How to Define Your Company’s Core Values (37 Experts Share Their Advice)

April 12, 2018

Great companies aren’t just about sales and profit, they also have a clear company identity and stand for something. And I’m not just talking about the external brand or perception of the company, but the identity of a company in its current and true state on the inside.

The word “identity” can get really philosophical, but a simple way to think of a company’s identity is its core values. And a company’s core values can be described as…

A set of values that the whole organization not only acknowledges in places like the company’s website and on a standard company mission statement . . . but also actually lives and breathes through its people, inside and outside of the company.

Let’s talk examples.

Take a second and think about all of most successful, “loved” companies in the world today – from big names like Airbnb, Etsy, Salesforce, The Container Store, Adobe and more; the company core values that these top workplaces have given to themselves are what allows them to:

  1. continually capture and keep loyal customers and clients, and
  2. attract and retain talented and engaged employees

The next question, then, is how does a company develop and define its core values? Is it something the management team needs weeks and months to strategize around, or is it something that reveals itself organically from a conversation with the CEO and founders? While there is no single “correct” way to develop and define a set of core values for your company, there are some methods and tactics that lots of companies have relied on for their own core values that can serve as useful insight while you’re thinking about yours.

To get that insight about defining core values, we asked a panel of 37+ company leaders, CEO’s and HR execs their thoughts specifically around this question:

“How do you define your company’s core values, and why is it important to do so?”

Below is the advice they shared with us, which range from letting your values define themselves, having your leaders codify your company’s core values, and beyond all of that, the importance of defining your company’s core values in the first place.  There’s a lot of information here driven by real experience – use it to your advantage to inform your own company core values!

 

Brainstorm, group, eliminate. 

“Patrick Lencioni, in his classic, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, quotes an entrepreneur as claiming, If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. The good news is, core values can help you achieve this. The bad news is that in most organizations, if you ask five employees to articulate the company’s core values, you get five different answers. Some organizations have not set forth their core values. Other organizations determined their core values years ago, but people and times have changed, so they need a refresh.

Core values guide all your company’s decisions. When hiring, let applicants know your organization’s values to make sure there is a fit. Assessing for the right skills means your new hires will be able to do the job, but assessing to make sure candidates fit with your organization’s core values makes sure everyone is rowing in the same direction.

We like to help our clients determine 3 – 7 core values that matter most. Start by brainstorming a list. Group similar ideas together, eliminating those that are not essential. Through discussion, you’ll eventually get to a short, key list. Don’t let the boss decree the values for everyone else. In fact, the boss should speak last so as not to guide others’ thoughts. If you have an overly agreeable group, make sure they genuinely agree on the core values, and are not just saying yes to maintain group harmony. After you have arrived at your values, don’t announce them yet. Come back to them in a month and see if they need any tweaking. Then announce them throughout the organization, and use them in hiring and decision-making.”

-Robert E. Lefton, Ph.D., Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO of Psychological Associates


Ask yourself three questions

“Here are three questions to help you identify your company values.

What behaviors will the company value over making a quick buck? In other words, if a team member chooses to honor the core value over making a sale or saving the company some cost of goods sold (COGS)—will they be rewarded and not reprimanded. E.g. Not disclosing a flaw or feature that will not to be that customer’s liking.

When is it appropriate to put the needs of the team above those of the customer? In other words, when and how should a customer be fired—before your team quits because of the customer’s bad behavior? E.g. If your team spends precious time complaining about a customer at the water cooler, when they should be talking about creative ways to make your company fantastic—what does that say about your core value of team first?

When and how should the success of the team be rewarded as a team, and not unfairly rewarding those who just “appear” to be superstars? E.g. The fantastic service at your company may be why your sales people are killing their quotas—not because of some magical sales powers. And a corollary question, which sub teams should be rewarded for fantastic efforts and when?

Core values can be measured in behaviors. If it’s a core value to keep things light and happy, you can absolutely require that behavior. If you need your folks to drop whatever they are doing to handle an irregularity with a client, don’t discipline them for missing a perfunctory meeting.”

-Jonathan Denn, Chief Thinking Partner at DRUMBEAT Productivity 


In the beginning, you don’t necessarily need to define them yet

“When a company starts its core values do not need defining because they are embodied in the founders. Once a company is scaling, I insist on having its 3-5 “corest” core values codified publicly online, and privately in a employee guidebook. Annual or quarterly awards recognizing employees who embody core values are a great way to reinforce their importance. The ceremonies and communications for the awards can show how the values are lived out in real operating conditions and give leadership a platform to highlight values that need strengthening.

Defining values is important because they provide guidance for ambiguous scenarios and tough tradeoffs. Their influence on a million daily decisions propels the company towards its mission.

Additionally, They are a beacon for talent that is intrinsically motivated to accomplish your company’s goals.”

-Paul Bromen, CEO of UponaMattress.com 


It naturally comes from your mission

“When I first created my business, it was just me. I was connecting with schools from around the world as well as artists from all corners of the globe. I learned that honesty goes a long way and so does a little bit of fun.

