Every great company needs a culture code — but when it comes time to formalize yours, don’t be surprised if you get writer’s block.
Values have the power to shape the employee experience and your employer brand. Don’t skimp on the process. We asked leaders to share how their companies created and reinforced values that were uniquely theirs.
1. Find your Mars team.
If you want buy-in from employees, you need to make them part of the process. While some of the companies we spoke with had values that came straight from leadership, most nominated cultural flag-bearers to lead the way. For the team at Radix Health, a healthcare technology company, identifying that committee was easier than expected.
“Who would we send to Mars to start a new colony for us?”
That’s the question Emily Tyson, Radix’s Senior Vice President of Operations, asked in an employee survey. Ten representatives were chosen from the company’s offices in Atlanta and Pune, a city in western India. The two teams then sorted through results from an earlier survey asking for feedback on Radix’s mission and company culture. From there, they identified key themes and wrote a first draft of the values.
When the two “Mars teams” exchanged notes, they found something surprising: consensus — despite being over 8,000 miles apart.
“Surprisingly, there was a lot of alignment between the two offices. In a couple of instances, they used different words, but the descriptions were almost mirror images,” said Tyson. After a review from the company’s founders, the values were formally launched and emblazoned on posters, pitch decks, and new hire materials.
2. Be original — but stay authentic.
Communication, respect, and integrity — three core values you would have seen on display at Enron headquarters in 2001. Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these used by a former employer.
While traditional values like these aren’t problematic on their own, without more context, they can seem hollow or open to misinterpretation. In lieu of single words, consider phrases. And because sharing company values publicly has become standard practice (Lattice's company values can be found here), doing so will also give jobseekers a more accurate means of assessing if your company is right for them.
Over 20 companies shared their values with us. Many were especially unique and painted a vivid picture of their respective company cultures. Below are some of the highlights.
Unique Core Values
- Make Our Clients Heroes
- Thick as Thieves
- Work Smart to Live Well
- Attitude Is Everything
- Produce and Protect
- Elevate Others
- Leave the World a Better Place
- Develop Daily
- Break Our Own Glass Ceilings
- Empathy and Endeavor
3. Don’t be afraid to iterate and make changes.
Choosing core values is a high stakes decision. But companies and priorities evolve — and when there’s a mismatch, it’s okay to go back to the drawing board. While new values might become necessary because of a merger, acquisition, or pivot in the business, sometimes leaders “just know” when it’s time to make a clean break.
It didn’t take long for Shareef Defrawi, the founder of marketing agency Bonafide, to realize something wasn’t right about his company’s values. In his own words, they were too “PR-centric.” His team made the mistake of drafting values looking out, not in.
“Some of our values were more about what we thought customers and prospects wanted to hear. After about a year or so, we realized there was little adoption and living by the values. So we decided to revisit them,” he said.
The second time was the charm. Defrawi and his leadership team started from scratch, compiling a list of company “all-stars,” including managers and individual contributors, who employees admired the most. From there, the committee honed in on the qualities that made those individuals so well-respected. That list was narrowed down and eventually included in Bonafide’s final set of values.
4. Walk the walk.
Company values should feel more than cardstock-deep. Once finalized, make sure your values are felt throughout the employee lifecycle, from recruiting to performance management.
Here are just a few touchpoints where you can influence employee behavior and reiterate your core values:
- Recruiting: Weave your values into the candidate experience. Interviewers should ask questions that give them insight into whether a potential hire exemplifies your values. If one of these is “Ownership,” ask candidates for examples when they took the fall when a project went awry. Consider incorporating values into your interview scorecards as well.
- New-hire onboarding: Make an impact from the start. Have a member of your HR or leadership team present on your company’s story and values during new hires’ first few days.
- Reviews and feedback: Whether you’re a fan of annual reviews or prefer ongoing feedback, make values part of your performance process. In employees’ self-assessments, ask them to name cases where they embodied your values. If your company ties employee praise to values, they’ll have plenty of examples to pull from.
Those are just a few ways you can implement values that both inspire and feel real. While it might be tempting to play “values roulette” or mimic what others have done, stay true to the realities of your organization.
“Values are better felt than formulated,” said John Moss, head of English Blinds, a home decor company. According to Moss, companies often rush to set values while completely overlooking the culture that’s already formed. “Holding the company up to the mirror…is a great starting point,” he said.
It turns out that writing authentic values might be easier than you think — just look in the mirror.