Creating core values is an exceptionally powerful exercise that allows companies to codify their organizational culture by purposefully distinguishing the elements that are unique, strong and positive. Core values act as touchstones to be used in the ongoing conversations designed to continuously reinforce that culture.
But as your company grows and evolves, it may sometimes outgrow the core values that were at its foundation. What are the best practices here; start from scratch, make some changes, or stay the course?
Some people think core values are set in stone and should never change because they are the DNA of the organization. There is some truth in that, but your company is a living breathing entity that changes over time. Your work culture will shift as you make new hires, expand or contract different organizations, pivot, reorganize, rebrand…etc…
How people interact with each other and the way they go about doing their work is the culture, regardless of what’s written down. When the actual lived values deviate from what’s stated, it may be time to re-evaluate.
Ubiquity is the perfect example of a business that shifted its model and brand, and was then confronted by what to do about their core values. The retirement and savings company started as Online401K in 1999. As its business model became outdated, it realized it needed to rebrand itself and set new operational goal. Along with the reorganization came the need to re-imagine its core values.
I recently produced a webinar with Andrew Meadows, Senior VP of HR, Brand, and Culture at Ubiquity, to discuss this topic. Check out the webinar below and read on for some key insights into creating and evolving your core values:
For many companies, core values are just a section of their website or page in the employee handbook to let people know their ideals, but unfortunately, it’s not something they follow, and it comes through in their company culture.
While some businesses focus solely on the revenue side of things, they fail to realize that people are the bottom line. A great product or business model will only get you so far. Sustainable success requires people who are fully invested in the company’s success.
With a strong organizational culture, employees are happier, more productive, efficient, and committed. Companies with better employee engagement are 22% more profitable than companies with low engagement.
Having a strong culture, established on a clear set of values, is the difference between surviving and thriving. Core values create a filter for your company to make decisions and help you stay on track as the business environment changes and your company grows.
For example, one of our core values at 15Five is “Embrace Freedom and Flexibility”. This is based on the belief that rigid rules are unnecessary with a team of highly engaged, passionate and committed people. But as we have grown, we have recognized the impact of physical presence on the energy at each office. So while we will continue to encourage employees to be self-directed, I can foresee a shift in this value as our headcount grows to maintain team cohesion and accountability.
Company culture is a natural byproduct of people working together, so your company will develop a culture organically—or that culture can change organically as your organization grows. To ensure you develop the type of work culture you want, establish core values and keep them relevant as part of the regular conversation.
When Ubiquity was still known as Online401K, it noticed its work culture wasn’t positive, so it decided it needed to change that by creating core values. Ten years after the company’s inception, they involved the entire organization in the process of codifying their organizational values.
The key principle in their process was including many voices instead of a top-down mandate where leadership forced values on employees. The employees created the values themselves, so it was something they were willing to buy into.
I’m not saying you need to review and change your core values on an annual basis. That just creates confusion and an identity crisis for your organization. You should be committed to your values for at least three to five years, then examine whether those values still represent your organization.
Once you’ve changed your core values, it’s important to reinforce them with organization-wide rituals. There are various programs and tools you can use to support your values and regularly remind employees of them:
Cultural Rituals: Ubiquity literally posts their values on their Graffiti Wall to remind employees of them every day. Others have taken the values a step further. For example, the value Cultivate Joy was further strengthened when an employee developed RAWKs or Random Act of Workplace Kindness.
Every work culture has rituals that represent their values. The same applies to your company. 15Five has Gratitude Monday, where every Monday morning at the company meeting, the person leading the meeting shares something they are grateful for, and everyone else reflects for a quiet minute on that gratitude.
At Ubiquity, they have Vital Factors every Tuesday, where they take 10 minutes to touch base on how they’re progressing, and What’s Up Wednesday, where they send out a newsletter infographic of fun stuff, news, and birthday announcements. These rituals are simple ways to instill your values about the business and give shout outs for a job well done. But there is no replacement for face time…
Company Retreats: Retreats aren’t just about getting away to have fun (though that should be occurring too). They’re also about plucking people out of the normal environment to develop the business, instill organizational values, and improve team relationships.
That’s why Ubiquity holds their annual Reimagine Event. Since half their company works remotely, they bring people together once per year which builds camaraderie and enhances the workplace culture. People who have sometimes never met in person before might say, “Oh, I heard your name on Vital Factors last month”. Clearly, there is an aggregate effect of these rituals to reinforce the culture.
These retreats are business oriented but with a twist. Ubiquity creates exercises in things they want to improve, but it feels more like a field trip than work and financials. The Ubiquity team find ways to hack the business to be happier or to increase revenue. And just imagine the magic that can come from putting together people from different teams with differing perspectives to analyze various problems and opportunities.
Employee Recognition: Recognizing employees when they embody a core value is an easy way to reinforce your values throughout your organization and reward employees for their efforts. One of Ubiquity’s core values is to “be a spork”— in reference to the utensil which is a combination of a spoon and fork. The idea is to be versatile and willing to stretch outside your specific role to help other teams. The company presents a spork award each quarter to the employee who best exemplifies that value.
It’s important to remember your company values aren’t just about how you do your best work together, but also how everyone will be as human beings. Values aren’t just a mask you put on in the office, they are the core of who you are as people. Some of those values will never change, but others will. As your company grows, make sure your organizational values and operational goals align with who you are and where you’re going.
David Hassell is the cofounder and CEO of 15Five, lightweight performance management software that includes continuous feedback, objective (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David is a speaker and prolific writer and was named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine.
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