It might be easy to dismiss company values as just pretty ideas.
But what do these lofty concepts have to do with the running of your business? A lot, actually.
Organizational Values Definition
Company values help you define who you are — to your staff, to the people investing in your business, and even to yourself. They shape your culture and create a self-defined standard for you to hold yourself accountable to.
Best of all, they can act as a North Star to help you make decisions. Hiring and firing decisions. Business expansion decisions. Day-to-day decisions. When something has you stuck, you can refer back to your own values and mission to see which of your options holds true to your beliefs.
5 Guidelines to Creating Company Values
The importance of company values means that you should be thoughtful when you choose them, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Here are five easy steps to guide you:
1. List who you like and why
As a manager, you’ve had plenty of time to work with bosses and colleagues, and by now, there are several you admire and enjoy working with. Jot down the names of four or five of them. Then list out what you liked about them.
2. List who you don’t like and why
We’ve also all worked with people we find less than stellar — the kind that drain your energy and make you want to pull your hair out. So flip the preceding point on its head and list the names of four or five people you’ve disliked working with. Then describe the characteristics that made them unappealing colleagues.
3. Brainstorm values and compare
Pick a few values you think might make sense for your organization. Then compare them to the lists you wrote up for #1 and #2 above. Imagine your list of values applied to the people you liked working with. Would your values make those people thrive? Next, imagine your values applied to the duds. Do they help weed folks out?
To have a solid list of values, your answer needs to be “yes” to both of these.
Your first crack at a values list won’t be dead-on. That’s okay. Just keep repeating the exercise until it comes together. Draft a new set of values until the answer is "yes" on both fronts.
5. Make them easy to remember
There’s nothing like an acronym to make your values easy to remember.
Organizational Values Example
At TINYpulse, we live and breathe our culture. And when it comes to creating something that's easy to remember, we opted for an organizational values list to keep them top of mind for everyone:
Elect and spread positivity
Lead with solutions and embrace change
Increase communication with open engagement
Go the extra mile with passion
Hold oneself accountable
Treasure culture and freedom
In addition to acronyms, conversational wording and team-centric language like “we” will help the values stick in your employees’ minds.
Living Your Organizational Core Values
Now that you have your values, it’s time to evangelize! Don’t be afraid to tell everyone involved about them. For values to become core to the team, the team needs to know what they are. Our research found that less than half of employees know their company’s vision, mission, and values, so you can’t just sit idly by and hope your team will learn your values on their own.
It doesn’t matter whether your company is young or old — it’s never too late to institute your company values. Here are the steps you should take to make them come alive:
1. Assess your current reality
First off, you need to know where your employees stand. To kick things off, ask them something like, “With eyes closed and fingers crossed, can you recite our organization's vision, mission, and cultural values?” One question is all you need to gauge their knowledge (or ignorance) and see where people are currently at.
2. Evangelize them
Print them up, post them on the walls, talk about them every day. There’s no better way than to make sure your staff buys into and identifies with the organization’s values than to make them part of everyday life.
3. Reinforce them
Did an employee do something that lives up to your values? Let them know. Are you assessing solutions to a problem? Ask your employees which solutions live up to your values. And perhaps most importantly, give employees the tools to enact your values. For example, if your values include "honesty," "openness," or "transparency," do they have the opportunity to communicate with leadership? TINYpulse client Limeade made sure that the answer to this question was "yes" at their company:
4. Make business decisions by them
You’d be amazed how much easier it is to make business decisions when you have a set of guidelines you can use to vet them. Visions and missions let you do just that. Plus, when you discuss decision making in the context of your values, you help solidify those values in everyone’s minds.
5. Make hiring decisions by them
Include your values in your job postings, and ask interested candidates to provide some examples of how they’ve exemplified these values. If they don’t relate to your values or aren’t able to share how, you’ll know they won’t be a great fit for your culture. Better to get it out in the open now.
Over time, everyone on the team will come to see these values as akin to the organization’s identity. They’ll take them on as their own and make their own decisions based on them.
According to Science ...
The only way to make your values work is by getting inside people’s heads, right? Well, neuroscience can tell us how people’s minds work.
Now, most of us don’t want to dig into a pile of scientific research, but luckily we can just see what the experts can tell us. Stanford University’s Jamil Zaki conducted research on how people’s values relate to being part of a group, and here are some of the most interesting ideas for company leaders.
1. Social connection
It’s important to us that our values are shared by the rest of our social group. In Zaki’s research, people who were told that their opinions were the same as the rest of the group experienced a reward response in their brains. So hiring people who align with your values will actually increase your employees’ motivation to share those values.
