How to define your company values

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CEOs are like children writing their letters to Santa. When you are a child, you always want the most popular toys. You want a ball just like Tommy’s and a Play Station like Nicky’s. You might not need them, you might not even like them that much. But you just don’t want to be the last in line. That’s what happens when CEOs and Executives have to define what values they want for their companies.

The establishment of the company’s core values is fundamental to settle an organizational culture. These values represent the fundamental beliefs about what is “right” in the company. Therefore, they are supposed to be the guideline which embodies all behaviors with both coworkers and customers.

However, many companies today still struggle to define which values are right for them. Leaders often lean on trendy words or phrases that they think people want to see on an inspiring wall poster. Values like leadership, ambition, or team work are part of most company culture manifestos. And, there is nothing wrong with these values, but problems appear when they don’t truly represent the essence of the organization. As Patrick M. Lencioni said:

“Empty values statements create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility”.

Choose your corporate values

These are examples of values you can choose for your company

So, how can you decide the values of your company?

You might want to follow the advice that suggests choosing those values that helped your company overcome challenging situations in the past. But, no matter what technique you follow, you must make sure that the values you choose comply with these 3 golden rules:

  1. Your core values need to be understandable and memorable. All employees must understand values with a same meaning to act following a common pattern. If one of your chosen values is loyalty, make sure everybody understands it as you do and, only then, put it up on the wall. Don’t make an endless list of values; they won’t have room neither on the wall nor in your employees’ mind.

2. If you want your organizational culture to be present in everyday life, values have to be doable. Therefore, avoid complex statements that are unable to be translated into specific behaviors. “People willing to rock the world” sounds really good, but, what are the behaviors behind this statement that you are looking for? Are they initiative and ambition? Then those are your true core values.

3. Last but not least, core values need to be shared throughout the entire company. That means that, from top to bottom, everybody in your company needs to understand these values as desirable behaviors. Ambition can be one of the values that the CEO appraises, but if it isn’t meaningful for the rest of the company, alignment issues among members will arise.

Once you have defined your values, you need to create the right atmosphere to foster them. The message needs to be coherent with the reality, and therefore all policies and processes need to be aligned with these values. Leaders must communicate them not only with their words, but with their actions: decision processes, daily behaviors and incentives will all be inspired by culture.

In short, establishing an organizational culture is not child’s play. The choice must be based on what represents your company’s essence. It must show how employees behave amongst each other, and with customers. These values need to be assimilable, applicable and shared by every person in the company. Only then, being on a poster on the wall will mean something.

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