Company Values: Why They Matter and How to Come Up With Them

November 27, 2020
Silvan Krähenbühl

Why Values Matter

It’s no secret that your company’s culture is directly tied to its success. And that culture is founded upon core values, which in turn define how you work together as a team. So if this crucial aspect is overlooked, you’ll find yourself having a lot of problems later down the line: issues that could have been addressed early on start festering and become much larger problems in the long run.

Therefore it’s a good idea to define your core values early in the game. This creates a baseline through which you can gauge your company’s performance, and — more importantly — the performance of your employees and co-workers. By having a solid set of values that everyone understands and agrees on, the whole team can abide by the same rules.

Co-Founders Divided

Take my old startup, Gymhopper: some difficulties arose early on when dealing with new hires, because the company’s values just were not well defined. This became especially apparent when my co-founder’s behavior started clashing with mine — a red flag that, being ignored, caused way more problems than it should have.

This happened because while I really valued Honesty as a core tenet and wanted to have a transparent view of the company and clear feedback from our team with which to improve and plan future goals, my co-founder was… well, not entirely honest. This led to time and energy being diverted from productive tasks and instead getting redirected towards trying to pick apart the truths from the lies.

And let me get this straight: you simply cannot have the co-founders lying to each other. That will tear the company apart; it will breed a culture of paranoia and second-guessing in everyone. For those reasons as well as several others, my problematic co-founder had to be fired from the company. In retrospect, it has become clear to me that our values were not aligned — but had this been identified much earlier, then some of these situations could have been resolved without causing the ruckus that they did.

Accountability and Versatility

Do not underestimate the importance of the company’s core values. Define them early on, look for them in the people you hire, and hold these people accountable to them. That is how you keep everyone in the company moving in the right direction.             An ideal startup team should be comprised of a few talented members whose complimentary skillsets each fill a niche in the company, and among all of these people there should be 3-5 shared values which everyone agrees on and works according to. This way, productivity will be much higher, because team members feel secure in having a solid foundation upon which to cooperate.

How to Find Them

If you are already working with a team, here are a few steps on how to get the process started and find the unifying values among your co-workers:

  1. Use a survey that allows your team members to select their Top 10 values.
  2. Then, you need to analyse the data and find the pattern. Identify which values show up the most and see if they align with your own. If you picked the right people for the company, the same values should be consistently getting picked.
  3. Set up a meeting to talk about the values. Discuss which were picked the most, and more importantly discuss what they mean for everyone. Hear every opinion, both those who selected them, and those who did not.

At this point you should have your top 3-5 values identified. But the work does not stop there. Now you need to define them. A great way of doing this is by assigning a phrase to each value, so you can encapsulate them in easy to remember forms. This way you will avoid keeping your values vague and open to interpretation.

Values Stated Briefly

As you may imagine such discussions can be intense, but they are nonetheless crucial for the company’s long-term success. So, to exemplify this concept, let’s take five specific core values and define them in this fashion:

  • Ambition – Aim Higher, Go Faster
    This communicates that everyone on the team should push themselves to achieve as much as possible, raising the bar to the next level.
  • Accountability – Walk the Talk
    If you say that you are going to do something, then do it. Follow through with your word.
  • Excellence – Go the Extra Mile for Quality
    If you are going to do something, aim to be the best at it, because you will not get there unless you really work for it.
  • Efficiency – Get More Done with Less
    Find ways to squeeze out as much productivity and quality work out of the situation you are in. If you are efficient, you can accomplish the thing that larger, less coordinated teams can’t.
  • Creativity – Finding Unexpected Ways to be the Best
    Because often the established norm will not necessarily help you stand out as the best in your field. Do not be afraid to be creative and try new things, even if you encounter failure along the way (which you certainly will).

These simple sentences encapsulate the meaning behind each value, clearly transmitting the desired message in a way that everyone at the company can understand.

Upholding Your Ideals

Now armed with the core values, you should think about printing posters and hanging them up around the office. Bring up your core values as often as you can, so that they become ingrained in the team’s psyche. When it comes to this matter, it is better to over communicate than to under communicate, lest your values become forgotten.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that you should make your values exceedingly clear to potential new hires. That way you can hold them to the same standard as everyone else. You should also consider holding quarterly meetings where you rate your team members based on their adherence to the company’s values and culture (including yourself of course). Through a simple rating system, you can give them feedback on whether they are living up to the expectations, or if they are falling short, and more importantly, how they can improve.

The key point here is that you need to communicate to people how they are performing. Because if you do not, you tolerate their behavior, which in turn develops a bad company culture. So, if someone does not fit into the company’s culture, it is simply best to part ways amicably. No hard feelings, just a clear understanding that this way will be better for all parties involved.

To get you started, follow this link to select your top 10 values.

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