I’ve been building, managing, and supporting strong, functional teams for two decades, and while I get lots of great questions from emerging leaders and HR professionals every day, so many of their concerns boil down to two key questions:
- How can I center my team to make sure they’re doing great work that’s consistently done our way, not just their way?
- How can I show off what my great team’s all about in a way that builds enthusiasm in the public and aids in recruiting?
Believe it or not, those two questions are actually quite closely connected. Even though one is an internal/operational concern and the other is an external/marketing concern, they both have the same answer: an organization aligned behind clearly articulated organizational values.
Your company’s identity is incredibly powerful. It dictates the flow of talent, the volume of inbound business, and how your partners, competitors, and the general public engage with your brand.
In this post I’ll explore:
- Why well-articulated values are so useful
- How corporate values should be structured and focused
- What a real-life example of strong guiding values looks like
The Value in Values
Remember when you were in school and that one teacher spent an entire week doing icebreakers and “getting to know you” games before they dove into lessons? It might have seemed silly or pointless at the time, but that educator was actually attempting to do something much bigger than communicate facts – they were trying to turn a room of individuals with varying degrees of comfort and familiarity with each other into a thriving, upbeat community.
That same teacher, even if they were fun and free-spirited, probably seemed to have a tremendous zest for going over classroom rules and procedures as well. You might’ve rolled your eyes at the time, but through an adult lens, what they were doing was very purposeful: they were establishing expectations and establishing the rigid, non-negotiable elements of the classroom culture.
So why all the education analogies? Well, frankly, teachers are some of the smartest problem-solvers in the world when it comes to generating buy-in and engagement, and that’s what your organization’s core values are all about.
An organization’s values give them two-way benefit just as those early-year classroom activities do. Both the teacher and the employer gain a level of clearly articulated authority and identity that set the tone for the work, while also humanizing the experience in a way that invites the employees, to get involved and get excited.
Values Set the Tone
Your corporate values set the tone both for how your brand interacts with the world around it and how individuals within the organization interact with each other and outsiders. Businesses that get that right set themselves up to build a great team and get a lot done. Businesses who lack articulation or don’t meaningfully honor their values can’t maximize their potential in the same way because they’re not establishing expectations fully or giving the individual members of the team something to believe in that’s bigger than themselves.
Great articulation means great engagement, and great engagement means great work.
Crafting Your Company Values
Every organization, large or small, should have an established set of values to guide the vision, dictate the tone of business, and aid in meaningful business- and community-based goal setting. Generating those values should be the collaborative responsibility of senior leadership. HR, marketing, and representatives from other key teams or departments should have a voice in the process, but the values must flow from and reflect leadership.
That doesn’t mean your values are all about “what the bosses care about,” though. Those brainstorming sessions must be guided by a clear understanding of how those values will connect to, motivate, and engage your current employees, leading talent in your industry, and the community and world at large.
Sticking to the Core
One of the most common mistakes organizations make when they set about the work of articulating values is, well, articulating too many values. A company’s values should represent the most relevant and overarching aspects of their approach to work and their place in the world, not every little thing they think is important.
When it comes to corporate values, three to five is the ideal number, as it ensures you’re building an identity that’s supported by multiple strong pillars that you can focus on and truly honor without so many values that the message becomes diluted.
Values are Real, Not Aspirational
The other big mistake organizations make when they create corporate values is that they try to give “the right answers” rather than actually focusing on the ideas that are closest to their work and most relevant to the uniqueness of their own workforce. That often leads to a lot of lofty goals and minimal follow-through.
To work as part of an employee culture, talent attraction, or marketing campaign and meaningfully support an organization, corporate values must be real, must be honored, and must be rooted in the daily challenges, triumphs, and guiding lights of what makes both day-to-day work and “the work” on the whole special at that business. A lack of follow-through will only undermine the potential gains of articulating values and working to establish a culture in the first place.
Launchways’ Core Values
Now that I’ve laid out all that theory on why core values are so important and what businesses need to do to get them right, let’s transition to looking at a real-world example.
At Launchways, we recently established a new set of company values to help flesh out our core identity and set the tone for our work moving forward. Each value was carefully discussed and debated by our leadership team, and the result was a powerful list that made the entire team feel great about our present and even more excited about our future.
Let’s explore Launchways’ five core values one at a time:
We are a resourceful organization. We take initiative, we own the challenges that are set before us, and we embrace the work of finding solutions, no matter what it takes.
We are a driven enterprise. We’re passionate about what we do, and we strive to always go above-and-beyond for our clients and for each other.
We’re a disruptive business. We’re unafraid to do things different, especially when we think it can yield better results. We’re confident in our ability to improve the industry.
We’re a reflective and honest brand. We value constructive conversation and believe that difference of opinion can make conversations and businesses stronger.
We’re a community-minded team. We’re always looking for new ways to support members of our Launchways community while also engaging with the greater Chicago community.
Establishing core values is an extremely important process to get right. A few key takeaways I’ve learned in the process include:
- Articulating and documenting your business’ values make it easier to establish a clear direction for your business
- Values should both set the tone for and reflect your organization’s culture
- Values need to be real, not aspirational; values that aren’t honored will undermine the process
- Businesses should stick to five or fewer core values or principles to avoid diluting the message