Corporate America is full of businesses who claim to stand for something—something more than just the bottom line. Words like customer service, integrity and quality top the lists of company values printed in brochures and coded on websites for thousands of businesses across the country. But do these so-called values really mean anything? (They should.) And does your business need them? (Yes.)
In this day and age, an excellent product or service isn’t enough to earn your customers’ trust or to set your business apart from the competition. In fact, 55% of consumers say they don’t really trust the companies they currently buy from as much as they used to.1 So, what will set your business apart? A healthy company culture (the combined attitudes and behaviors of an organization) and a solid brand identity (the look, tone and feel your business shares with your audience). And a great way to start building both of those things is by clearly defining your company values.
What Are Company Values?
Company values simply answer the question, “What do we as an organization stand for?” They can be words, phrases or even complete sentences that describe the way the people in your company think and behave.
Why Do Company Values Matter?
No matter the industry, geographic location or size, every business has a culture. Good, bad, ugly—your company has one. So, why do company culture and values matter? Turns out, company culture impacts employee performance.
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In a recent article, researcher and author Lindsey McGregor shared interesting findings from a survey of four major airlines. The results revealed that the companies with higher employee satisfaction and motivation (aka healthier culture) also had higher customer satisfaction ratings.2 In other words, as McGregor puts it, “Why we work determines how well we work.”
By clearly defining what your business stands for (and consequently, what it doesn’t), you’re making a decision to create a culture where people with similar values can love the work they do—and thrive.
Not only that, but great company values also go a long way in creating trust with your customers—an advantage that not enough brands have in the marketplace today.
If that weren’t enough, company values can also:
- Improve your hiring process by helping you find the right people
- Simplify decision-making for your business
- Set your business apart from competitors
How to Define Your Company Values
Alright, before you call an emergency executive meeting to scribble out your company values, here’s a warning: Unless you’re willing to always stand by and champion your values, don’t bother writing any. Seriously. Company values that aren’t backed by action will breed cynicism and skepticism in your team (and your customers!) faster than you can say “lip service.”
But if you are ready to dig deep into the heart and mission of your business and relentlessly uphold what you say you stand for, check out these guidelines from one of the pioneers of organizational health, Patrick Lencioni:
- Create personal core values. Before you can create core values for your organization, you need to identify the beliefs that matter most to you personally. Why? As a small-business owner, your own principles are the framework of your company. What you believe will affect your business, so the two need to line up. To get started, ask yourself:
- What do I stand for?
- What values would I like to live, but I’m not actually achieving?
- What does success look like to me?
- Brainstorm with your key leaders. When it comes to company values, you need buy-in from your key leaders (you know, the people who set the example for the organization)—and you need to be bought in yourself! Don’t just pass this off to your HR director. And if you don’t have any fellow leaders yet, include your spouse, partner or a team member you really trust.
- Observe. Talk about how you and your team function when you’re at your best, and write down any words or phrases that describe something that sets your team apart from others. Maybe your team is pretty playful or super-detail oriented. Don’t be afraid to get creative and be specific.
- List your nonnegotiable. List out the things you and your business refuse to compromise on, no matter what. These are the things you’re willing to lose business over.
- Refine. You should have a pretty big list of things that describe your company. Lencioni says the things on your list will fall into one of four categories: Permission-to-Play, Accidental, Aspirational and Core. Your goal is to sort everything you’ve written down to find out what your core values actually are.
Permission-to-play values are the bare minimum of what’s expected of any company or employee, like reliability, courtesy or honesty. Unless you intend to go to an extreme to show the world these values, they don’t really set your business apart from others.
Accidental values are likely the result of employee personalities or habits that influenced the culture over time. They aren’t necessarily negative—they just weren’t developed on purpose by leadership.
Aspirational values describe characteristics you’d like your company to have, but they don’t come naturally. Warning: The danger in keeping an aspirational value is not following through
Core values are deep-rooted convictions that guide the way you do business and separate you from your competitors.3 Circle all the ones that fall into this category.
- Favor quality over quantity. Some companies have only three core values and others have 13. So what’s the magic number? A good rule of thumb: Limit core values to only those that are necessary for creating or guarding the culture you want—and to an amount you’re willing to remember. It would be pretty awkward for the owner to forget their own company values!
- Make them “sticky.” Once you’ve identified your core company values, rewrite them so they are concise, unique to your organization, and easy to remember. You want them to stick!
Examples of Impactful Company Values
Value what you want to see repeated in your organization again and again. And don’t over think it! These examples from businesses big and small prove that company values don’t need to be profound to be impactful.
- Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 4
Amazon gives their employees straightforward guidelines for how they want problems solved and encourages them to make the best decision they can in the moment.
- Accessibility: Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone. 5
Apple makes it clear that they’re in business to serve everyone, so they look for innovative ways to serve people with different needs. This is a great example of how a core value can even guide product design.
- Not Bound by Convention: Our success—and much of the fun—lies in developing new ways to do things. 6
Patagonia empowers their team to act and think differently as they serve their customers and build a more sustainable global society. Their culture enjoys pushing limits. Rule-breakers are welcome.
- Compassion: Provide the best care, treating patients and family members with sensitivity and empathy. 7
Many businesses give up human connection in the name of productivity, but Mayo Clinic emphasizes their belief in caring for their patients physically and emotionally.
- Quality: We know our products and have mastered our craft. Perfecting each customer’s drink, by hand, is the name of the game. 8
In a field flooded with coffeebots, Dutch Bros Coffee has built a cult following thanks to their commitment to having real people make their products by hand.
- Great Just Isn’t Good Enough: We see being great at something as a starting point, not an endpoint. We set ourselves goals we know we can’t reach yet, because we know that by stretching to meet them, we can get further than we expected. 9
Honestly, Google, this is pretty much the mic drop of core values.
- Customer Success: Our growth is based on mutual success. When our customers and our employees grow, we grow. 10
Named the second best place to work by the 2019 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For survey, Salesforce has risen to the top by putting their customers and their employees first. 11
- Excellence in the Ordinary: We are faithful in the little things. 12
This is just one of the 14 core values written on the walls of Ramsey Solutions and serves as a reminder that team members don’t just do the bare minimum or phone in the day to day. The company believes that when it comes to serving others, everything matters.
- Focus on the Positive: We have a positive spirit and find the light even in the most difficult situations. We bring our whole self to work. We celebrate successes and inspire others to create meaningful impact. 13
Encompass Health, an in-home health and hospice care provider, serves clients who are often living through difficult or discouraging health situations. Their company is committed to serving their customers by bringing joy with them to work.
- Fun-LUVing Attitude: Be a passionate Team Player; don’t take yourself too seriously; celebrate successes. 14
If you’ve ever flown Southwest, you know their employees may not take themselves seriously, but they definitely take this core value seriously!
Of course, company values aren’t the only things necessary to grow a business that thrives. You need strong leadership abilities, purpose, a rock-star team, a winning strategy, unbelievable customer service and, of course, some money. If that sounds like a lot, it is! But you can win at business and have a blast doing it. But first, you need to know how your business is really doing right now.
Take our Business Health Assessment to find out what might be holding your business back and what you can do about it.