We are on a mission to contribute to the education of thousands of children around the world by providing free educational textbooks. We also work with hundreds of artists from around the world, so it is important that my team understands the big picture every step of the way. Naturally, the company core values are centered on doing good and promoting the arts.

This is only possible if I create a culture of honesty, grace, and fun. My team is growing and the way that I ensure these values remain intact is by allowing team members to make mistakes, fostering their creativity in problem-solving, and encouraging a little bit of fun every step of the way. By creating this safe, relaxed environment, honesty comes naturally and the drive to fulfill our mission becomes inherent. It is perhaps the best business decision I have ever made.”

-Diego Orlandini, Founder and CEO aka “Chief Book Giver” of Aimful Books


Developing your values is a collaborative effort

“Defining a company’s core values begins with having a clear understanding of an organization’s mission statement, as well as establishing among the leadership how to best serve clients, employees and the community. Core values developed through a collaborative effort maximizes the vested interest of all involved, and that buy in is critical. Our core values – we care; we seek the best; we are teachable and growth-oriented; we speak to inspire; and we are bold and go-getters – guide everything we do each day, which has led to our success. It’s important to define core values because they become recruiting and retention tools, they define who we are, and they demonstrate to our clients that we are a conscientious company.”

-Monte Lee-Wen, President and CEO of The PPA Group


Take steps as an organizational leader to codify them

“Values are the bedrock of a high-performance culture. One of the first things Heather J. Brunner did when she became Chairwoman and CEO of WP Engine in 2013 was to codify the company’s organizational values. The company lives by five core values that define who we are and inform our work every day. A physical copy of the company values with everyone’s signature hangs proudly on display in every WP Engine office around the world. From the top down, every employee commits to upholding our values from the moment they start. These values distill what success at WP Engine means and provide a sense of common direction for all our employees and inform our day-to-day behavior

One of the reasons why we feel we have been so successful is because our employees, regardless of geography or position all identify, embrace, and act on our values.”

-Andy North, Director of Public Relations at WP Engine 


Use a bottom-up AND a top-down perspective 

“We are very passionate about our core values at GNGF. I found that defining our company’s core values worked best once we realized that the effort should come from the perspective of both a bottom-up and top-down view.

For the bottom-up approach, we had the team identify which co-workers they felt were the best exemplars of GNGF and then describe the key attributes of that person. As a group, we put the attributes on the whiteboard and group them into similar categories, getting to about ten groups. Then the hard part started as our goal was to whittle this list down 5 or fewer core values that define how we approach everything we do at GNGF. We had quite a few passionate, yet friendly, debates about what was ‘core’ to GNGF as we began to start naming and ranking the groupings.

This is where the top-down view becomes important. The core values of the company must also come from the top or they won’t last. The founder(s) or executives of the company must do some soul-searching. Strongly agreeing with a core value was pretty easy, but when I strongly disagreed with an attribute there was always a deeper issue. Often, after some self-reflection I realized that I was communicating, often through actions, a value that I didn’t feel was the way we wanted to run the company..

With these two approaches, a first ‘draft’ of core-values was created. But don’t let it stop there, we don’t just put these up on a wall. We review and challenge them each quarter, read them at in our weekly meetings, create interview questions based on them, and incorporate into onboarding activities.

We do this because I believe that our core values are ultimately what attracts and keeps team members and clients to GNGF. At GNGF, we have a core purpose ‘to educate and empower lawyers to grow their business’, but that only describes the what. Our core values define how we execute on that purpose. When we have issues with a team member or a client we can almost always tie the issue back to someone deviating from a core value.”

-Mark Homer, CEO of GNGF


Agree on your mission first, and the values spring naturally from that

“We’re a healthcare technology company that launched in 2014 — a referral community that connects the best healthcare professionals to the best jobs. When we were first developing our company values, I knew I wanted our company to be mission-focused. I strongly believe that when your company is aligned on a shared mission, your values and culture will spring naturally from that mission. For us, we are on a mission to overhaul the staffing industry, setting a new standard of service, value, and innovation.

That phrase forms the core of who we want to become, and so our values were defined from that one, focused statement. For example, our company values are as follows:

* Small victories — sweat every detail and celebrate wins

* Big picture — see the forest and the trees

* Transparency — open communications and a clear mission

* Directness — provide real access at speed

* Understanding — knowledge is power, empathy is key

* Community — a rising tide lifts all boats

* Generosity — make it personal

For our company, clearly defining these values gives not only a vision to rally behind, it preemptively gives us the structure we need to hire better and create a more committed, stronger team. As we’ve grown our team to include remote team members, it’s become more critical than ever that we are aligned with our company values.”

-Matt Tant, CEO of Relode.com


Look at your values as a commitment to your people

“In the last 18 months we’ve developed and launched a brand new strapline (‘Serving Happiness’) along with six accompanying values.

