Company values are a set of guiding principles that are ingrained in the way your company operates. They form an important social contract that defines acceptable and incentivised behavior. This means that your company values shape everything from who you hire to the type of environment you create for your employees and what you expect from them.
The problem is, company values aren’t always understood in this way. For many businesses, establishing company values has become a box-ticking exercise. And even when the company values they create are well-intended, they’re rarely put into practice.
But that doesn’t mean that company value statements are dead. They’re just broken.
In this post, I’ll explore how my team at Juro created core values that we actually use. But first, let’s look at why company values traditionally fail.
One of the most obvious problems with company values is that they’re often created half-heartedly.
Early-stage businesses know that values are a sign of trust and sophistication. However, due to resources or a lack of maturity, they take shortcuts in creating them. Usually, this means defaulting to the values other companies use without actually understanding what they mean or defining the behaviors that personify them.
This wouldn’t be a problem if values were just words painted on an office wall. But if you want your employees to live your values every day, you’ll need to give them more guidance on exactly what ‘good’ looks like and how to operationalize them.
The second problem follows from the first. Company values are regressing towards the mean and lack differentiation. In other words, most companies’ values are the same words and ideas but simply packaged in a different way.
This is easier, yes. But it also defeats the purpose of having company values in the first place.
Values are supposed to distinguish your company from others. They should set you apart from your competitors as an employer, but also as a business. The values should feed into every decision you make, from who you hire to the direction you want to take the company.
But if these guiding principles are shared with every other startup, what purpose do they actually serve?
The final problem lies in the process used to create company values.
One mistake I’ve noticed – especially in startups – is that businesses invite all of their employees into the ideation process –and they do so early on. This typically involves a company-wide brainstorming session where employees are asked to share words that they associate with the company. These words or phrases are then used as inspiration when building the final set of values.
While well-intentioned, this is a perfect example of too many cooks in the kitchen. The truth is, the more people you ask, the less focused your value hunt becomes. When you bring too many people into the ideation process, the chances are that you’ll wind up with a set of broad human values that are largely common sense.
Take values such as integrity and honesty, for example. Who would want to hire someone that didn’t have integrity? And who would want to work for a business that was dishonest?
If your company’s value statement simply reiterates what it means to be a decent human, it probably lacks purpose.
But let’s talk less about why core values aren’t working for businesses and more about how you can make them work. Here is how my team at Juro designed company values that our employees actually use.
Unfortunately, there’s no secret to mastering company values. Every business is different, and values should reflect that. However, there are a few conscious steps you can take to ensure that your team uses your company values.
We just touched upon the dangers of having too many stakeholders during the ideation process. We flipped that process on its head here at Juro.
We started with just a few core decision-makers to lead the ideation process. This group included me as the Senior Director of People and Talent, Abby, our Senior People Partner, and Richard, our CEO.
We really wanted to cut through the noise and craft values that reflected our purpose and key objectives as a company. Starting with a small group enabled us to have those detailed discussions and retain this focus.
Knowing how to start these discussions is the hard part. When designing our company values, the first thing we did was strip it back to basics and ask ourselves: What does Juro need to achieve?
This is where your north star comes in. It will be the metric against which your business measures broad success. For most startups and scaleups (including ours), this north star comes in the form of an annual recurring revenue (ARR) target.
We then asked ourselves what will get us to that target. At this point, the group agreed that we’d need rapid decision-making and effective execution to reach this goal.
We were then able to break these into more specific behaviors to understand what good looked like in practice, also known as ‘valued behaviors.’ For example, we decided that strong execution typically involves:
Similarly, we decided that rapid decision-making happens when we:
By starting with our ‘what’ and working our way through to the ‘how’, we were able to recognize which behaviors we wanted our values to encompass. Doing this ensured that we were on the way to creating values that our team could actually operationalize and identify through behaviors.
Next, we worked to consolidate the behaviors we had discussed into a set of core values. During this process, we put certain behaviors into groups and organized them based on their usefulness.
Since we already had an existing set of values that we were looking to refine and improve, we were able to adapt the ones we had to better reflect the behaviors we identified in the previous step.
Many early-stage businesses won’t be in this position. However, the process of clustering the behaviors is still a useful exercise for creating new company values from scratch. It gives you the opportunity to understand what good looks like and how these behaviors can merge into values that are easy to digest and share.
