Have you set your core values?
Much more than a few buzz-words and marketing jargon, the values you choose for your business do more than just make you look good. Many business owners, not just start-ups, spend a lot of time writing, debating, and revising them. A clear set of values, agreed and understood by everyone involved, are behind most successful organisations.
Essentially, company values are the set of guiding principles and fundamental beliefs that help a group of people function together as a team and work toward a common goal. They are the central, underlying philosophies that guide a business and its people. The values are related to business relationships, customer relationships, and company growth. It’s what defines your company’s culture as it’s about what you do, not what you say.
Why it matters for every business
Your values set your identity. To be effective, your company values should be unique to your business and experience. As you and everyone else in the business should be able to remember and apply them in their everyday working life, the listed values shouldn’t be long-winded. Keep them short and simple, so they are easy to understand and remember. Most of all, keep them authentic. As the business owner, you have a unique opportunity to establish a positive culture for all involved. In saying that, your core values are not just set for management and staff. Your prospective clients, existing customers, and even your competitors should know what your company stands for and why.
Being a values-driven company is also an effective way to attract and hold on to highly skilled staff.
When job searching, most people look for that elusive ‘fit’ within an organisation. A place where they can thrive and feel connected. For a sole trader, it’s just as important to know your values as they should be at the core of the business. They are your reasons for being, express how you do things, and show what inspires and motivates you. It sets you apart from your competition.
When you look deeper, you’ll find that many corporate values statements are pretty bland, meaningless, and empty. When defining your values, they must be based on truth. You’ve got to live it, breathe it, and be consistent. If they are hollow words and you do not live up to what you promise, damaging your brand is a real risk. Unless they are true, authentic, and woven into everything you do, you’re better off not to list or promote any values at all.
How high-performance companies approach it
In their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras outline the results of a six-year research project exploring what leads to enduringly great companies. For the project, they studied the founding, growth, and development of exceptional companies that have stood the test of time. They found that architects of visionary companies don’t just trust in good intentions or values statements. They build cult-like cultures around their core ideologies.
An example is Walt Disney, who founded the Disney Company in 1923. He created an entire language to reinforce the company’s ideology. Disneyland employees are cast members. Customers are guests. Jobs are parts in a performance. New employees at Disney, and this continues today, go
through a Disney Traditions orientation course, where they learn that the company’s business is “to make people happy.”
Learn more about this ground-breaking research here: https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/building-companies
Google’s company culture almost always comes to the surface when people talk about a great workplace. They consistently rank on top in the Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For list and feature in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list every year. Creating a world-class company culture has been a key part of the tech giant’s brand for years.
Mission, Vision and Values
There is a difference between a mission statement, the company’s vision, its goals, and its core values. When done right, your core values, mission and vision statements should all tie in with each other. However, that doesn’t mean they are the same. A brief explanation:
Mission statement – why your company exists, what it does, and what it aims to do in the short-term. An example from Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Vision statement – The long-term view of what your company wants to achieve. From Google: “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.”
Value statement – what’s important to your company, what it prioritises, and how it conducts itself.
Google’s top core value is: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” They also list: https://www.google.com/about/philosophy
- It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
- Fast is better than slow.
- Democracy on the web works.
- You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
- You can make money without doing evil.
- There’s always more information out there.
- The need for information crosses all borders.
- You can be serious without a suit.
- Great just isn’t good enough.
- Revisit as you evolve
Your company values are no set-and-forget thing. Just like people, companies grow and change and so do the values and priorities. Your audience is likely to expand or change over time as well, and so is your team. As your reach gets wider and your business develops, the values you’ve initially set may no longer apply. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many business leaders had to revisit their practices around staff wellbeing and consider new processes around working from home, cloud technology and more, all while navigating other huge challenges such as redundancies and taking a hit to the bottom line. A review of the company values was often part of the process. Technology has also changed. If you’ve started the business 20 years ago, the advantages of modern-day technology would probably not have been considered when setting the core values. Technology has improved opportunities for flexible work hours and the number of remote workers is on the rise. Millennials also increasingly expect that traditional 9-5 workdays are replaced with a more flexible approach, and that is something you could reflect or update in the company values.
Show your soul
A value statement shows what you collectively believe in as an organisation. In essence, your values demonstrate the “soul” of your business. No matter how large or small your business is, or what growth stage you are in, having a value statement gives context to your operations and helps to avoid disconnect with your customers and employees. When you set your core values, stick by them. Review them often, make sure everyone involved is and stays on track, and weave them into everything you do. While a value statement isn’t necessary to run a successful business, it has powerful benefits which make the path to lasting success much easier.