and are congruent with the firm’s vision. One benefit of this exercise for the founding team is that it will help ensure that everyone is aligned with the venture’s values. And alignment of the founding team is paramount to success. The the exercise of documenting and publicizing the venture’s values is an excellent means to assure that alignment.

Here’s another quote from ValueMentors web site.

Let us suppose that we were asked for one all-purpose bit of advice for management, one truth that we were able to distill from ‘Excellent Companies’ research.  We might be tempted to reply, Figure out your value system.

Tom Peters
In Search Of Excellence

And less you think this post about values is airy fairy and has nothing to do with business, here’s another quote from the ValueMentors’ web site:

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

Warren Buffett

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

2 thoughts on “Values: the bedrock of startups”

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