* Family First

* Celebrate Uniqueness

* Share Your Thoughts

* Make It Count

* Reward Success

* Grow Together

We felt it important to focus first on our people when defining our values, rather than specific business objectives. After all, that is who the values are really for. We see them as a commitment from the business to everyone in it – this is how we want our work environment to be experienced. With six values in total we wanted to encourage growth through rewarding quality, creative thinking and individual and company successes.

It was also important to us to have an overarching statement to encompass our vision and values, therefore we adopted ‘Serving Happiness’ as our overall strapline. This has multiple layers of meaning – first, serving happiness to each other. But after that, also serving happiness to our clients and their customers to make sure we’re meeting key business objectives.

Something we feel really strongly about is making our values aren’t just displayed on walls, but are actually lived and experienced. To tackle that, we held groups sessions to discuss how we could best reflect them within the contact centre. As well as using them as themes for all internal communication, events and rewards we decided to introduce a partnership agreement. The idea there is to agree what our commitment is as an employer around each value, what our managers would commit to and then, as the most important point, what our front-end staff would commit to in return. As an example, within our ‘grow together’ value we would offer opportunities for growth as an employer, managers would encourage individual and team growth and individuals would embrace these opportunities and search out their own. We are very early days into this but are anticipating success.”

-Tracy Davies, Chief Engagement Officer of F M Outsource 


It’s a behavior and a mindset

“At Dropoff, our core values represent what’s most important to us as a business and can be translated into the behavior and mindset of each member of the team. It’s easy to get caught up with meeting quantitative goals, and it’s important to define a set of values that help the business run smoothly. They guide business decisions and ensure you stay true to your identity; inform prospective customers and employees about your company; define what sets you apart from others in the field; and are critical to the long-term growth strategy of any company.

Our core values at Dropoff include:

– Teamwork – Collaboration is essential to success. As a customer service-focused company, we work together to ensure our clients have the best experience.

– Passion – Everyone at Dropoff truly believes in the service we provide and the value it brings. It drives employees to do their best in their roles.

– Creativity – Dropoff was one of the first to modernize the standards of same-day delivery. It took a lot of creativity to build something that hadn’t been done before, and we maintain that drive for innovation today.

– Respect – Respecting everyone’s ideas, contributions, and hard work helps facilitate an environment all members are proud to be part of.

– Communication – Open dialogue and transparency are critical across the board.

– Fun – It may sound cheesy, but “work hard, play hard” is a big part of our culture. Office lunches, happy hours, community service events, and more foster a sense of community and relationship building outside of business hours.

– Delivery – The deliveries we make are a critical aspect of the business (i.e., ensuring they are on-time, handled with care, etc.). However, delivery is more than physically getting packages from one place to the next; it’s executing on projects and committing to doing your best.”

-Sean Spector, CEO of Dropoff 


The mission is the “why”, the values are the “how”

“If an organization’s mission statement defines what it does and why, its core values answer the important question of HOW the business plans to achieve its mission.

Red Banyan’s five core values are: Results & Responsiveness; Integrity;

Commitment & Can-Do Attitude; Accountability; and Speed.

We are dedicated to achieving results for our clients and always being responsive to their needs. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and say what we believe, not what others want to hear. We are committed to the success of our clients and are always accountable for our work. Finally, being a public relations agency, Red Banyan moves at the rapid speed of today’s news cycle, acting swiftly and strategically..

Our core values play an extremely important role in everything we do. They inform and guide the way our team members interact with everyone, including clients, vendors and each other. Our values are what sets Red Banyan apart from the competition, they help us stay focused on what’s important for the success of our business, and serve as a rallying point for our team.”

-Evan Nierman, Founder and Principal of Red Banyan


Define them early and make sure they are polarizing

“Companies should define core values early and use them as a framework when hiring employees and making decisions. In my experience, people tend to pick feel good values that nobody disagrees with. But I believe your values must be polarizing in order to really draw people to your company (and segment out those who will not be a fit).

For example, Bridgewater Associates, the Connecticut-based hedge fund, has a value of Radical Transparency. For some people, having coworkers openly criticize them to their face shows horrible. And to others, it’s a great way to avoid politics or other bad habits. Having these values with bite makes people stop and consider what they truly believe in.

When starting a company, I think the founder(s) should work to develop the core values. The high level values should stay firm, although the specifics should be readdressed as the company scales (both in terms of customers and headcount).”

-Safa Mahzari, Founder & CEO of Alluxo Inc. 


Think of values as a drumbeat and mutual goal

“We spent a lot of time distilling our core values. Essentially, they keep us aligned as a group of individuals working towards a mutual goal. They keep everyone marching to the beat of the same drum.

Then we created a declaration which identifies our set of core values. These are important to us for five main reasons:

They clearly communicate what we care about, both as individuals at work and collectively as a company. This helps guide our work, decisions, teaming, communications, alignment, hiring, and investments.

They build our workplace culture. By understanding who we are, what’s important to us, and what we like to achieve together, we can make Jostle a more vibrant workplace for everyone.

They brings us together. Although we each have our quirks and unique views on the world, the declaration unites and aligns us behind common goals and our purpose.

