What's your first reaction when you hear the words “company values”? If it's a sarcastic smile or a bored sigh, we can't blame you.
Company values are met with a lot of skepticism because they often lack substance. If your values are at risk of becoming just another box that needs to be ticked, then this article is for you.
We know every business is different, so we don't claim to have a universal recipe. But we do have our own story and the lessons we learned.
The most important one?
Core values do matter and the exercise of defining and applying them every day has transformed our company for the better.
From how we work as a team to the decisions we make. It's all about how you put values into practice, which is exactly what we're going to be sharing.
But first, let's look at why you should care about company values to begin with.
Why your company's values matter
Core values shape everything about your company, from the people you hire and the environment you build to the expectations you set for your employees and clients. The easiest way to understand this is by asking yourself one question: WHY?
Define your competitive edge
In his book “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek encourages leaders to think about why they do what they do.
Core values are the bedrock of why your company exists and why other people should work with you. Organizations that can clearly articulate the “why” (their beliefs and values) are more likely to thrive than those that focus exclusively on the “what” or the “how”.
In fact, a study found that purpose-driven companies increased in value by 175% over a 12-year period compared to the average growth rate of 86%.
Make the right decisions
Values don't only set the tone for how people interact with each other, but also for how they make decisions. When faced with a new challenge or a difficult problem, your team can refer to core values for guidance.
They can ask themselves: Are my actions aligned with how we do things as a team or do I need to reconsider my decision?
Value propositions can make team members more accountable for their actions and decisions, giving them a standard to compare against.
Attract and keep the right people
People naturally gravitate towards companies with the same values as them. This goes for employees, as well as for clients since values have both internal and external implications.
If you want to be seen and heard by those who matter to you, don't be afraid to share what you stand for.
Customers and employees are more likely to trust and remain loyal to a company that consistently acts according to their core values. Especially if those values are aligned with their own.
How we discovered our core company values
At ETEAM, we've been growing fast and onboarding a lot of new colleagues. As we spread ourselves across 17 countries and several time zones, some things were becoming easier to get lost in translation.
This has gotten us thinking about company values a lot and how we can uncover those values that truly reflect what we stand for. These are the steps we followed.
Step 1. Explore the best parts of your company
There's a common misconception that core values are something you aspire to, rather than something you already have. Patrick Lencioni gives a great example from a discussion he had with the CEO of a networking company.
When asked what the core value of his company is, the CEO replied “Urgency.” The author then asked him if this means that his employees take quick action and never miss a deadline. To which the CEO replied: “No, they’re complacent as hell, which is why we need to make urgency one of our core values.”
You can't establish something as a core value if it doesn't exist in your company. Core values should be about your actual strengths, not future aspirations. When identifying your strengths it's important to take a 360-degree view:
What do clients have to say about you? Refer back to conversations, testimonials, reviews, and feedback.
What does your executive team see as the best part?
What do team members value the most about the company?
To create your initial list, assign work groups and start by asking them a set of guiding questions like:
When have you felt the proudest to work with this company?
What is unique about this company?
Consider using Post-its or cards to keep track of answers and make them easier to sort later.
Alternatively, you could ask participants to nominate team members who represent the company's spirit the best. These are the people who don't just understand what the company is all about, but they also walk the talk. This exercise allows team members to associate a name and a face with the values they are trying to define, making it easier for them to relate to abstract concepts like “integrity” or “teamwork”.
Step 2. Identify your core purpose and values
As you gather opinions and feedback, you will likely start seeing patterns. Also referred to as affinity mapping, in this step you group together similar ideas to reveal your core purpose and values.
See which concepts come up again and again. For us, one of the first ones was “clarity”. To check if this is your core purpose, ask yourself: WHY do we do what we do?
In our case as a software development company, the answer was “because we want to add clarity to the software development process for the clients and ourselves”.
Think of the core purpose as a magnet that aligns your team, organization, and values. Once you know your core purpose, you can identify the core values that support it.
For example, we discovered that we add clarity to software development through four core values: Collaboration, Accountability, Mastery, and Transparency.
Step 3. Make values meaningful by tying them to actions
Imagine someone asked you what your own values are. If protecting nature is important to you, it's very unlikely you would just answer “environment” and leave it at that. You would probably describe all the measures you take to protect the environment, like recycling waste, riding a bike to work, or donating to NGOs.
