How to define your company values in five steps
An average person can only hold three or four things in mind at the same time. That’s why we so often forget that umbrella. And by the way, if that doesn’t ring a bell, your concentration capabilities are way above average.
In the same way, most of us can’t excel in more than three or four fields. There just isn’t enough time in a day to focus on more. Most life coaches will tell you to straighten out your priorities – is it your work, your family, your love life, your friends, your personal development? Because you just can’t have it all.
Companies are the same. They can’t be everything at once. And that’s where company values are important.
Three reasons why you should define your company values
- Defining company values is very similar to choosing your own priorities. It helps focus your company on the things that are key out of the very long list of things that would be nice to have.
- Defining your company values also helps federate your workforce around common goals. It serves as a core to your internal communication strategy.
- Finally, your company values serve as a measure for every choice your management team or your employees have to make, facilitating the decision process at every level.
So how do you define your company values? There must be several ways to get them right, but I’ll describe the method we successfully used at eXo.
1- Bottom-up survey
First, I think it’s important to involve your people via some kind of survey. Leave the questions open rather than providing multiple-choice answers. Data from the latter is easier to collect and to analyse but it’s more of a vote than a survey. Chances are some values are actually already there, deeply embedded into your company core, without you even realising it.
When we did the survey at eXo, we were surprised at how many people mentioned ‘family’ and ‘helping each other’ in connection with the company values. It turned out that that was a value already practised by most people in their teams, without any official request or encouragement.
2- Top-down management team interviews
Interviewing the management team is another key step. Here the goal is to do some wishful thinking: what kind of company would we want to build? What do we want to stand for? It’s more a question of what the values should be rather than of what they already are. Although most managers naturally promote values that are important to them within their teams.
After the initial information gathering from the teams and managers, you need to treat the data and come up with a shortened list of values.
If your company has been in place for a while, some common values will probably be apparent once you analyse the data. It’s indeed highly unlikely that a company would operate smoothly with 100 very different values across the board.
If your company is new, you don’t have 1000 people to survey. You can just invent what you want to stand for and then spread it.
4- Reality check
Once you have your shortlist, you should do a reality check of each item. Is this something that your company practises or is this something that exists only in theory?
The goal of this exercise is to identify which are your core values, already embedded into your company’s activity and behaviour, and which are the values that you want/need to seed. While you might want to keep some of the latter, you can’t rely only on ‘new’ values.
It’s of course possible to steer your company in a new direction. For instance, in eXo, we chose to become customer-centric. We declared this to be our value and then we spent and are still spending a lot of energy to introduce this into our DNA.
But you can’t do that with a list of five new values. So you need to keep values that are already in your DNA on your shortlist.
Finally, your list will be shortened to a maximum of five values. The number five is completely arbitrary – it can be three or seven or one. But it needs to be short and easy to remember. So the final step is to express your values in a clear and easy-to-remember way.
Maybe some values are subsets of a larger concept. Maybe some values can be expressed differently, through shorter and more impactful words. Maybe your values form a poem or a slogan. Whatever works for you.
I hope the above was useful. Any comments are welcome, including additional pointers or advice.