2. Shifting values
Zaki also found that if a person learned that their value judgments were different from their peers, they shifted their opinions closer to the group’s. In other words, social connections can actually change a person’s values. One way you can leverage this effect is by using employee recognition to highlight those who exemplify your values — this gives your staff concrete examples of the behaviors your company wants to encourage.
Another experiment showed that people change their values based on the framing of the activity. People find different values rewarding based on the values that are important in the context. So make sure to frame your organization and mission properly for your employees. A company that presents itself as an innovator will encourage people to value creativity and risk taking. On the other hand, a company that prides itself on being a traditional institution encourages employees to value caution and responsibility.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make your company values come to life ... just a little advice from neuroscientists.
Organizational Values and Culture
Just because everyone shares the same values doesn’t mean that they’ll always agree. Different members of your organization might practice the values in different ways based on things like their role in the company. It happens, but it’s okay. What’s important is that everyone knows where their colleagues are coming from so they can keep communicating and cooperating.
1. Customer satisfaction
Keeping your clients happy is a vital part of staying in business. But consider how a salesperson might approach satisfaction in contrast to someone who works in development or manufacturing. A developer might be willing to delay a product launch to ensure quality (which makes customers happy). But in sales, you’re talking directly to the customer, and it’s more important to you to keep a smile on their face — which is harder to do when they’re getting impatient and you have to keep telling them “no.”
You could define integrity as always obeying any relevant regulations and policies. But what if delivering on a promise to a client conflicts with that? Would you bend the company rules, just a little bit? When would it be justified? Employees in more administrative roles might say this should happen rarely or never. Those who work in customer-facing positions might say that keeping your word is a higher priority for organizational integrity.
Working together means making sure everyone is happy, but sometimes different people’s needs run into one another. What would you do if you had an employee who tried hard but performed at a subpar level? They are a part of the team, so maybe they deserve the time and effort of remediation. On the other hand, a manager might worry about the rest of the team who has to shoulder the burden for that employee.
Different generations can interpret professional behavior differently. Millennials are known for being informal and less hierarchical. Perhaps to this group, working remotely when you can’t get to the office (due to illness, family obligations, or off-site meetings with clients) is better than wasting time on commuting. Another employee might consider it unprofessional for a colleague to frequently be unavailable for in-person meetings or collaboration.
Disagreements aren’t a question of right or wrong when each party is working to uphold your organizational values. It’s important to be aware that these conflicts can happen so you can help your team navigate them.
3 Common Myths About Core Values
Now that you know how to choose your values and bring your employees on board, make sure you don’t get caught by the myths running around about them.
1. They don’t affect employee engagement
In our 2015 Industry Ranking Report, we found that workers in Construction & Facilities Services averaged the highest happiness scores out of all the industries using TINYpulse. We took a look at how employees in this industry responded to one of the TINYpulse questions: “Do you feel our company values are aligned with your values?” Their answers make it clear that sharing values with your company and your coworkers makes you happier on the job:
“The company values have a customer-centric mindset as do I. Our challenge is how to effectively provide superior customer service and communication from a process-driven place.”
“I share the values of the company in my personal life. That is one of the things that make it very easy to love working here.”
“One of the most satisfying thing about working here is the close alignment of the company values to my own. That my peers overwhelmingly share the same values is icing on the cake.”
2. They’re fluffy and offer no real bottom-line value
Parnassus Investments created The Workplace Fund, a fund comprised of American firms proven to be outstanding places to work. The fund has consistently offered strong returns. More remarkably, during the height of the Great Recession, The Workplace Fund generated 10.81% returns vs. 3.97% for the S&P 500 Index.
Jerome Dodson, founder of Parnassus, explains this phenomenon better than we ever could in a recent interview: "I think what happens when you have a contented workplace, people are willing to put out more effort to improve operations during really difficult times. While I think every organization has their ups and downs, the downs are not as pronounced because everybody pulls together to try to get through the crisis. And, of course, this consistently more engaged performance inevitably reveals itself in the firm’s bottom line."
3. Job candidates don’t really care about them
In today’s increasingly millennial-filled workplaces, this couldn’t be more wrong. According to the Cone Millennial Cause Study, 79% of millennials want to work for a company that cares about a bottom line other than profit, such as social responsibility or sustainability. And 78% believe companies have a responsibility for making a difference in the world.
Your job candidates really do care about your values. They’re looking for them on your website and will likely ask about them during the interview. Don’t you want to have a solid answer?
Organizational values are a living, breathing thing. Feed them and nurture them, and your team will embrace them. You’ll find candidates will be easier to hire, employees will be more engaged, and your bottom line will actually improve. Maintaining your values takes effort, but the rewards are worth it.
Share Your Tips
Every organization has their own set of values. How do you make sure all of your employees are living up to them? If you have a great tip, please share it in the comments section below or tweet at us @TINYpulse!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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