Creating company values that rock

Creating Company Values that Boost Company Culture

You’ve assembled a fantastic team of talented people. You are creating great value for your customers. Yet, for some reason, the culture within your organization isn’t heading the way you had hoped.

It may be time to stop and reflect on what is important to your company; do you have a set of core corporate values to measure yourselves against?

Imagine you assemble a team of employees and create a sports team. Everyone gets on board with the idea, starting off very motivated; however before very long, with a lack of direction, you are losing more games than you’re winning, and your team starts showing signs of disagreement.

A company isn’t that dissimilar. Without clear direction and leadership, it may keep plodding along, however the lack of cohesiveness will eventually start to show, and affect productivity and profits.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I believe that the beating heart of any positive company culture are its company values.[/inlinetweet]

Spending energy on creating a positive company culture without instilling a set of values to measure your organisation against is a waste of time and money.

Company values really do have the power to drastically improve your company’s culture. Equally, they also have the power to generate criticism and dissent; it’s what you do with them.

Corporate value statements

Photo: Florin Gorgan, Flickr

Let’s take a look at why values can go wrong, and why when you are creating company values, you need to ensure they are authentic, sustainable and reflective of the company culture you wish to create..

Example of Enron

In 2001, the Enron collapse sent shockwaves all over the financial world. America’s seventh largest corporation suddenly descended into bankruptcy. There are thousands of articles and studies into what happened, and much of them centre around the fact they had a set of values, which were definitely not aligned with the internal culture.

In July 2000, Enron published their ‘Code of Ethics’ which state;

Respect

We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.

Integrity

We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.

Communication

We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

Excellence

We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Sounds great, don’t they?

Just 18 months after their revised values were sent to their 2,000+ employees, in December 2001, Enron went into receivership.

At the time of Enron’s collapse, they were one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $111 billion during 2000.

This is a classic example of creating a set of values for the purposes of marketing, and not positive company culture. If Enron really had their published values as a core part of their corporate culture, would they have collapsed? Many experts believe they wouldn’t have.

When marketers influence habits, they influence peoples’ self-identity. And so when a group or company does something that doesn’t correspond to our core values, it feels like a betrayal.
– Charles Duhigg

I’m personally very skeptical of some corporations values. It seems that many companies, both big and small, suffer from less than true company values.

The problem with some company values are;

  • They are written by management or someone delegated to ‘tick off that box’
  • They are celebrated for a week, and then put in a drawer
  • They are then forgotten, not revised or not used as measurement

So how do we go about creating company values that are sustainable, authentic, and have true emotional buy in from the people within the company? How do you create values that are actually used in the hiring process and regularly used as a measurement tool for both the employees and the company as a whole?

I’ll explain how we approached our company values, not because I believe you need to adopt ours (every organization needs to have its own values) but why I believe they are truly authentic and reflected in everything our team does.

Spending energy on creating a positive company culture without instilling a set of values to measure your organisation against is a waste of time and money.

Creating sustainable, effective company values

Since I started my digital agency back in 2002, our company has had a vague set of unwritten company values. Whilst we all shared a concept of what we were trying to do, it wasn’t until a decade later that we published our company values and truly adopted them.

Upon reflection, I should have done this ten years earlier – in fact, I would have started creating company values shortly after hiring my first employee as a startup. If you’re in a start-up, I encourage you to do this now.

I may have avoided a few bad hiring decisions over the years, and would certainly have had clearer expectations and communications with the team had we enjoyed the benefits of shared, clearly articulated, company values along the entire time.

Anyway, lessons learned and now it was time to create a set of published company values.

We didn’t want to waste our time creating a set of company values that were largely ignored and definitely not authentic. Instead, we approached this differently, and I would encourage you to consider doing the same process.

The approach we did, involved 6 main actions, which were;

  1. Leadership brainstorming
  2. Refinement
  3. Team brainstorming
  4. Collation and refinement
  5. Feedback cycle
  6. Adoption

Let me take you through the process, step by step.

Leadership Brainstorming

Firstly, the directors were asked to write up half a dozen values. We purposefully wrote these in private, without input from ne another, and then once ready we shared them with each other and discussed them.

We found plenty of overlap, however we also found a number of unique values that only one director had considered.

Refinement of Values

Once we had our set of values from the leadership, we worked together as a group, to refine the list down to around a dozen phrases or words.

This was achieved over a week, through a combination of both emails and physical meetings, between the directors.

Team Brainstorming

Once the leadership felt that the values we had created were refined enough to open up for discussion, we scheduled one of our ‘town hall’ meetings and invited all of our employees.