They introduce us to customers, prospects, future Jostlers, investors, and other external stakeholders. It publicly declares what we’re all about and provides a transparent and aligned foundation for our external brand.

They provide a strong base to efficiently carry out our relentless pursuit of innovation, exploration, and expansion.”

-Brad Palmer, CEO and Co-Founder of Jostle


Your senior management is already defining them, whether you realize it or not

“Company core values are defined by the senior management in their daily work and how they treat clients and customers. If you go the extra mile for your employees and your customers without regard to the profitability of a specific action, everyone will become aware. If you pinch every penny in regards to your employees and customers disregarding their needs in favor of profit, everyone will quickly know that.

Once you as the CEO decide what you want your company to be, and live it. Everyday. Every opportunity. Every situation. It is like raising a child. You must be consistent.

My company does payroll for small and medium businesses around the country. It has to be right and on time. Our customer service level has to be perfect all the time. Outside influences like the IRS, States, the government, banks, the weather, delivery services create enough problems for our clients without us making mistakes. Every payroll is done the way I would do it. Every payroll is done exactly like a CPA was doing it. The customer must get their payroll right and on time, regardless.

It is so easy not to do that. But everyone knows at my firm that is what happens. Everybody lives it. Whatever it takes to make that happen happens! Every employee knows that they are authorized to do what is necessary to make it happen, and if they don’t there will be consequences.

It is ingrained in them by everyone from me on down. We live our work lives by it. It makes life at work, work for us. We develop procedures and policy based on that attitude. Everything we do is driven by that core value. It is that important.”

-Charles Read, President/CEO of GetPayroll


Your values are in the decisions you are already making

“At Datica – we didn’t sit down and ‘choose’ our values, but instead looked deeply at all the decisions and interactions with customers and employees to find underlying trends, motivators and meaning behind decisions. Values were less about what we do every day, and more about why we do those things. Providing an employee honest feedback about his or her performance is one example. When you look deeper, it’s not about what specifically what you said in the meeting, but being honest and open about people’s actions and outcomes. Transparency is a clear value in that context – choosing  ‘transparency’ as a core value is simply recognizing that honesty and openness about things, as much as possible, is a good way to make decisions. Trust is another core value that was a clear winner, as acting with trust in others puts us all on the same page.”

-Maggie Ostrowski, Director of Human Resources at Datica 


It’s similar to branding, but on the inside

“Deriving your venture’s core values is essential to formulating a strong brand from within. Imagine your core values being displayed beautifully in your company’s lobby: Your team will see them every day and it should engage and inspire them. At the same time, clients and shareholders should be able to read and be in agreement with, your core values actually representing, and serving, your brand well. They need to resonate across the board. I advise keeping those value-statements to three very short and actionable sentences.

But, core values are meaningless if they are not intrinsically used by everyone within the organization.

I recommend embodying your core values the same way I would recommend youprepare for a very important presentation: Once you have the presentation deck done, the speaker notes inserted, and you start practicing, you will realize that the more you practice, the more you embody the content and overall spirit. The day of the presentation you will notice that you fully embody the content, to the extent that you could hold a successful speech even if a major electricity outage hit – in candlelight, without slides, without speaker notes – because you are *living the content.*

Treat your core values the same way: Try assigning one of your new brand’s three core values to each day of the work week, then make it your goal to do something each day that turns the words of one core value into action. It might be a project scope document and you decide to *question the status quo* and try to turn it into a better product. It might be *actively doing good* and *being the example* by staying late to help a co-worker meet her deadline.”

-Fabian Geyrhalter, Principal of FINIEN, Author of “Bigger Than This – How to turn any venture into an admired brand” 


In order to work your values need buy-in, so include your personnel

“Building Company Values: Too many times, company leaders will sit in a room and make values they think work for their company. As we’ve grown from three to 17 employees, we’ve found that doesn’t work. We build our company’s values according to our personnel. As a result, our leaders have the same values as our team members.

When communicating our company values, we also demonstrate what our leaders will do to support that value so it rings true. For example, one of our core values is Respect. In order to hold all team members accountable for this value, we do the following:

-Respect the talents and experience of our team members
-Ensure an open environment to report wrongdoings or address meaningful situations
-Respect everyone’s insight while fostering an environment that allows for people to ask for help
-Build a standard of development through constructive feedback and motivation, and be clear with progress

If leaders take into account who their team members are when building company values and then create action steps to create buy-in, a company’s values will be more meaningful.”

-Donna Gray, CEO of Matchbook Creative


Think of them as guidelines “to hire and fire by”

“Last year, we defined core values for our company. We hoped these would work as a set of guidelines–values to hire and fire by. More than anything, we wanted to put our company culture into words, for our current team and those applying to our company. Knowing our core values helps us pinpoint specific goals, and our team has a solid understanding of our mission. We defined our values through the acronym, G.A.R.D.E.N., since we are focused on positive growth.”

