Defining Your Company Values? Answer These 5 Questions First


Looking to put your company values in writing? Find a good answer to these questions and you’ll be well on your way to defining the kernel of your company’s future.

Company values: A dogged bug in the operating systems of executive teams. Those who attempt to wrangle a set for themselves and quickly face important questions about the soul of their organization that don’t have one right answer. What do we value? How will we define ourselves? Will our values define us?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Think of values as guides to light the way — they are the underpinnings of how you conduct business and yourself, daily. They inform your priorities and your decisions. What aren’t values? They are not: Performance review standards; Goals in and of themselves; Individual codes of conduct.

Why so slippery? Most likely because they occupy two different qualities: they can be innate and unteachable, as well as external and achievable. This means values can be standards for hiring (to find those who have the values innately), as well as part of the learning and development that goes on after hiring. Values (and workplace culture generally) is most effectively expressed, communicated, and iterated when it is embodied by team members, especially superiors, and those who do embody the values are rewarded for expressing the values.

A core value is only a true core value if it has an active influence and if the people or company manage to live by it, at least most of the time.

Let’s be clear, though: This does not mean that someone should be punished for NOT embodying one of the values. Be hyper-aware here, if this is a cultural norm for your company it instills fear, the opposite of what an enlightened workplace needs to thrive.

The good news is that defining a set for your company doesn’t have to be hard — they are the things that you are already valuing every day already. They are not just things that need to be said because they are future goals. In other words, if it guides your work today, you are valuing it. Even ideals deeply embedded in your company should be explicit, so that they can be communicated effectively to others and iterated consistently. A core value is only a true core value if it has an active influence and if the people or company manage to live by it, at least most of the time.

Digging into some value work yourself?
Answer these questions first:

1. What do you value now?

2. What do you think you’d like to value?

3. Are these values aspirational but realistic?

4. Can we commit to embodying these values so that they inform our daily behavior, the way we make decisions, and what we reward in others?

5. How can we ensure leadership will be the first to embody our values?

Find a good answer and you’ll be well on your way to defining the kernel of your company’s future.

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In doing some research for this piece, we were only able to find one set of values we felt were brief, actionable, and compelling. There are more out there that qualify, but here’s a set we wanted to share.

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