Values Are More Than Some Philosophical B.S.

“Culture is a consequence of a company’s values.” – Charles Day, Founder of Looking Glass

Welcome back to the Culture Hacker Blog Series. Let’s discuss your organizational values, which I believe are the foundation of your company culture. While values are often dismissed as some philosophical B.S., they may be the single most important cultural mechanism within a company.

In our previous blog, we defined company culture as the mindset and attitude of your employees about what they do, which manifests itself in how they do things—their actions and behaviors. Values – and more importantly, the behaviors associated with them – are how you demonstrate that mindset. They define how staff should interact with the organization, customers, and each other, and they guide decision-making at all levels of the organization. If your values are just words on the break room wall, you’re seriously missing the point, and missing out on a great opportunity to unite your organization under a strong company culture.

Now, while many companies have values, the problem with them is often that:

  • The values are outdated, so they don’t resonate with the younger workers who are dominating companies today.
  • They are not promoted, seen, or utilized, so often employees don’t know they exist.
  • There are too many values, so employees are not sure what is most important.
  • The values are vague: they must have associated behaviors that are observable and measurable.
  • Company leaders do not support the values with their beliefs, words, and actions.

So, what can you do to refresh or rebuild your company values? To begin with, plan on crafting just four values, because you can add more later as people accept and begin to own the first four. I always recommend that companies involve the team in the process so that they take ownership in the updated values. Utilize an online survey or put together some small focus groups to help brainstorm the values. For each value, include two or three observable and measurable behaviors that will bring it to life.

Here is a quick example of a value and some tangible behaviors:

  • Value:
    • Be Creative
  • Behaviors:
    • Be open to new ideas, technology, and people
    • Engage in constructive disagreements that lead to the best outcome

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last few months, you’ve seen the countless scandals from large-scale organizations. Wells Fargo and Uber are just two of the many companies whose names have been disgraced – and why have these scandals been such a huge deal? Well, to be frank, the companies in question did not live by their values, nor did they incorporate them in any way into the performance expectations of their staff. If you truly want your company culture to change, the values should stay at the forefront of all you do.

So, once your values are defined, incorporate them across the organization into key employee experience mechanisms, including the selection process, orientation and training, performance appraisals, recognition programs, and especially leadership expectations. A recent article by Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, recommended that you go so far as to reinforce values in every communication platform, because, as she wrote, “Every employee touchpoint should reinforce the values.”

A final note – and one of critical importance – you must ensure your managers understand the values as well as the behaviors associated with them. After all, managers need to walk the talk and lead by example. Take the time to review the values and behaviors with them, and then give managers time to adopt the newly crafted ideals. I highly recommend making the rollout and ongoing promotion of the values a leadership expectation.

As Roy Disney said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Company values are not just some philosophical B.S. They support the ability to work ethically, grow easily, and make decisions appropriately. Your values are the foundation of your employee experience and of the company’s success.

Photo Credit: Phenom Apps images Flickr via Compfight cc