The idea of “company core values” has risen and fallen in popularity over the last few decades. They aren’t for every company! That said, we’ve found core values to be incredibly helpful throughout the 30+ years we’ve been in business. Core values create a solid foundation for making decisions that align with our company vision, who we are and what’s important to us.
If you’re curious about why you might establish formal values for your own company or how to go about doing so, we’re here to share our experience with you.
Why to Define Core Values
Formalized company values can aid with recruiting and employee retention. Everyone wants to put their best face forward with prospective employees, but the ones who’ll stay and be successful should align with your company values. Your values are also a direct reflection of the benefits you offer your customers and why they choose you over one of your competitors. Furthermore, core values can differentiate you in the market and help you stand out to prospective customers.
It’s also necessary to understand what establishing core values can’t do. In particular, understand that aspirational core values won’t change your team’s behavior. For example, saying “Our company is built on face-to-face communications,” won’t suddenly spur employees who prefer working remotely to return to the office. “We prioritize a positive outlook throughout our processes,” doesn’t prevent that one team member from chronically complaining.
Before you dive into creating your core values, set realistic expectations for what your newly-established values will (and won’t) accomplish. It’ll clarify what your task is and how it will impact your company going forward.
Understand What Core Values Really Are
Establishing your core values is a balancing act between what your company is and what you want it to be. These are the true cornerstones of your company, not short-term goals to help manage a particular situation. The pillars your whole team builds your business on every day should align closely with your vision.
Start by asking yourself why you want to establish a set of core values for your company:
- Is it because you feel like it’s expected of you?
- Is it in response to internal or external happenings that feel threatening?
- Is it to aid talent attraction or retention?
- Do you want to simplify onboarding?
Take an honest look at why you want to establish company values. Determine if it’s something you feel is a positive long-term choice for your company. Once you decide it’s the right decision, you can start the actual process.
How We Did It
There are many frameworks companies implement to successfully operate and scale their business. One we frequently pull from is called the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), which offers tools for many business operational tasks. We found their approach to developing company values especially helpful, and applying it may be easier than you’d think.
Start by bringing together a group with your leadership team, longer-term team members and newer ones. Each group can bring the insight of shared history and fresh eyes. It’s also important to not involve too many people. Five is a pretty good number of participants, but once you start nearing 10 you end up with too many fingers in the pie.
Once we selected our group, we named current team members that—if we could—we’d clone to have more of them on our team. Then we spent a good chunk of time discussing why. What attributes do they have that make them so wonderful to work with? What about them helps them mesh well with our work and company culture? We spent some time writing down our discoveries, combined a few similar attributes, and polished them up. At the end, we found ourselves with the solid pillars of our company.
Put Your Core Values Into Practice
One of the biggest misconceptions about establishing core values is that developing them is the hard part. While it certainly isn’t easy to define an entire company’s culture in just a few words or phrases, it’s only the first step. Once established, your team is tasked with living those values every day, holding them up, and defending them, sometimes even against other team members.
The next step is bridging the gap between the “theory” of your values and their practical application in your business. For us, that meant regularly evaluating how well those values continued aligning with our ideals, actions and attitudes. It has also led to us creating a list of what each of our values looks like and—more importantly—what it doesn’t look like for use in team performance reviews and evaluating potential new hires.
If done correctly, your new set of company values can encourage a more mindful and intentional culture that every team member feels connected to.