The same goes for company values. They need to be specific enough for people to understand what they mean and how to live up to these expectations. Generic values are meaningless precisely because they are not tied to actions and behaviors.
To make our core values actionable, we included a set of principles that explain how to put each value into practice.
Here is the final version of our company values.
Collaboration - If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Foster a culture of teamwork and cooperation.
Embrace diversity of ideas and perspectives.
Encourage open communication and active listening.
Share knowledge and resources to achieve common goals.
Celebrate and recognize collective achievements.
Accountability - Honor your commitments and go the extra mile to deliver on your plans.
Deliver on commitments and meet deadlines.
Accept responsibility for mistakes and learn from them.
Honor agreements and fulfill obligations.
Hold yourself and others to high standards of performance.
Mastery - Be better today than you were yesterday.
Continuously develop your skills and know-how.
Seek out opportunities for growth and learning.
Strive for excellence in your work.
Set challenging goals and pursue them with determination.
Share knowledge and mentor others to help them grow.
Transparency - Create predictable workflows through clear processes and communication.
Share information openly and proactively.
Be honest and straightforward in how you communicate.
Build trust by being reliable and consistent.
Provide visibility into decision-making processes.
Accept and learn from feedback and criticism.
How we live our core values at ETEAM
Values are useless if you write them down only to lock them in a drawer and forget about them a week later.
Once we settled on our core values, we wanted to make sure they were part of our everyday work life. Here are some of the ways we keep values alive.
We make our values visible
Have you ever heard the saying ”out of sight, out of mind”? It's a lot easier to forget something if you don't interact with it. This is why we try to make our core values as visible and easily accessible as possible.
We included them on our new website, in our handbook, marketing materials, and well… on our blog. By making our core values extra visible, we also hold ourselves accountable to honor them.
We include values in conversations and feedback
What better way to keep values fresh and actionable than including them in daily conversations and feedback?
Whether we're discussing a potential hire, a new internal policy, or a project we're working on, we try to reference back to our core values.
The same goes for providing feedback. When giving feedback to peers, we encourage team members to ask themselves questions like:
How can I make my feedback as clear and open as possible? (transparency)
How can I provide feedback in a way that enables growth and learning? (mastery)
Do I hold myself to the same standard as the one I expect from my peers? (accountability)
We align HR activities with our values
We follow a value-based approach not just in our recruitment, but throughout the entire employee experience, from onboarding and training to exit interviews.
Putting values at the center of our hiring strategy makes it easier to attract the right candidates and it also makes it easier for them to fit in once they start working with us.
It's a win-win situation.
During onboarding, we have regular check-ins to support new hires. We also use this as an opportunity to get insights into our work culture and core values from someone with a fresh perspective.
Sometimes it's as easy as asking: How do you feel?
We strive to make our core values present at every touchpoint, from the feedback we give during performance reviews to the environment we create as a team.
We let values guide our approach and decisions
Values mean nothing if they contradict how your business actually operates. We've seen countless examples of companies being publicly called out for saying one thing and doing another.
Consistency between values, actions, and decisions is key.
As a development company that values transparency, we use centralized dashboards, weekly reviews, and demo meetings to keep our clients updated on the progress at all times.
On a technical level, we use observability best practices to provide a higher level of visibility into our software applications' metrics, performance, and potential issues.
Similarly, we invest in training and fully paid courses as a way to promote mastery and help developers stay up to date with new technologies.
There are countless ways core values can show up throughout your organization. From how you organize your work to the technical decisions you make and even how you select your vendors or partners. The more you base these decisions and approaches on your core values, the more aligned everyone is.
We reward positive examples
Sometimes, simple solutions are the most effective. Recognize and reward the kind of behavior you want to see more of.
If a team member acted according to a core value, let them know. Recognize their efforts and motivate them to keep doing what they do.
Even just verbal recognition can go a long way, or you can implement a peer recognition system. We like to use Kudos to show appreciation and celebrate positive examples.
Applying this to your business
Defining our core values in a meaningful and actionable way has been a game-changer for our team. It allowed us to learn more about ourselves as a company, make better hiring, operative, and even technical decisions, and ultimately create a better work environment.
If you haven't started on your core values yet or if you feel they're not as good as they could be, we hope this article gives you the boost you need.
Discovering what your company stands for and making it a reality may take some time, but we guarantee it's worthwhile.