How to create core values for the workplace

One minute you’ve got an idea for a business and the guts to go with it, then suddenly you’re three years in, have an office full of employees and a social media account where you only know every fourth word. Good ideas grow successful businesses, fast.

Each day might seem like you’re putting out fires, having endless meetings, and wondering if you’re really happy with trainers in the office (hint, you really should be). It’s not easy to get to the point of scaling up your business, one of the big things you want to make sure you have is a set of company values. 

Why do I need company values?

Company values are the guiding principles for what you’re doing. Mark Zuckerberg’s famous motto of “move fast and break things” might have once been fitting for what Facebook needed to do, but now the company has got five bullets that don’t include anything being damaged.

As an organisation grows you need to have a framework to help you and those around you make decisions. How can you make sure that your HR person is hiring the right people and your customer services team are giving your clients what they need? By giving them inalienable concepts to work by that lead what your business is about.

If you can show your potential clients what they are going to be getting from you, from the first meeting right down the line to invoice settlement, it gives them confidence in you. Being able to show the people you do business with exactly what you’re about in a few simple phrases puts you on their level.

But my staff all know what we’re about

Building a company from scratch means you probably know everyone in the place, or at least the first 50 or so you personally saw through the door. You chose them, they’ve been there from the early days, they understand exactly what you’re all trying to achieve.

You’ll already have core values, but you need to distil them into something clear and succinct. The team you have now won’t be there forever so you need to be ready to tell everyone recruited what you expect from them. Get your values written in stone, or at least painted on the wall.

The fact that your team already grasp your values means that they’re the best ones to help you shape them. They live and breathe the company every day and they’re going to be to ones who can craft the message to give to all who come next.

Your current team…

  • Knows what the company is about
  • Understands what you are trying to achieve
  • Is emotionally linked to the company
  • Has the most experience in what they’re doing

As such you should seek input from your employees to lay the foundations of how the company is going to develop as you scale up.

Ok, I need company values. How?

There are all kinds of ways you can go about getting the wording for your company values. You can go for ‘quick and dirty’, formal and expensive, or land anywhere in between on that spectrum. Some things you’ll need to consider:

  • What’s your budget? Are you going all in and bringing in an outside company to hold workshops, or is it a box of donuts and tray of coffees in the office?
  • Who do you want involved in the process? Does your company do things top-down or involve absolutely everyone in the decision-making process?
  • How formal will it get? Are you going to be sat at your desk until 3am figuring out PowerPoint animations for a big presentation or scrawling notes on Post Its?
  • What type of timeframe? Will a lunch hour sit down get the job done rather than a three-day brainstorm?

How much of a process and framework you want to build around the process really depends on how the company is already doing things.

Assess how the company runs now

JD Meier, Microsoft’s Director of Digital Business Transformation, knows a thing or two about this:

“To find the values, look to what’s rewarded and punished.

That’s how you find the unspoken writing that is on the wall.”

Sage advice: you’ve constructed the company to be how it is now so look at the principles that have guided you there.

Consider your personal values

As the person who had the idea, did the legwork, and led the business to its current stage, you’ve obviously been doing something right. As have the people around you. What has got you to this point, guts? Creativity? Knowledge?

Look where you’re going

Maybe you’ve not made your mission statement yet, but you know where you want to be. Whether you’re hunting superlatives or want to impact the world around you, your values are what are going to get you there.

What to do with all the words?

Keep your values active and clear. You want the intern who’s just crossed the threshold to understand them as easily as the marketing manager.

The more people involved in your process, the harder it might get to clearly identify what you want. Most companies find that they get the same ideas recurring, that probably means it means a lot to your team. Taking time to go back to the floor and clarify what the words and ideas mean to everyone will make sure you’re on track.

Examples would be helpful

It’s worth looking at companies that you value or businesses whose culture you admire and see what their values are. Transferwise, the UK tech unicorn has the following:

  1. This isn’t just a job, we’re a revolution.
  2. We get it done.
  3. Customers > team > ego.
  4. No drama. Good karma.

Midlands-based logistics scaleup Palletline has gone for: service, quality, value, and innovation, with a brief description of each.

No two companies are going to have the exact same ethos but having a scout around at your competitors and industry leaders isn’t going to do any harm. You can also check out the grammar, tone, and feel of their values to see if they’re going to suit you.

Transferwise has plumped for something edgy and in the type of language their target demographic ‘gets’. Palletline is more simple and classic. Figure out an approach which is going to bring together your team best.

Citrix has five core values and says its employees “all embody a certain spirit; they have an enthusiasm for doing good”.

Our values

A few months ago the Vestd team spent a day in a workshop that ultimately helped us to define our own values. They can be grouped into six distinct areas:

  1. Trust
  2. Collaboration
  3. Autonomy
  4. Purpose
  5. Recognition
  6. Diligence

Each area has a few themes, and we find that explaining these to new hires is a great way of explaining what makes us tick.

These values fundamentally reflect what we care about as people, as opposed to what we think we should be buying into as a business. As such they are meaningful and genuine.

Conclusion

All the best companies have value statements. Keeping up with the Jones’ might not always wash as a reason to take a decision for your business, but in this case it actually does.

How you go about elucidating your values will reflect the business as much as what the values end up being. Remember that your team has got you to the point of scalability so they’re going to be the ones who can really tell you what the business is about.