-Shawn Rubel, Founder/CEO of Vecteezy 


It’s an act of soul searching and mission finding

“As a small business owner, I believe the values of your company are more important than your success and profits. To define our values, I had to do some soul searching and figure out why I started my company in the first place. When you get busy running your business, you might forget your purpose, and this way, your core values get lost. I have defined my company’s values by figuring out my purpose in life. What I found out is that at the core of our values is taking care of people.

We are not medical professionals, but we still look after and care for our clients. We strive to help them when they are mistreated at their jobs and we try to keep their personal lives as smooth as possible. We know that most of our clients are unfamiliar with legal options and the laws that are present, so we feel that we owe a service with our knowledge.

When our workers and other customers see how we tend to our clients, business improves and relations flourish. A company that lacks values will eventually fall apart internally and clients will see through it.

It is important that you define and carry out the values of your company: doing so will command respect from everyone, including yourself. Your values should be showcased through actions.”

-Jesse Harrison, Founder and CEO of the Employee Justice Legal Team 


Your employees’ ethics is where it all starts

“Our company’s core values came from each one of our employees’ integrity and desire to do ethical business. All we needed to do was set the stage for them to grow. Before this can happen though, you need to make sure to do two things as a business leader:

  1. *Anchor Yourself First*: Before your business can become both ethical and successful, you will be pulled and pushed all over the place by the various challenges of new businesses. You’re going to see opportunities for more money if you just ‘bend the rules a bit.’ You need to be well-anchored in some aspect in your life other than in business in order to stand firm in the face of ethical decisions. Whether your anchor is community service, religion, sports, or family, you need to have some part of your life that will hold you down when business starts throwing you around.
  2. *Surround Yourself with Challengers*: There’s nothing more damaging to the good ethics of your business than surrounding yourself with yes-men. You need people by your side that are not afraid to challenge and test your decisions. Business leaders who cross ethical boundaries rarely do so out of a desire to be a bad person. Usually, there is some justification involved. This justification can be avoided by surrounding yourself with people who will call you out when you make a judgment error. There is a fine line between insubordination and constructive criticism, and we are too often afraid of the former to attempt the latter; this is a mistake that will lead your company directly into unethical business practices.”

-Landon Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of BestCompany.com 


Values evolve from existing behavior

“As first-time company founders, our company’s core values have evolved over time. We define values based on the reality of existing behaviour, rather than trying to ‘invent’ new behaviour in a naive way. The way we implemented values was to describe what we already do, rather than writing out how we would like to be.

Core values are important because they drive the external reality of your company. Internal values drive employee behaviour. Employee behaviour drives external output. External output drives brand experiences. Culture and brand are two sides of the same coin.”

-Felix Winstone, CEO of Talkative 


Make it an exercise that everyone is involved with

“How do we choose our company’s core values? Many years ago, when the team was still small – 4 people including our founder Masami Sato – she asked the entire team to sit down together and throw out a full list of items that we would like to see within the team and that we believe are important to help our team do our work most effectively. We came up with something like 57 different words and values, and went through an exercise of grouping similar concepts together and shortlisting those that really stood out – values that we couldn’t live and work without, values that we really want new team members to embrace.

After a couple more reviews and some creativity, Masami put together this list of 6 values and arranged them ingeniously into the acronym, DOCARE:

-DESIRE TO IMPROVE — Each time, improve something.

-OPEN-MINDEDNESS — Be open to new ideas and change.

-COURAGE — Tackle difficult tasks. Stay integral.

-ACCOUNTABILITY — Deliver on promise with no excuse.

-RESPECT — Find best solutions with respect for others.

-ENJOYMENT — Find ways to enjoy every task.

Not only is it easy to remember – which is important because we want everyone in B1G1 to know the values by heart – it’s ingenious because the acronym itself speaks of what B1G1 is about! We do what we do because we care and want to make the world a better place. 🙂 

Why is DOCARE important for us?

Despite having global presence and operations, we have a relatively small team. In a small team, every individual’s energy changes the team dynamics so much. Having shared values and a common caring spirit helps make the team even more effective in encouraging each other, and encouraging our members to care about the world. It truly defines everything we do in the company and what the company exists to achieve.

In fact, they’re so important that the values also apply to our remote technical team, outsourced contractors, and student interns. We’d love everybody who is involved in the world of B1G1 to truly enjoy working with each other and to give of themselves generously. To us, that’s the everyday difference we make as a company.”

-Sharon Chan, Strategy Development Manager of B1G1 


Your values connect to your team AND your customers

“It’s important to me that our values as a company reflected two things: the values of our customers and, simple as it may sound, our values of being a helpful team. Values mean nothing unless they are stated, embodied, and lived, which is actually a significant commitment. When you choose a value, you need to make sure that it’s something you can literally live with and be every single day — ideally long before you walk into the office and long after you leave.

When we chose “Stress Less, Grow More”, that was something that was important to our customers. They obviously wanted to have the opportunity to grow without stress. But as people and as a culture, we value calm, unstressed decision making even in the face of pressure. We also value constant improvement and growth. So our motto and our values were chosen to reflect who we are as people and how we can add value to our customers.”

-Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk 


Think about what your employees actually want

“Business owners should craft their core company values by evaluating what their employees actually want. Over the past 20 years in business — and in building PostcardMania to 200+ staff — we’ve discovered that employees don’t merely want a clock-in-clock-out job. They want a purpose and a group to belong to! So ask your current team members what makes working at your business MORE than just a job — aka, why do they continue to work for you besides because they’re obviously receiving a paycheck? Answer those questions, and you’ll create core values — and a company culture — worth hustling for!”  

-Joy Gendusa, the Founder/CEO of PostcardMania 


It’s a mix of personal values (of the leaders) and how you want the company to be

“How we chose Outlaw’s core value came in 2 parts. The first being that they aligned with the personal values of both my co-founder and myself, and so it was the natural way to go. We then chose them through constant, open and honest conversations about what was important to us and how we wanted Outlaw to be. These core values were then fixed once we reached a mutual agreement.

We define these core values by embedding them into everything we do, even in our product itself (as described in my previous email). For example, one of Outlaw’s core values was a zero emergency culture, because we realized how easy it is in a startup to feel like everything is an emergency all the time, and that could lead to burnout. So we defined that value into our company’s mantra: It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon! So while we are still moving incredibly fast, we’re not freaking out if we’re not immediately featured on the cover of Fast Company. We’ll get there!

-Evan Schneyer, CEO & Co-Founder of Outlaw Inc. 


Think of what makes you special

“At RingPartner, we defined our core values with the goal of having meaningful, transparent, and tangible concepts that could lead our team through challenges and wins. To begin the process, we gathered input from major stakeholders on what they considered to be the virtues and values of the company. Questions we considered include: What makes the RingPartner culture special? What type of people do we love to recruit? What attitudes and behaviors shine the most at RingPartner? How do we elevate our peers? Feedback to these types of questions was pulled into a master list, which was whittled down to four common themes that eventually were transformed into succinct phrases: Raise the Tide, Drive Forward, Be Courageous, and Be REDiculous.

What didn’t make the cut? Since the intention was to define concepts that would inspire people, “table stake” values were passed on in favor of more ambitious values that could serve as a goal to move toward rather than maintaining the bare minimum. We focused on values that made everyone say, That! That’s the special sauce! Once we identified the four concepts listed above we fleshed each one out to have context and real life examples of how anyone on the team could exemplify the core values.

It’s imperative to have clearly defined core values so every team member knows how to align their goals and daily tasks with the company, and so there is an easy reference point for what to do when faced with new projects and situations at work. Our core values encompass trying new things to expand our comfort zones and foster growth, being considerate of how your actions effect on the work of others, pushing forward through challenging projects in seek of solutions, and celebrating our wins and successes along the way.

Anyone can list core values, and it’s important to make a conscious effort to walk the walk if you want your team to truly buy into them. At RingPartner, core values are tied into performance reviews, providing every team member with a chance to specify how the core values are reflected in their work. We also share regular team shout-outs to highlight when someone has done a stellar job of embodying one of our core values. A company’s values, if thought through and then reinforced regularly to provide live examples of the core values in action, can serve as a beacon for every member on your team to cohesively work toward specific goals and achievements on the horizon.

-Sarah Gulbrandsen, Vice President of Sales & Marketing of RingPartner


Figure out your philosophy and work ethic first

“Company culture and having clear values is essential to a business’ success.  But how do you establish those values for your company? It starts with your personal values. The first step to defining your company’s values is figuring out your philosophy and work ethic and how to implement it in the workplace and culture.

I always saw the value of diversity and I knew from the beginning that I wanted Badger Maps to consist of individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, which is why we hire across the nation and internationally. We are committed to advancing both gender and racial diversity and prioritize fostering a culture that allows our employees to feel comfortable and welcome in the space. Focusing on hiring a diverse team gives us an advantage in customer success. We have customers and prospects of different cultures who speak languages other than English. Having employees who speak their language and understand their culture allows us to understand our customers’ needs and therefore, serve them better.

From having worked at big companies like Google before starting Badger, I’ve learned that employees are a lot happier when they are given the freedom to approach projects in their own way. That’s why we value autonomy at Badger Maps. I want each team member to know they play an integral role in the company, so I give them the autonomy that most companies don’t provide. This allows employees to exercise their creativity, which leads to innovation.

Besides diversity, autonomy and inclusion, appreciation is also key to employee satisfaction in my opinion. In order to implement that value in our culture, we close off our week every Friday by giving “props”, where employees are recognized for their contributions on projects or something notable they’ve done that week. Simple gestures like that greatly impact the team’s productivity and motivation.

By recognizing the things I personally value the most as founder and CEO – which is diversity, appreciation, inclusion and autonomy among others – I naturally shaped the culture toward these values and implemented processes that foster an environment that I see as my dream work place.

When thinking about your values, ask yourself what your personal dream work environment and team would look like and how everyone would interact and work together. Also take a look at your current work culture and team members and what defines your culture and ways of communication. How would you describe the values at your business right now?
What’s important to your business? What makes working there unique?


