Core Values Reflect Mobile Employee Communication and Engagement
How We Defined Our Company Values
We recently embarked upon a project to define our company values at theEMPLOYEEapp. As many smaller companys do, we decided that what we believe had been implicit in our behavior and work needed to become explicit to support our expected growth. As a company that stands for mobile employee communication and engagement, this is particularly critical!
I have been a leader in a number of growth organizations with success both financially (successful exits) and through people (best place to work awards)—all of which have defined or taken on initiatives to define values. I brought both the positives and negatives of this experience and learning to our work at theEMPLOYEEapp. Here’s how we approached it and what we did.
What Values Should Be
1) How leaders intend to lead. If values are not embodied top-down, they will just be words with no meaning. Values must define how work gets done and how decisions are made. And they must be driven and lived by leadership.
2) An integrated set of attributes that define success. Early in my career, I learned about critical success factors – the few things that if done correctly lead to success. And if not, set a company up for failure. I think of values similarly, in that they should collectively describe what will enable success.
3) Core & aspirational. Lencioni’s definitions of “core” and “aspirational” values resonate with me. Core: Attributes that the company is known for or that someone would notice without being told. Aspirational: Attributes that you need to do better, but aren’t so out of reach to be at least mostly true. Values have to be believable, but there can be room for improvement.
4) Provide current and prospective employees with guideposts. If they aren’t attributes that people can reference to guide behavior and decisions; or behaviors prospective employees can use to understand what type of company you are, then well, what’s the point?
5) Have a defined meaning. Beyond the words and phrases that are used for shorthand, values must have an actual definition. What they don’t mean is just as important as what they mean. “Yep, that’s what we meant by that” is a convenient adaptation to the situation-du-jour. But anything that means all things in all situations ends up meaning very little.
6) Attributes that become part of the company’s fabric. If values sit in a presentation or on a wall but never make it into the daily operating rhythms of the company, they are likely to be forgotten.
What Values Don’t Need To Be
1) Democratic. As someone who biases toward openness, feedback, and input—this is a challenge for me. However, I have seen many such efforts get diluted beyond recognition by too many voices. By all means input is important. See what others value. See what resonates. Make tweaks. Enroll people in activating them. Just don’t expect to get anything meaningful through surveying people and trying to make word soup. Stay rooted in the importance of the “top leadership” point above.
2) That unique, or particularly ‘cute’. Wait, what? I know. I get it. Values are supposed to be uniquely identifiable to a company or they don’t mean anything. Right? I love as much as anyone else looking through culture and values decks from companies like Zappos and Asana. I appreciate a unique and memorable set of values. It’s just more important to address the list of “should be” items above than to be witty. And as long as values are distinguished enough to be at least better than average against peer organizations, they will be meaningful over outright uniqueness.
3) Prescriptive as to how one plays off against another. By nature, multiple objectives of any kind leave room for uncertain tradeoffs. Do I value the customer or the employee? Do I value the deadline or the quality of the deliverable? Yes, values should help discern some such tradeoffs by stating what’s important. Just don’t expect every single decision to be prescribed. Life, and business, have complexity.
So, here is how all of the above played out at our company. We believe that the following set of values more than achieves the “should be” items above for our company and at our current stage of growth. They are how we behave. They describe a particular version of success. While we’re not awesome at each one right now, we will weave them into the fabric of what we do every day. They support our mission, give us a purpose and something to strive for.
People Matter. This value is about making decisions and acting with people in mind, whether it’s employees, clients, or external partners.
Client-Driven. Our people are passionate about helping our clients achieve their comms objectives, and we show it in our understanding and responsiveness.
Focus. Focus is the only way a small company can cut through the clutter and deliver on short-term objectives while staying mindful of its longer-term vision.
Take Ownership. This value reminds each of us to follow through on our commitments and embrace taking on others.
Enjoy. This is our daily reminder that we’re loving the journey, whether we’re celebrating a success or dealing with inevitable challenges!
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