How to build company values (that your employees actually like)

What gets you out of bed on a Monday morning? Is it the thought of your paycheck that motivates you to do your best work?

For most of us, the answer is no. Salary alone is not enough to truly drive someone to be the best they can be. (Although admittedly, it does help).

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan

We want to get up and go to a job that gives us satisfaction, or makes us happy; somewhere we have a connection with those around us and feel we are contributing or making a difference. We want a job that makes work feel like more than, well, just work.

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So as an employer, how do you instil that feeling in your employees?

For many of us, the answer lies in our company culture and more importantly, our company values.

So what are company values?

Harvard Business Review defines values as “deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.” Fundamentally, they are the essence of your organization’s identity: your beliefs, the DNA of who you are internally and what you project externally.

However, many organizations still don’t have a defined set of values – or worse still, have a written list of keywords or phrases posted up on the company intranet that no-one recognizes, believes or likes. If you’re looking to create values for your business or shake up your existing ones, the first place to look is to those who are expected to live and breathe them – your employees.

What’s the value of company values?

“When you are led by values, it doesn’t cost your business; it helps your business.” – Jerry Greenfield, co-Founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc.

OK, so we begin with a contradiction – yes, we need to be creating company values your employees will actually like. But when starting out, you need buy-in from management to get the ball rolling. So before creating (or re-instating) your company values, consider why they are important to your business as a whole:

  • They define who you are. If you don’t have an identity or brand, you’ll quickly lose direction.
  • They assist in the decision-making process. Any significant decisions should be underpinned by your values; for example, if one of yours is “quality”, any products failing to comply should be automatically eliminated.
  • They provide a competitive advantage. Values help educate clients or customers on your USP, selling what makes you different. In the modern-day marketplace, they can also speak to your audience: making you stand out as a supplier of choice. 80% of the Fortune 100 tout their values publicly.
  • They’re a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Your business doesn’t have values; the people within it do. By recruiting against those values, you attract individuals who align with who you are and what you do. What’s more, the Millennial generation defy their predecessors by ranking culture, corporate identity and benefits such as work-life balance over and above salary or location. Values help you attract top talent.
  • They communicate what is important. Values influence behavior, shaping your culture and inspiring people to action. That translates into greater productivity, innovation and ultimately, business success. According to Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow – How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, companies with a high sense of purpose outperform others by 400%.

You have your business case for creating and rolling out values within your business; but when it comes to creating your own, where do you start?

Here at Interact, we have a set of 6 core company values that govern our actions, decisions and our direction. Using each of those, we take you through the steps to successfully creating, rolling out and embedding your own.

Think BIG

company values think big

“You have to think big to be big.” – Claude M. Bristol

Creating values is a process, not an event. They will not solve short-term issues; they are there for the long-term and as such, they require a careful and thought-out approach that reflects their importance.

First, our original argument: a business doesn’t have values; its employees do.

So start by thinking BIG, and get those who will be living and breathing these values involved – this is not a 10 minute ‘ticked off that box’ task to be completed within the 4 walls of a management office. Management should facilitate the process, but not shape it in isolation.

Then, map out your process. How are you going to get people involved ? Who will hold responsibility for debating and finalizing, who will have sign-off? Where and how will you promote them? Consider how these values will fit into the bigger picture of your business; are these to shape your culture, govern management decisions? All of these questions will determine how you approach your values.

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Remember that not all values have to be sweeping ethical, philosophical or moral principles: they can be anything you feel is important or useful. Look throughout your company as a whole to determine what is significant to you. Is it to always meet delivery times and answer calls within the hour to ensure top rates of customer service?  Or perhaps you have a strong CSR focus, and value ‘green’ in-house practices such as reducing waste and promoting recycling?

So actually, when we say ‘BIG’, we don’t mean the top-level “fluffy” stuff: we mean the stuff that is BIG to you.

Be curious and innovative

company values be curious

For most organizations, your values – or at least, the concepts for them – already exist; you just need to find a way to tap into them.

So be curious.

Use employee surveys, workshops, focus groups or simply hand out a stack of post-it notes and ask your employees and management to jot down what they believe your company stands for. Ask questions and then qualify the answers – you believe our company is respectful? Why is that, can you give me an example?

Pick out any recurring themes and flag them. If multiple individuals are identifying the same concepts, it’s likely those are the foundations of what your company as a whole truly values.

Once you have the underlying concepts, be innovative with evolving and defining them into your values. Use your own company voice and brand to ensure these are values your employees identify with – for example, rather than electing for the commonplace value of ‘teamwork’, advertising technology company OpenX personalized their definition:

We are one

– One team. No exceptions. We are a group of strong and diverse individuals unified by a clear common purpose.

Strive to be unique. If you have the same message as everyone else, you lose the ability to be competitive; and your employees won’t agree with them. Last of all, make them memorable and preferably short; values fail when employees can’t recall or recognize them.