Every business naturally develops its own culture and you have to take a deep look at what that culture contains and how you can define it on paper.

Once you know your core values, make sure you state them clearly, make them actionable and keep them consistent and aligned with your company’s mission.

If everyone identifies with your values, they become part of the daily culture and interactions and ultimately, lead to a stronger and more motivated team that helps you grow your business.”

-Steven Benson, Founder and CEO of Badger Maps


What drives your employees and makes them happy?

“When defining your company’s core beliefs and goals, one of the first steps is to ask employees for what means the most to them. What drives them each day and makes them happy. Once you have formed a vision for your company’s core values then it’s time to put it into effect. You can do this by asking key members of your organization to recreate the best version of your organization. *What personnel from your organization do you feel can carry the core values and purpose and have the most credibility among their peers.”

-Lindsey Havens, Senior Marketing Manager of PhishLabs


Your values should be digestible and part of your daily rhythm

“At Blueboard, we meet every 1-2 years to revisit our values, as our team grows and changes, we want to make sure our values are still relevant and inspiring to everyone at the company. In these sessions we’ll brainstorm new values, or sunset ones that no longer represent our current culture or support our plans for growth. Our values are currently listed on our website.

How did we choose our current values?

1) Create an Exceptional Experience: as an experience company, this is our numero uno – we want to create exceptional experiences not only for our rewarded employees, but across all teams (branding and marketing, customer success, product, etc.).

2) Build Meaningful Relationships: building authentic connections is part of our company’s mission statement, so naturally wanted to bring a people-first attitude to our values.

3) Live Passionately: we’re in the business of celebrating amazing achievements at the workplace, inspiring reward recipients to live out their passions through our catalog of rewards. We too, want to bring a sense of creativity and passion to everything we do at Blueboard.

4) Be Brave and Bold: as a startup, we have to get scrappy and move quickly. We want to empower our teams to think big, take risks, and learn from failures, otherwise we might get left behind in the dust.

5) Dance a Little Different: At Blueboard, we’re turning recognition on it’s head, challenging the status quo of cash and gift card incentives. Not only are we dancing a little different in how we recognize employees, but this value also comes to life literally on the dance floor during many Blueboard team events and offsites simple_smile.

Values should be actionable, digestible (i.e. less than 5), and integrated into your daily rhythm, conversations, and long-term goals.”

-Morgan Chaney, Head of Marketing at Blueboard 


Employees’ input is crucial 

“Speak to your employees about what they value in a workplace. As much as it may be your company, if you have staff that you value and want to keep hold of, you should consider their opinion in what core values the business should have; they are there every day, just like you are. What is it for them that makes a great company culture? What do they think a business should value in terms of ethics, rewards and personality? Would they rather have a formal dress code or be able to wear what they want?

Of course, you will have the final call on defining your core values but asking for your employees’ input is a great step towards ensuring a harmonious workplace. It will also be beneficial when hiring new employees, too, because you will be able to evaluate them on whether they would be good cultural fit based on these values.”

-Steve Pritchard – HR Manager at Cuuver.com 


Sometimes your customer holds the answer

“Ask yourself what matters to your customers. Many consumers don’t just value quality products for a good price, they also believe things like friendliness and reliability are equally important. Look at the reviews you’ve been left on your service and products and try to incorporate this feedback into your core values.

Doing this will help to define you as the brand that your target audience will want to shop or do business with. This will encourage your customer service department to be as friendly as possible, your sales representatives to be as informative and helpful as possible, etc. It also helps to establish a tone of voice throughout your business, from your website content to how your employees should dress and communicate to the customers.”

-Grant van der Harst, Managing Director of Anglo Liners


Your values should match the talent you want in your organization

“As being CEO of a startup, it’s very important to have the company values defined right from the beginning in order to only attract talent that matches with them, right from the start. Frankly, the way how we defined them wasn’t really a democratic approach, but rather a CEO decision and the company values pretty much reflect my own core values. The reason why every company should have these values is clear: you want to attract and hire people that embrace them, not just accept them, otherwise you will get conflicts within teams or departments rather quickly. And, while technical conflicts or conflicts about how to solve a problem can be discussed, a conflict in values often is not fixable.”

-Philipp Wolf, Founder & CEO, Custify


Values aren’t created, but discovered

“You define your core values usually by looking at what the company founder or founders valued most in the way they operate their business. Values really aren’t something you create. They’re something to be discovered.

The reason it’s important to identify core values is so the leaders know the type of people to hire and even the type of customers to attract.

When employees share the core values of the company it isn’t necessary to force the values onto them. They live and breathe the same values. For example, if a company has the core value of punctuality they need to hire people that arrive on time for interviews, that return post-interview calls on time, etc. If they hire someone that tends to be 10 minutes late to meetings and 2 days late with projects it will drive everybody crazy.

Knowing your values allows you to hire the right people, which allows for more efficiency within the business. That leads to cost savings, which can mean higher profits or lower pricing to attract more customers. It’s a huge competitive advantage.”

