4 proven tips for defining your company’s values

If I asked you to recite your company values right now, could you?

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If not, you’re missing out on a powerful tool for shaping company strategy.

Of course, your values articulate what you care about as an organization. They can also guide employee behavior. And at their best, your values work together with your mission and vision to create a clear guiding foundation for your organization.

In fact, defining, documenting, and demonstrating your core values can help be a steadying influence for your organization— especially if you’re in an industry, like tech, that is always shifting.

Your values become a North Star that helps guide company operations and team behaviors — reinforcing the best qualities of your company culture.

They help you make hiring decisions, allowing you to measure candidates by how well their values align with your own. Authentic values help you avoid choices that deviate from your core purpose, and help you recognize areas of growth that are true to what you stand for.

Yet, many companies struggle to make their values meaningful to the entire organization, or worse yet, fail to define what their values are in the first place.

Here are  four simple suggestions to help ensure you get the most value from your values:

Work together

Let’s start with the cardinal sin of any values project — when leadership dictates from on high: “Here are our values, the executive team talked about it at our retreat in Palm Springs, and here’s what we came up with…”

The problem is that executive leadership are often disconnected from the day-to-day experiences of their entire team, especially in large enterprise tech companies.

Your values become a North Star that helps guide company operations and team behaviors — reinforcing the best qualities of your culture.

Values are much more powerful when they are  an authentic outgrowth of your company’s culture. To define your values, use  collaborative processes meant to unearth the unique aspects of your organization, its people , and how they are changing the world .

Impress upon your working team the importance of collecting input from the most passionate people across the organization. Have team leads identify who among their smaller teams stand out from the pack as embodiments of what’s best about your organization. These are the people whose experiences and insights will help ensure your values feel authentic to everyone .

Keeping  your project open and inclusive is perhaps the best way to ensure your final values resonate across the organization. Inviting widespread participation and input helps everyone feel they had a say — or at least the opportunity to have a say—in the eventual outcome.

A New Kind mantra: bring people along the journey and they’ll be more likely to embrace the destination.

Less is more

Don’t take a kitchen sink approach when it comes to your values. Yes, values are inherently personal and subjective, so it can be hard to tell a team member their suggested value is less right than someone else’s. So your list of values grows, and before long you have a dozen or more on your hands. Not ideal. How can you expect your values to help guide your team’s behavior if they can’t even remember what they are?

In our experience, the sweet spot is somewhere between three and five values. Enough to capture varying viewpoints and sentiments, but not so many that they’re impossible to recite.

To avoid the values laundry list, look out for overlap. Are two of your values saying much the same thing? Is there a word somewhere in between that could communicate both ideas?

Also, avoid unnatural acronyms. Acronyms can help with memorability, to be sure. But if you latch onto an acronym — TEAM, WIN, PURPOSE, PRIDE — you might  realize you need a filler word or phrase just to fulfill every letter. If an acronym arises naturally, great — otherwise don’t force it.

Cliche is okay

Don’t frustrate yourself over the perfectly unique articulation of  each value. The thesaurus only has but so many words to offer. What matters more is to build meaning into the words you end up choosing.

Because face it, no matter which words you choose — you won’t be the first. Even if you feel like “teamwork” is simply too overdone, I can promise you won’t be the first to choose “collaboration,” “togetherness,” or “harmony,” or “partnership” either.

The point instead is to think of your values as much deeper and more meaningful than just that single word. Whether you and a competitor both choose “teamwork” as a value, what matters most is what teamwork means to you

Take a page out of New Kind’s book and consider finding another lens through which you can look at your values. We defined our values in terms of the “spirits” that guide us in our behavior as New Kinders. (You can find them about halfway down the About page on our website.)

In our work, regardless of title or tenure, we each embody the spirit of the Catalyst, the Guide, and the Citizen. We go on to define each spirit with language that lets the reader know how to put that spirit into practice. This creative structure felt more aligned to who we are as a company than the traditional thesaurus-inspired approach.

Avoid defining each value according to what Merriam and Webster say — consult with your team and create your own definition based on the story and perspective that is unique to you and you alone. What does “teamwork” mean in the context of your organization, your working groups, your goals and vision? How does that notion play into the larger narrative you’re sharing with the world? Are there anecdotes and moments in time throughout your history where team members have put the value into practice? Create the context and content that will help build meaning into the values you choose.

Make your values accessible

Once you’ve aligned around what it means to live your organization’s values, make sure your people  know where to find them.

Many organizations include their values as part of an overall brand book. These handy companions can be distributed at company events and given to every new employee who joins your team. Encourage your team to keep these at arm’s length for easy reference. Go a step further and create a perforated, playing card-sized insert that employees can tear out of the brand book and place on their desk.

Many companies choose to put their values up on the wall for all to see and remember.

You could also include your values to the company intranet for easy digital access. Or dedicate a specific section of your company website’s About page to publish your values for all to see. Online platforms like Frontify make it easy to collect brand guidelines for digital publication — consider carving out space for your values there as well.

  • Don’t forget! Your values, while a guiding force internally, can also be shared with the world. More and more organizations are making an effort to show  external audiences — customers, partners, potential employees — the values that guide them. Recently our friends at SAS built a social media campaign to share with the world their recent mission, vision, and values work. Tomorrow’s leading organizations are moving away from only talking about what they do and how. Instead they tell stories about who they are, and why. Values have an important role to play in bringing that story to life.

Many organizations opt to do it big, so to speak, and splash their values on the walls of their offices. If your values initiative is happening in conjunction with a larger corporate rebrand, this might be a good time to consider such an office facelift. High-quality, removable vinyl decals can be a good, less permanent alternative to paint, for organizations in co-working spaces or that know a change of address is coming in the near future.

Parting thoughts

Organizations are increasingly opting to wear their hearts on their sleeves — externalizing traditionally internal elements like their mission, vision, and values because they see the real business value that comes from sharing their purpose with the world. Clients and customers are more likely than ever to choose to do business with companies that share their values and are committed to returning good to the world.

Defining, documenting, and demonstrating your values is among the most important initiatives your organization can undertake. Hopefully the suggestions we’ve shared here will help ensure your values are authentic and accessible.

New Kind has found success with our open, collaborative approach in helping organizations with their values projects. If you’d like some help with yours, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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