The Tried-and-True Process for Choosing Company Values

by Sabrina Son on Dec 3, 2015 8:00:00 AM

iStock_000009017708_Small-2Organizational values help shape your entire company — from the people you hire to the business decisions you make.

And often, companies will skimp on their values. Sure, they'll claim their organization lives their values, when in fact, they're just mere words on the wall. Think about it this way:

You wouldn't start a road trip without a map. Why would you start a company without clear direction?Tweet: You wouldn't start a road trip without a map. Why would you start a company without clear direction? http://bit.ly/1lqILGK via @TINYpulse

So before you start thinking of random rules to implement as your company values, take a step back and try a more deliberate approach. This was the approach that TINYpulse's founder and CEO, David Niu, took to come up with our company's values, and from day one, they've been the foundation for everything we do here.

 

Mission to Mars

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Before I jump in, here's some background around this approach. As silly as it sounds, this process — called Mission to Mars — is based off of Jim Colllins's exercise for discovering your company's core values. The basic premise is: if you were to rebuild your company on Mars, which five people would you take with you? 

 

1. List who you like and why

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As a manager or CEO, you've worked with a wide variety of people and personalities. By now, there are several that you admire and not only enjoy working with, but you'd be willing to work with them at a different company as well.

Write down their names (and remember, you can only pick five!). Then list out what you like about them. Are they clear communicators? Do they embrace change and always have a solution in mind that allows them to adapt quickly to the change?

 

2. List who you don't like and why

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Along with the people who we loved working with, there are also those who we dreaded. You know, the kind that drained your energy and made you want to pull your hair out.

Write down those five people's names and the characteristics that made them impossible to work with.

 

3. Brainstorm values

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Pick a few values that make sense, not to you, but to your organization. Now compare those values with the lists from step one and two. Imagine how your list of values would apply to the people you enjoyed working with. Would they allow those people to thrive? Or would they squash their souls?

And of course, don't forget to apply those values to your list of duds. Do they help weed them out or are they still lurking in the cracks?

If you answered "yes" to both of these, then your values are good to go. If not, then try not to sweat because it can take hundreds of tries.

This step is where Jim Collins's theory comes to life. He describes, 

"First, you cannot 'set' organizational values, you can only discover them. Nor can you 'install' new core values into people. Core values are not something people “buy in” to. People must be predisposed to holding them. Executives often ask me, “How do we get people to share our core values?” You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. You must attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere."

4. Repeat

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As said earlier, your first values list won't be successful. Just keep repeating until everything falls into place. Continue drafting new versions of values until you can finally say a solid "yes" to both quesions.

 

5. Make values easy to remember

It can be easy to fall into the trap of making clever values. But will your employees understand them right off the bat? Probably not.

Make them unique. And make them memorable. Your employees won't follow the values if they don't know what they are and what they mean. To give you an idea of memorable values, here's how TINYpulse spells them out:

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By working backwards, you'll find the right values to create the organizational culture you want for your company.

 

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This post was written by Sabrina Son

Sabrina is the managing editor for the TINYpulse blog. A Seattle native, she loves her morning (or anytime) coffee, spending her weekends on the mountains, and of course, the famous rain.

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