by Darcy Jacobsen
…and Make Them Livable
In part one of this series, we shared some recent data and research that confirmed the importance of core values to employee engagement. In part two, we followed up with analysts’ views of how those values relate to both engagement and business success. Now, in this final part, let’s briefly explore some ideas on defining, sharing and affirming core values for maximum success.
Core values are, in effect, your culture in bullet point form. They represent an organization’s highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and core, fundamental driving forces. They define what your organization believes and how you want to interact with employees and with the world beyond your doors.
Sometimes those values come from the organizational legacy of a founder. Sometimes they grow from the company’s strategic vision. But always they are your guiding principles: who you are, what you believe, and who you want to be going forward.
Good values, when thoughtfully chosen, reflect all that is best in your organization and establish a vision of who you want to be. They also create the foundational underpinnings of that organization’s culture.
How Do We Define Core Values?
There are a lot of terms floating around out there that try to get at these keystone company attributes: mission, purpose, vision, core values, company values, core beliefs, guiding principles–the list goes on and on.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what you call them. Whatever term makes sense to your company is a valid term. But in the end, every company should have three things as part of its self-definition:
1. A compelling story about the long-term future. This is a roadmap for where you want to go, and the company you envision you’ll be when you get there. It is a 30,000 foot, long-term view and is frequently ambitious and lofty. (Most people call this a Vision Statement or Purpose.)
2. A definition of how you plan to create that future. This is a thumbnail sketch of why you exist and what you do as an organization. It should describe what business you’re in and who your customer is. It will capture the very essence of your enterprise—which is your relationship with those who buy or use your product or service. (Most people call this a Mission or Mission Statement.)
And lastly, the topic of this series:
3. A set of actions and behaviors that will guide you to that future.These are actions that represent the fundamental beliefs held by your most engaged workers and they form a compass that will direct future behavior. These are also declarations about how the organization will treat customers, suppliers, community members, and employees. Think of these as the DNA for your company culture. (Most people call these Organizational, Company or Core Values.)
Because they guide behavior, core values are (or should be) an at-a-glance guide to your culture. They are foundational to that culture—and should represent the best and strongest things your culture has to offer.
Some Guidelines in Determining Strong Core Values:
- Values cannot be chosen. Successful values are never just picked. They must come from your culture, just as they feed back into that culture. They must be discovered and nurtured.
- Never copy someone else’s values. Your values must be unique in the way your company is unique. They should reflect your industry and customers, but more, they should reflect your company’s unique personality.
- Don’t worry about being distinctive or clever. As long as you’re honest, your values can work. If your style is irreverent and witty, your values should be too… if your company is more formal, let your values reflect that.
- Don’t overdo it. Make your list pithy and memorable and make each value distinctive. Your employees should be able to rattle them off. A good rule of thumb is to have no more than five to seven, but really, the fewer the better. (For example: Zappos has ten core values, Apple has seven, JetBlue has five, Dow has three.)
- Make them specific. Broad values such as Integrity or Innovation can sometimes end up being so vague that they have no real meaning for employees. It is a great idea, if you’re using such “big-bucket” values, to offer sub headings or explanatory text. For example, Netflix has a value of Curiousity, which it then unpacks for employees into four sub points: 1. You learn rapidly and eagerly. 2. You seek to understand our strategy, market, customers and suppliers. 3. You are broadly knowledgeable about business, technology and entertainment. 4. You contribute effectively outside your specialty.
- One value can encompass related sub-values. Caring, for example, might include within it subvalues like: love, caretaking, family, friendship, compassion and community. Don’t be afraid to be broad in how you define values, as long as they have meaning for your employees.
- Make them actionable. Your values should not be so abstract that your employees cannot find ways to practice them in their jobs. Make sure that your values can be defined with specific behaviors.
Once You Have Your Values:
- Commit to them – Values aren’t disposable and they shouldn’t be refreshed annually. They may evolve with you over time, but in general, they should be so deeply ingrained in your culture that they will stand the test of time.
- Communicate them – Make sure everyone knows and truly understands what your values mean.
- Protect them – Stick to them even when it is challenging. Make them a reference point within your organization and encourage people to cherish and be passionate about them.
- Live them – Engage with your values daily and create ways to make them practicable for employees. Studies show that while people remember only 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, people remember 80% of what they see and do.
Values are only as good as they are understandable and livable. If they are not clear or your people are not aligned with them, that plaque on your wall might as well be graffiti. (And as a little side rant, forcing employees to wear them on badges or submit to random on-the-spot quizzes is NOT making them livable. Believe me, I speak from experience. I worked for a company once who military-drilled the values into us, and though I could recite them on command, I still had no clue as to how those values actually affected me or my job.)
So, how can you make values livable? Here are a few broad ideas:
Put them in your vocabulary – Your values should be part of the language of your company. They should appear everywhere you can put them: your letterhead, your elevator, your website. They should be connected with initiatives you undertake. (e.g. “This new health and wellness campaign reflects our Caring value.” “Last week we did a Community highway cleanup.” “This new product idea came from our Inspiration contest.”)
Create opportunities to practice them – See those three examples bolded above? Create events and initiatives like them that help you to put your values into practice.
Measure success by them – Use your values as a framework for setting goals and then measuring achievements.
Walk the walk – Make sure you and your leadership are leading by example, and providing your rank and file with inspiration and a model for practicing your company values.
Identify (and celebrate) behavior that aligns with them – Recognition (strongest when coupled with a tangible reward) is really the gold standard for making values livable. When someone demonstrates one of your values, make sure there is an opportunity for co-workers to publically appreciate that behavior. This confirms the behavior and it encourage others to follow suit.
Having a formal recognition program tied to values is as valuable for the giver as the receiver of recognition. When employees want to recognize one another, they must take a moment to decide which value that great behavior aligns with… and that means they are thinking about your values in an active, participatory way.
Core values come in all shapes and sizes, and they all can work well for the companies that use them. All they really need to do is work for you, your industry and your culture.
As a way of showing some examples I thought it might be fun to do a quick exercise. See if you can match the company on the left to its core values on the right.
Answers: 1G, 2F, 3A, 4H, 5D, 6B, 7C, 8E
Finally, as inspiration for you in your journey to connect core values with culture and make them meaningful, I thought I’d share this word cloud. This represents words in the most common core values of our Globoforce customers. These are all values that our clients are able to make meaningful and practicable through recognition.
Naturally, among our clients here at Globoforce, values are pretty central to recognition, and they put a lot of thought into making sure that those values reflect what is central to their business success. They link those values to their recognition, and overwhelmingly they see increased engagement when they do. Values-based recognition has proven to be successful for them. I hope it can help you to be successful, too.