These town hall meetings we run are a chance for everyone to participate; it’s not management speaking at employees, it’s all of the team coming together and everyone having an equal voice.

In the meeting, we explained we were creating company values, and the employees were given the values the directors had created as examples, and asked to work in small teams to workshop through what values they liked, or what values they would like to suggest.

Once this exercise was complete, we came back together, and then everyone floated the values their small groups had created.

We wrote them up on a whiteboard, and ended up with a list of 30 or more potential company values. Many of these suggested values overlapped each other; sure they were worded differently, however they had similar meanings and intent.

The entire team worked through this long list in the same afternoon, and the group then short-listed these down to around a dozen.

Collation and refinement

Over the next few days, the directors took these dozen ideas (of which probably half were from our original set) and distilled the meanings and direction down to six words.

We wrote up what these words meant, and what they embodied, and then we shared these value statements with the entire team for endorsement.

Feedback

Once distributed, we discussed the values and their meanings with the entire team, both in person and via email, and we all finally agreed to the outcome.

These values and meanings were, within a few weeks of undertaking this process, adopted by the entire company.

The resulting values are different from many other organisations, because;

  • The entire company was involved in the creation
  • They have been given a revision cycle (review each calendar year)
  • They are being used in everything we do. No filing these values in a drawer with a tick on a task list.

What this means is that these company values have real weight; they were discussed and created by everyone, so they had real buy-in from everyone.

We went about creating company values that are a promise, both by and to ourselves, but also our colleagues.

Adoption

We now have a set of corporate value statements. Great work, team!

We can now decide to either put them in some lengthy corporate document and forget about them entirely, or use the effort and thoughts we have put in so far, and carry through these values, to ensure they are truly adopted and are ‘real’.

We chose the latter approach, knowing that having undertaken this collaborative process, we can’t just ignore them.

True adoption of our company values

We started by undertaking a variety of activities when the values were first adopted. These included;

Creating large posters and placing them in high traffic areas throughout our office.

We published the values on our website (see them here), and encourage clients and suppliers to give us feedback about them.

Printed out and discussed with each employee within the company

Subsequently written about and promoted on our company blog

Shortly afterwards, we then also created a set of activities to ensure they are measured and adopted into the future. These included;

Weekly team stand ups

In our weekly scrum-like meetings with staff, we ask people for examples of how they’ve lived up to these values. We ask for an example of at least one value (Awesome, Community, Ethical, Passion, Pride & Teamwork) and what they have personally done, to display by their own actions, these goals.

Employee performance reviews

We’ve also added these to our quarterly employee performance reviews.

We do reviews with everyone here at least every 3-4 months. Rather than a large annual review, we prefer to keep these meetings more frequent, to ensure the feedback cycle is short.

When we say feedback, we use these review sessions not just for employees, but we use these to find out how each individual feels about the business, our values and our current direction.

We also utilise happiness scores to understand what they like and dislike about their roles here, and look for ways to positively change outcomes.

Recruitment process

We’ve also added these values to our recruitment processes, and we take time during any interviews with candidates to explain them.

We also pitch questions related to these values and often ask for previous examples of how candidates have displayed the traits these values embody. The candidates attitude and answers to these are taken into account during the decision making process.

Induction process

We have also created a 2-3 hour values induction process for new hires that is part of our standard induction process for all employees, regardless of their role.

This ensures that any new recruits that came on board after the initial planning and creation are up to speed with what our company values are, and what we expect as leadership and a values-driven team.

Company Values example

Photo: Nichole Burrows, Flickr

Our Company Values

The final adopted six values we have are as follows;

Awesome

We embrace creative ways of thinking and push boundaries to challenge conservative thinking to meet or exceed expectations of all stakeholders.

Community

We recognise that we are part of a larger community, and we measure our success against how we benefit the community.

Ethical

We are committed to dealing with all stakeholders with honesty, fairness and integrity at all times.

Passion

We approach every day with a positive attitude and a willingness to grow, learn and challenge yourself.

Pride

We take pride in what we do. We push boundaries and better those around us.

Teamwork

We are respectful and supportive of one another. We lead and learn from each other in innovation, service and knowledge.

In Summary

As illustrated in the article and our process above, our process of creating company values was not something we planned to write and file in some dark place in our office.

These company values are used at least weekly to discuss performance of both individuals and the entire business, and we measure ourselves as people and employees, as well as the company as a whole, on how we are living up to these values.

I encourage you to consider a similar process within your own organization, to ensure you develop or reconsider your existing company values, to ensure they are practical, really adopted and create the heart of your positive company culture moving into the future.

I wish you the best of luck!

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