The first step towards a strong company culture is establishing values — you know, those four our five words or statements emblazoned on your careers page or written on the walls of your office. Seems easy — it’s just four or five words, right?
Wrong. Those four or five statements need to be carefully chosen to best represent your organization’s mission, provide the framework for building a positive employee experience, and establish the fundamentals for your employer brand. Those phrases have weight — and every word matters.
I asked Peter Phelan, founder of ValuesCulture, for some tips on how organizations can put together a set of core company values that showcase their mission in a way that inspires employees on every level, while engaging potential hires, too.
Assemble Your Team
When choosing a core values team, make sure to include corporate stakeholders, executives and employee representatives to offer a healthy mix of perspectives from across your organization.
“A big part of ValuesCulture’s process in helping companies identify core values is to include in the data-gathering process, a separate cohort of “Culture Champions” that aren’t executives and represent a broad cross-section of teams, locations, levels, and tenures,” Phelan said.
A diverse set of minds working together will ensure all members of the organization have a say in what matters most to them — resulting in stronger values across the board.
Focus On Strengths
A cross-section of executives and employees is key to outlining a set of values that best represents all members of your company. But in some cases, too many cooks can mean losing out on the right ingredients as everyone throws their ideas on the table. It’s important for all ideas to be heard, but the goal is to find a common, unifying set of values that will resonate across your entire organization.
To avoid information overload, Phelan suggests creating a “Venn Diagram of Ideals.” Begin by doing a general brainstorm to collect ALL your initial ideas. This could get messy (you may end up with 30 or 40 different statements, depending on the size and contributions from your team!) but it’s a great way to get general ideas out there.
Once you’ve got that down, organize those ideas into different groups or themes and see where those statements overlap — those will become the beginnings of your core value statements.
“Once you narrow it down, focus on the four or five that everyone shares,” Phelan said. “The fewer the better.”
Keep It Real
After you’ve identified the key values that resonate across your entire team, focus on how to translate those values into your company culture — and if those values really are the right “fit.”
“In a world of infinite possibilities, you need to stay grounded,” Phelan said.
At this part of the process, consider the demographics of your employees — are they mostly entry-level workers? Is there a large population of remote employees? What do you care about most as you build and grow your team? Tailor your values to ensure they’re identifiable to all members of your organization, and reflect the nature of your company’s overall goals.
Get The Entire Company Involved
Once the heavy lifting has been done by your core values team, it’s time for the rest of your organization to weigh in.
Phelan suggests presenting your set of “finalist” values to the whole company, and asking employees to vote for the ones they identify with most.
“These steps will lead to a true-er set of values that resonate for the very people who you need to embrace them,” Phelan said.
And employee feedback matters — according to IBM, 80 percent of employees feel more engaged when their work is consistent with the core values of their company, so it’s important to get everyone on the same page.
Your employees are also the ones who will serve as the ambassadors of your company mission. If they’re passionate about your organization’s values, they’ll help tell your story — and ultimately attract potential hires who feel strongly about your mission, too.
Think about it this way: the same values you had when you were a child shifted when you got older (teenage rebellion perhaps?) and shifted yet again when you continued to grow into adulthood.
Well, businesses work the same way.
“Values have to change. What got you here as a company of 50 employees may not get to to where you need to be as you grow into a company of 250, or more,” Phelan said. ”The world is still changing.”
Be sure to take time to step back and reassess whether your values still hold as your company culture shifts over time — and don’t be afraid to make tweaks to ensure your values correspond with your organization’s ever-evolving mission.