Once you’ve had these discussions, you should be in a good place to create a first draft of your value statement that’s ready to share and receive feedback.
I mentioned earlier that it’s a mistake to get too many people involved in the ideation process. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be involved in the creation process at all.
The first iteration of your company values should always be sense-checked by your team, or at least a few members from it. In fact, getting focus groups to sense-check the values you come up with and the behaviors they encompass is essential to identifying blind spots and eliminating any ambiguity.
We asked our Executive Committee members to nominate one person from each department that they believe are great representatives of our values in their current form.
These individuals were invited to add their comments and annotations to the first iteration of the values statement. We organized calls where we could discuss the feedback with the focus group in more detail and used this feedback to revise the values before resharing them and welcoming further feedback.
This helped us to identify areas where wording could be misunderstood, or where it should be softened to be more inclusive. Following a few rounds of feedback, we sent the updated values back to our CEO for approval.
Once finalized, we cleaned up the values and packaged them into something that could be shared and digested easily across the company. This involved refining the values and choosing how we would display them.
We decided early on that we wanted our company values to be short, concrete, and operational, so we made sure that this was reflected in the way we described the values to our team. Since most of our company resources are housed on Notion, we decided that the resource we created about the values would live there too.
This stage is one of the most critical, and yet so many businesses neglect it. If you want your values to be truly operational, you need to present them with context. We did this in a few ways.
First, we listed the valued behaviors for each core value. For example, for our value ‘Love the details,’ we listed behaviors such as checking your work, being honest and accountable, and iterating on your work. Specifying these good behaviors enabled our teams to quickly recognize and identify the behaviors we want them to exhibit.
But we didn’t stop there. We also provided a list of resources for each valued behavior to provide our team with the tools they need to improve in certain value areas if they wish.
Our entire team also has access to a deep-dive explanation of individual behaviors. These explanations cover:
All of this information is clearly displayed within a Notion card, making it easy for everyone in the company to access and refer back to. That way, our employees not only know what we expect from them, but they also know why the behaviors are important to our company goals and how to improve in specific areas.
Now for the hardest part: embedding your values into everything you do.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, creating values has become somewhat of a box-ticking exercise. But your work isn’t done after you’ve drafted and shared your company values. If you truly want people to live your values, you’ll need to enable them to do so. And this is an ongoing process.
At Juro, our values are ingrained into our processes and are implemented by design. They’re present in who and how we hire, the expectations we set and the things (benefits, environment, growth opps) we offer in return. This is something we communicate to employees early on through our onboarding documents, job offer letters, and job descriptions.
One way we promote our company values is by recognizing our employees for living them. For example, we encourage our team to recognize and call out their colleagues for living the values in our shoutouts channel on Slack. We also have a weekly award in our all hands meeting for the team member(s) that have received value-based nominations that week.
We also try to create an environment where living our values is made easier for our employees. For example, we’ve designed our office space to ensure that there are quiet spaces for people to work if they need it. We also have multi-purpose rooms that can be used by colleagues for various purposes, from praying to collaborating.
The values are even embedded in the hard processes, like our performance frameworks. Every career map in the company refers to each of the values, and performance against these values is measured in quarterly reviews.
This helps us ensure that our values aren’t being brushed under the rug in favor of performance against numbers. Instead, we’ve designed our quarterly reviews to measure each employee’s performance against both their numerical targets and our valued behaviors.
This is important because being successful at Juro isn’t just about hitting targets. It’s also about how these targets are met. If individuals outperform their numbers but aren’t doing the right thing by others in the process, they won’t be living up to our values and expectations.
Setting these standards and reinforcing our company values at this level is essential to ensuring that the company values you create are actually put into practice by your team.
Company values aren’t dead. But they are broken.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, company values become diluted and lack purpose when treated as a box-ticking exercise.
If you want to create company values that your team will actually use, you need to start small and be disciplined in your pursuit to identify the best (and most meaningful) values in your company.
By all means, get your wider team to sense-check your values, but bringing them into the ideation process early on can cause you to lose sight of your company’s mission and purpose.
Once you’ve created your value statement, make it easy for your team to live your company values every day. Give them the tools they need to understand the values and put the valued behaviors into practice. This context will enable your employees to truly live the company values and be successful in the company. That’s why they exist, after all.
Sign up for a free demo today.