Company values, those lovely posters you put up in the foyer and adorn the cover of your annual report.

Now that we have outlined the standard approach let’s look at the real value in creating, living and owning company values to make your business more sustainable.

As individuals (most of us) have a values system that we function by consciously and subconsciously. But when it comes to business, they seem to get lost in translation.

They become a project for the HR department, or the cornerstone of an offsite retreat where the senior leaders ask questions on how having values is now part of ‘to do’ list for the millennial workforce.

Why do companies get their values process so wrong?

It’s easy; it comes from the wrong place. They are seen as glossy packaging for a set of rules, but they are actually about your business’s feeling and conscience.

That a bit fluffy for you? Do you want a set of values like integrity, honesty, or customer-focused and then move on?

This strategy fails when you realise that your business is a person. It operates with feeling, emotion and actions based on experience. If your company acts like a dick, the market will respond accordingly. If your customer service team responds to a customer query with a lack of empathy, that customer no longer wants to be your ‘friend.’

With that said, what does a ‘good’ human or business look like? Without any pomp and hype here are my five steps to defining your company values:

1. Know your mission

If you have no idea why you are in business, I would start there. It won’t be because of money, by the way, you can kid yourself, but there will be an underlying purpose. You will be solving a problem, trying to prove yourself to your parents, helping humanity. All businesses exist for a reason beyond money; you need to understand yours.

2. Gather your key stakeholders

That may be your business partners or board. Start with having a frank and open conversation about why you are all in the room, all turning up each day. There will be patterns that come out in the group. Remember, you are not all the same; neither should you be, but there will be some binding principles that bring you together.

Get them down on a whiteboard and challenge them with vigour until you are left with 3-5 that as a group you can buy into them fully.

3. Share with the broader business

Don’t just send an email telling the staff that these are now the values. Share with them your list and why they exist, back it up with a vibrant idea to paint a picture so they can feel the value and see, in their way, how they can adopt and live them.

For example, our key value is ‘Make It Happen’, but see how you need to paint a picture:

Alternative value: Action – Simple, but not all actions are good ones; there is a lot of room for the wrong kind of interpretation.

Value: Make It Happen: Talk is cheap, get shit done. – It starts to talk to the way we work. For example, if someone offers an idea, they need to back it up with ‘action’. This also provides the scope for operationalising your business’s value—transparent communication systems, delegated authority, project management systems etc.

4. Take the feedback seriously

Once you have all parties feedback, dig deeper on their responses. Maybe they agree with the sentiment but are not inspired. Because if they are not inspired, they are not going to feel them and take action. There will be bias, but you need to step outside of the process and be open-minded.

The feedback may present values that are far better than your suggestions; this can be an excellent thing as this aligns the team(s) with something that is already in place in the way they operate. In simple terms, it will be easier to operationalise them with minimal friction, because they are the company values, not the boss’s values.

One caveat here is that in smaller businesses, the values are often very personal to the founders. If you are sharp at recruitment, you will have attracted people who buy into the same principles. The flaw in this is if you see people as pawns in the game you call a business, you won’t have a purposeful alignment and therefore, loyalty to the cause.

5. Once you have an agreement, decide how to roll them out

Move on from the posters and printed mugs. Collectively agree on how you will live your company values every day and weave them into your operational and strategic plan so everyone in the business has a clear understanding of the values and how they can live them.

Some simple examples:

  • Yes, visualise them. Giant murals, installations, make them part of the fabric.
  • Have them as part of the recruitment process and written into the contracts.
  • Use them as part of your decision-making matrix – ‘Will this decision support or go against our values?’
  • Celebrate people living them. We celebrate the sales team on the dollars, why don’t we celebrate when our team is living our values. Document and share the story so others can learn from it.
  • Have KPIs in the delivery of the values – For example, if your value is: Put the customer needs first – You can track this through tools such as Net Promoter Score – If your goal is 90, that’s the figure that lets your team know what good looks like.

The list goes on, but they need to be real and measurable and above all, enjoyable. Our second value is Grow Together, our team days are focused on new experiences, meaning that we share a unique experience, and there are no experts in the ranks. This is where vulnerability and growth happen.

Defining your company values will depend on your shape and size and how easy it is to get the whole company involved. But it is a process that will bring considerable benefits to your people and your business. But if you are going to do it, do it well and do it with purpose.

If it isn’t something you feel you can do alone, get in a coach or facilitator to help. With that process make sure the values end up being yours, you are the ones that need to commit to them, you are the ones that have to live by them after all, not the coach.

Whatever time you invest in your companies values, you will reap the rewards 10x. Happier teams, happier customers and better profits.

Profits are the by-product of great company culture, not at the cost of company culture.

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