Be honest and transparent

company values honest transparent

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” – Dalai Lama

You have a draft set of values; now is the time for self-critique.

Ask yourselves honestly; is this who we are and what we truly value? Too many organizations fall into the trap of writing ‘aspirational’ values that reflect who they’d like to become – rather than what they actually stand for. In doing this, they risk confusing the core message and losing buy-in from employees who won’t believe in their integrity.

Worse still, there are examples of organizations who elect for words they believe their employees and customers want to hear -while behind closed walls, that may be far from the truth. Let’s take energy, commodities and services organization Enron, who listed ‘integrity’ as one of their values. They were busted for fiscal fraud before filing for bankruptcy in 2001.

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Are these values actionable and coherent? Choosing ‘buzzwords’ such as “commitment” is certainly memorable as a single word; but it will mean very little to your employees and is unlikely to be true to who you are. Qualify it in the context of your organization. Are you committed to delivering the highest possible quality of product based on customer feedback and volume of returns? This doesn’t necessarily have to go into the body of your values – but it will need to go ‘behind’ it when you explain the reasoning to your staff.

Communicate and be transparent about your process from the beginning. As with any change within your business, it is important to engage with all stakeholders – and most importantly, your employees – from the outset to secure their support.  If employees don’t feel included, they will feel distrustful of the entire process. As a result, you will undermine the very goal of having a set of values; which is the unite your business behind common ideals.

Winning values example: Zappos

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

Be Passionate

company values be passionate

“Without passion, you don’t have energy; without energy, you have nothing.” – Donald Trump

You’ve brainstormed, you’ve debated, you’ve revised and you have a set of values. Now, it’s time to commit to them.

Ensure that your management in particular are bought into them and share enthusiasm and belief in what they stand for. Employers are inspired by the actions of their leaders; if they aren’t passionate about your values, employees won’t be either.

Then, shout about them!

Devise a roll-out strategy that will cover all channels with a consistent message. Use your company intranet, emails, social media; hold a launch party and print off copies for every desk. If you can make the introduction of your values a talked-about topic that engages each and every employee, they’re more likely to be receptive – and live by them.

Embed your values into your daily culture. Make them a benchmark by which you recruit; does this person exemplify what we stand for? If you do, they’re more likely to integrate into your culture, be engaged with your objectives, deliver results – and stick around.Make them a foundation for your on-boarding process and ensure every new starter understands their place and value.

Then, find ways to embed them. Reward and recognize employees who demonstrate or exemplify them. At Interact, we operate a peer-to-peer reward system on our intranet; colleagues can recognize and reward one another. When they include a #value in the reason for that reward, the individual automatically enters a prize draw to win a quarterly prize. Employees stay #passionate about their values – because they’re identifying, demonstrating and living them daily.

Winning values example: Rackspace

  • Fanatical Support in all we do.
  • Results first, substance over flash.
  • Committed to Greatness
  • Full Disclosure and Transparency
  • Passion for our Work
  • Treat fellow Rackers like Friends and Family

Be Courageous

company values be courageous

Building and embedding values causes growing pains.

You may meet with resistance or negative feedback; there may be some employees who feel outcasted by them or disagree with them. Have the courage to stick with it and stay strong behind your message: values will fail if those at the top show a lack of commitment.

When you implement values correctly, it may limit your organization’s strategic and operational freedom: they are, in reality, a framework to operate within and at times can feel constrictive. If you face challenges, take a step back and remember why you initiated this and what those values mean to the bigger picture of your business.

Have you taken the time to define a vision and then stick to it, or are you risking dropping your long-term vision for short-term gains?

Embedding and living your values demands constant vigilance. Re-enforce and relaunch them frequently; and have the courage to call out those who fail to live them.

Be flexible and adaptable

company values flexible adaptable

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins, American motivational speaker and author

As we grow, gain experience and (dare we say it) age, our values and priorities change. Your business is no different.

As your organization evolves, gains more staff or enters new markets – in fact, whenever you face a significant organizational change – it’s time to review your core values and evaluate whether they still represent who you are. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and adapt to change; but adopt the same process and approach it as a collaborative process in which you engage your employees and communicate the reason for the change.

Perhaps you’ve reached a significant milestone such as expanding into new territories or launching a new product line, and the focus of your business has shifted. Perhaps you’ve matured past a “work hard, play hard” ethos into something more corporate. If you don’t take the time to periodically review what you claim your business stands for, employees may become disengaged from your values and feel they’ve become dated or irrelevant.

Winning values example: Teach For America

  • Transformational Change
  • Leadership
  • Team
  • Diversity
  • Respect and Humility

Strong values are the foundation of a great business. So identify them, articulate them, incorporate them into everything you do – and support your employees in living and breathing them in their day-to-day roles. When you walk your talk, you’ll see the results.

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