Every company has values. And the funny thing is, most of them are pretty much the same. Honesty and ethics, accountability, innovation. We’ve all seen the same words played out over and over.
So the question is: What makes a good set of values? Having worked with many, many companies on shaping their brand positioning and identity, we’ve seen what works- and what doesn’t.
The following post will walk through a variety of ways to ensure a successful set of company values, but everything ties back to one central idea: The words themselves matter far less than you think. (As a company that specializes in crafting messaging, that’s a very hard thing to write, but sorry – it’s true). At the end of the day, companies with strong values have buy-in, belief and an ongoing commitment to their principles – and that’s what makes them successful in the long-term.
First off: Why are company values important?
Company values, when successfully deployed, can help a company create consistency – in service, in culture, in customer experience…you name it. Think about it: There is no way for any company to control the thousands (if not millions) of interactions and decisions that will happen at any time across the enterprise. Values offer a common criteria that can govern everyone in shaping those interactions and guiding those decisions.
This is especially helpful as a company scales and grows – ensuring that the core “soul” of the company is preserved as more and more people become a part of it. And it can be even more helpful when faced with a dilemma – values can be a “tie-breaker” for the most difficult decisions.
So, how do you ensure company values are successful? Here are five things you should think about:
Rule #1: Make sure company values have strong CEO-endorsement. Everyone should buy in on your company values, but your leader is the most important of all. If they don’t have a role in shaping, speaking, and living the values, then they’ve already died on the table. The reason being employees –and your senior leaders – look to your CEO to live your values. If the CEO doesn’t, the result is predictable: Other people won’t live them either.
Rule #2: Commitment matters. When crafting values, the words matter less than a fundamental question: Do we truly care about these values? Meaning: Would we fire a top performer if they consistently don’t live the values? Would we end a critical customer relationship if they were causing us to deviate from our values? This is an important gut-check that ensures that when push comes to shove, you’ll always live your values, no matter how hard it is to do so.
Rule #3: Stories matter. When it comes to values, the number one question in any employee’s mind is, “Do we live them?” And if it’s a seasoned employee, they’ve probably more often than not worked for companies that don’t. This is why stories are so important – every company value should be backed by a clear organizational behavior, example, or story that shows how “real” that value is as a company. As an example, here at Substance, we always cite a key part of our company history that shows how much we believe in our “Honesty” value – which immediately tells new employees just how much we care about it.
Rule #4: Values require ongoing communication. Values shouldn’t be a one-time communications exercise. They should constantly be referenced in company meetings, internal newsletters, new employee onboarding, and embedded in performance reviews. Constant reinforcement of values means that they are present in every employee’s day-to-day life and decision-making.
Rule #5: Simplicity over creativity. Now, about those words we mentioned earlier…they do still matter! Importantly, your company values don’t need to be fancifully stated. They need to create crystal clarity about their meaning and implication for your people. And please don’t have ten…can you remember ten of anything these days? Focus on three to five values that everyone can align around.
Looking for a sample set of values? Here are ours. You’ll see a bunch of words you’ve probably seen before…but that’s not what makes them important. The key here at Substance is that we live every single one of those, every single day – and that’s what makes our culture sustainable for the long-term future.