We recently embarked upon a project to define our company values at APPrise Mobile. As many smaller organizations 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 an organization that stands for mobile employee communications 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 APPrise Mobile. Here’s how we approached it and what we did:
What values should be:
1) How the top leaders intend to lead.
More than anything else, if the values are not embodied “top-down”, they will just be words in a presentation with no meaning. They *must* define how work gets done and how decisions are made and they must be driven and embodied by top leadership.
2) An integrated set of attributes that define success.
Early in my career I learned about “critical success factors” – the small number of items that if done correctly ensure success, and if not done correctly can set an organization up for failure. I think of values similarly, in that they should collectively describe what will enable success.
3) Both core & aspirational.
Patrick Lencioni’s definitions of “core” and “aspirational” values have long resonated with me. Core: Attributes that the organization is “known for” today or that a visitor would observe in a short period of time without you telling them. Aspirational: Attributes that you know you need to do better, but aren’t so out of reach to be at least mostly true now. In short, values have to be believable, but there can be room for improvement.
4) Provide current and prospective employees with believable and meaningful guideposts.
If they aren’t attributes that people can point to and reference to guide behaviors and decisions; or behaviors prospective employees can use to understand what type of organization they are joining relative to others, 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 behind them. What they don’t mean is just as important as what they mean, or the “values” will become diluted over time. “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 can become (or are) part of the organization’s fabric.
If values sit in a Keynote presentation or on a wall but never make it into the day-to-day and believable operating rhythms of the company, they are likely to be forgotten or to end up in an episode of The Office.
What values don’t need to be:
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 an organization 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 last decision to be prescribed. Life, and business, have complexity.
So here is how all of the above played out at APPrise Mobile. We believe that the following set of values more than achieves the “should be” items above for our organization 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, which is about making decisions and acting with people in mind, including both employees and external relationships.
Client-Driven, which is currently a core value that comes through loud and clear and was well acknowledged by clients of theEMPLOYEEapp at our recent annual client summit. Our people are passionate about helping our clients achieve their communications objectives, and we show it in our understanding and responsiveness.
Focus, or the only way a small organization can cut through the clutter and deliver on short-term objectives while staying mindful of its longer-term vision. Writing stuff down and following through are associated tactics.
Take Ownership, which reminds each of us to follow through on our commitments and – just as important – embrace taking on others.
Enjoy, our daily reminder that we’re loving the journey, whether we’re celebrating a success or dealing with inevitable challenges!
We would love to hear your thoughts!