Success From Values and Culture

Many companies have a core value statement that is printed beautifully in their literature or hanging on a plaque on the lobby wall. But are your values really alive in your company?

Whether it’s explicit or not, every company has a personality, a culture.  It can be defined in many ways, but one of the simplest definitions I use is that a culture is “how things get done around here”. Culture defines the guiding principles, the ‘non-negotiable’ rules of play. These are the company’s core values.

For small organizations, values often reside in the hearts and minds of the owners or leaders.  And that works when a company is small and every decision, customer interaction, or employee issue is handled by the owner.  Where it breaks down is when a company grows and the owner isn’t involved in every interaction any more.  At that point and beyond on the growth path, employees now have to make decisions and represent the brand consistently, in the same way the leader would.

In order to do this, your employees need to understand explicitly what the values of the company are.

Your Market Knows

Values also come into play in the competitive marketplace. Successful companies win the battle for two things – great people and the best customers. Great employees don’t work for you because of a pay check or a benefits plan. If they are really good they can get that anywhere. What they are really looking for is a place where they fit, where their personal values are aligned to the company values.

The best customers are attracted to vendors who ‘fit’, whose values are aligned to theirs. They look for strategic suppliers who share the same belief system. In his book, Start with Why Simon Sinek argues that customers don’t buy from us because of what we do, they buy from us because of what we believe.

He cites Apple as an example; Apple didn’t create a cult of fanatic customers simply by producing good computers, MP3 players or phones. Customers are attracted to the brand because of what their company stands for – Apple believes in challenging the status quo, by creating products that lead in design, and that break new ground.

Real Core Values

Many company value statements look something like this

  • Teamwork

  • Honesty

  • Customer focus

  • Innovation

  • Respect

Seriously? The problem with value statements like these is that they don’t define the business; they look the same as everyone else’s and are too generic. And they certainly don’t have any meaning to employees and customers. There is no personality here.

Value statements need to be relevant, meaningful and simple. They need to apply to everyone in the organization, and they need to paint a picture of what the value-based behaviors look like.

Values for Living

For values to be really alive in your organization, they need to be used on an ongoing basis. And in order to use them, your people need to know them. So step one is to make sure that everyone in the organization can state the company values. Consider creating a simple acronym to help your employees remember them.

Once your employees know and understand values, here are some ways to keep them alive in the organization on an ongoing basis:

  • Recruiting – successful recruiting is about ‘fit’. Will the people you are bringing on board fit the culture and personality of the business? Will they represent the brand appropriately? The only way to know is to test for fit in the recruiting process. Testing for values fit is not about asking, “Here’s our values statement, what do you think?”. Consider instead creating a set of structured questions to test for values fit.

  • Values Stories – values come alive and are better understood if your employees hear stories within the company about other team members living the values. Consider making “Core Values Stories” a part of your regular meetings.

  • Performance Management – Your performance management system should evaluate employees on two spectrums: performance to role measures and performance to values. This approach is well documented in the book Topgrading by Geoff and Brad Smart. “A” Players are those that consistently demonstrate the company values AND meet or exceed the performance targets for the role.

Valuable Lessons

Companies that are built upon strong core ideologies and values outperform those that consider it lip service. The research supports it: