Photo credit: Flickr user Pictures of Money. 

Despite the steepest downturn the oil market has experienced in years, privately held oil and gas producer Hilcorp paid each of its employees a $100,000 bonus this year. It's a remarkable amount of money. Some have even dubbed it the ultimate Christmas bonus, even though it was paid earlier this year. But while the value might be eye-popping, the award really shows that there is a lot of value in values.

The value of dreaming big
Hilcorp's six-figure bonus story really started five years ago, when the company challenged its employees to dream big. In what it dubbed its "Dream 2015" campaign, Hilcorp set a goal to double its oil and gas production and reserves, as well as the net value of the company, by the end of 2015. Thanks to a lot of hard work, the company achieved its five-year goal eight months early, which triggered the bonus payouts to each of the nearly 1,400 employees based on service time over the past five years.

This wasn't the first time the company rewarded its employees for meeting an ambitious goal. In 2010, each employee was awarded a $50,000 voucher to spend on their dream car, or $35,000 in cash, after the company achieved its "Double Drive" program, which doubled the company's size over the prior five-year period.

Owning values
Hilcorp's ability to push its employees to deliver on bold companywide goals really boils down to one thing. Its core values define how it runs the business and treats its employees. And what's different about its values is their ownership-centric nature:

  • Integrity -- "Do the Right Thing."
  • Urgency -- "Act Today, Not Tomorrow."
  • Ownership -- "Work Like You Own the Company."
  • Alignment -- "When Hilcorp Wins, We All Win."
  • Innovation -- "Get Better Every Day."

By putting each of its employees on the ownership level, the company has been able to live out its tagline that its "greatest resources is our people." In owning its values, employees are motivated to not give anything less than 100% of their efforts, because they win as the company wins. Clearly, over the past decade, both have been big winners.

Shining a light on values
One of the key takeaways from Hilcorp's success is not just that values matter, but they must be owned by both the company and by employees. Hilcorp makes it easy because ownership is part of its values. However, what matters just as much is that a company has values worthy of being owned, or values that its employees can rally around. This is something not readily measurable, though Glassdoor ratings do help provide some good insight into companies that own their values.

Sticking with the oil and gas sector, two companies with high ratings that stand out for their values are Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN). Both have about a four-star employee rating, and many of those workers rave about the companies largely because of a values fit. Both companies are well known for highly prizing their values.

Devon Energy, which, like Hilcorp, Fortune has rated as one of the top companies to work for, puts its people front and center of its values:

Our belief that our people are our most important asset provides the foundation for all of our values and convictions. Our extensive portfolio of corporate resources is, however, not enough to make us "the best." To be the best, we need the best people -- people who are always striving to obtain more and to maximize value for our company.

Devon sees the value in hiring the best people, because they then work at their best to deliver the best results.

Chevron, likewise, is another company that really owns its values:

[Our] foundation is built on our values, which distinguish us and guide our actions. We conduct our business in a socially responsible and ethical manner. We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work.

The company's values of integrity, trust, diversity, ingenuity, partnership, protecting people and the environment, and high performance attract high performers who also hold those values dearly. That enables the company to drive toward its vision of being "the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership, and performance." Over the years the company has developed a rich history for being a top operator, earning it the admiration of its employees and its rivals.   

Be an owner of values
Sadly, society doesn't tend to regard values very highly. But the story of Hilcorp really teaches us that any goal is reachable when a company places a high worth on both its values and its employees. That prioritization attracts those driven by value, which leads to ambitious goals that are reached well before the deadline. 

Another lesson worth noting is that companies that own their values, and hire employees that do the same, not only make them great places to work, but also make them great places to invest in, because these are the companies that are doing what others think is impossible. So the next time you apply for a job, or think about buying a stock, take a second to look into that company's values. Are its values something that you can own, too? While that won't guarantee success, or a $100,000 payday, it's certainly better than the alternative of being attached to something that has no real value. 


This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.