-Dayne Shuda, Founder of Ghost Blog Writers


It traces back to what you’re already doing / producing

“At Maple Holistics, our core values all trace back to the products that we produce and the content that we curate. At the end of the day, not only do we want to provide consumers with all-natural and cruelty-free personal care products, we want to educate consumers in regards to the importance of all-natural and cruelty-free personal care.

This is important to us because as nice as it is to build a company that employs and provides for a wealth of individuals and their families, being able to accomplish something greater and having a positive effect on the country at large is even more valuable to us. Our ripple effect is represented by educating people and raising awareness in the hopes that cruelty-free and all-natural personal care becomes the norm and not an occasional exception.”

-Nate Masterson, HR Manager for Maple Holistics


Your values are (or should be) in everything you do

“Everything we do is based on the idea of providing the best treatment possible to those who are struggling with the disease of addiction. Substance abuse affects the whole family, and therefore, the whole family must be involved and invested in the healing process to achieve the best results. That’s the root of our core values. We provide services and support such as dedicated Family Wellness Counselors, online tools, and opportunities for family engagement during treatment. Loved ones have the opportunity to learn about addiction, the treatment process, and how to support the people they care about in their recovery. It’s all free of charge as part of our commitment to complete recovery.

Our core values are what sets us apart from the rest, so it’s important for every decision at every level to line up with our mission. Establishing and clearly defining these core values means every employee has a common goal. Providing the best care is simply part of our culture.”

-Jerry Haffey, CEO & Founder of Ambrosia Treatment Center 


They should be memorable, and not just “table stakes”

“A few years ago, I was asked to sit on a panel with three other business owners to talk about the importance of core values as a success factor. The three other founders struggled to remember their five-six corporate core values, and I realized at that moment that we had a problem: if you can’t remember your core values, do they matter? Before it was my turn to speak, I made the decision to revisit our core values at Anvil and trim from five to three. I figured they would be easier to remember and manage against three values. Years later, I’ve reflected on the power of that simple decision, even if I didn’t fully understand the impact. Whether you’re a business owner, seasoned executive or entrepreneur just starting your journey, I highly recommend keeping your unique, relevant and memorable core values to the magic number of three.

In terms of selecting the core values, I have the following thoughts, based on my experience:

The values should not be table stakes like honesty or integrity. If you have to say it, there is a problem.

Talk with your employees, customers, partners and vendors and ask them “what do you think makes use unique within our industry or as a company?” The answers should help triangulate the types of words that are unique and relevant.

To put the final touches on it, as the owner or executive team should get away from the office for a day or so (I recommend an annual strategic planning retreat) and make the core values a focus. Start with a brainstorm and whittle down the core values based on key criteria like “am I living this value?” “will this resonate with the team?” “Is it memorable?” “Would I tattoo these on my arm?” and “if your competitor had the same values, would they be able to carry it off?”

In the end, I believe core values should reflect the current team and culture, especially reflective of your key players. Some of the values can be more aspirational, however.

Lastly, when rolling them out to the team, create an exercise or time for discussion so everyone can share their thoughts and gain alignment.”

-Kent Lewis, President & Founder of Anvil


What you stand for PLUS what’s actionable

“There’s value in not only defining the company’s core values but also making sure all employees are aware of them.

—— What Do We Stand For ——

While there are many ways to go about creating your core company values, the way we did it was to focus first on what we stand for. When coming up with answers to this question, it’s easy to be generic. Try to be as specific as possible and relate your values to your company whenever possible. If you want to have general statements (things like “We are detail-oriented”), follow them up with an explanation of how you accomplish this and why it is a core part of how you and your employees operate. Ultimately, you want these values to be actionable; you want your employees to be able to embody these values.

—— What Do We Strive to Achieve ——

The next question we sought to answer was what we are striving to accomplish as a company and as individuals. The first question was focused on how we act, and this question is focused on where we’re going. It is important to set goals for your company that are clear and ambitious. Again, try to be as specific as possible. The more generic your core values, the more ways they can be interpreted. You want your employees to be a united front moving towards a specific set of goals, so the more explicit and clear you can be, the better.

—— Why Do This ——

You’re going to spend a lot of time creating your values, and you may find yourself thinking “Is this really worth the time? Will our employees actually pay attention or care?” The honest answer is that many of them won’t. However, this is still an important practice for your executives to go through. Additionally, it is up to you to make sure your employees are aware of your core values and understand the importance.

So how do you do this? The first and most important step is to embody these values in everything you say and do. You are their example, so it’s important that you act like it. The second thing you need to do is make the values known to your employees. This could be through a meeting in which you discuss the purpose and meaning behind the values. You could also display the values prominently throughout the office so that your employees have a constant visual reminder. However you choose to make your employees aware, make sure you communicate the importance of these values.”

-Jacob Dayan, CEO and Co-Founder of Community Tax


 

What do you think – was this a helpful way to think about your company’s core values? Are you inspired to approach yours in a different way now? Let us know @talktokununu!

For more info on how to build a healthy company culture that reflects externally in your employer brand, check out our free resources.


Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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