Companies can exist without values, but they won't thrive.
The Culture Blueprint: A Guide to Building the High-Performance Workplace talks about this idea. In practice, I've witnessed the living proof of values and their critical importance on the business and culture when we launched them at Devex.
So, how do you launch and live company values, so they actually work? In this four-part series, I'll share what you need to know and what we learned. We'll cover:
The why and what of values
How to launch values
Our successes and learnings from the project
Living the values long-term
Why Values Matter
Values are the real treasure of any company (and our metaphor for this series). They're what you use to attract and retain talent, achieve your vision, mission, and goals, and guide how you act, especially in moments that matter most.
Values create a framework that helps with:
Decision making. They create space for trust and autonomy to make decisions at every level of a company. For example, if you have bias-to-action as a value, this creates a clear way to define your company's decision-making framework. That way, every team member feels empowered to make their own decisions.
Management and Leadership. Values give leaders and managers a north star: how they lead their teams, communicate, align strategy and goals, and exemplify culture.
Hiring and firing. You can assess if a candidate will work well on the team when you have values. Conflict arises when values conflict. Think about one of your values. What happens if you do the opposite of your value (e.g., you value truth, but you start lying all the time)? You probably feel a swell of negative emotions. Frustration. Guilt. Anger. Sadness. The same happens in a company. But don't confuse aligned values with cultural fit. Cultural fit is already out. Look for values aligned with cultural add.
Articulating culture. Culture always exists, even if it's not written down. But by articulating values, you can intentionally practice the culture you want to nurture and establish a shared understanding across the team. It's especially important as your company grows and brings in new people. It creates a consistent, long-term culture.
Employee experience. What kind of work experience do you want to provide? Your values influence that—every facet of how you do your work. Do you want a workplace that emphasizes trust and autonomy, learning and mastery, or both? How do you want your team members to describe their experience?
5 Types of Values You Need
You need a holistic set of values, meaning they work together and support the company's longevity and mission, according to The Culture Blueprint.
If you're missing one type, it's time to reevaluate and bridge the gap. Here's another way to think about it. Each value type is a part of the code you need to crack open a treasure chest. If you're missing one part of the code, all you have is a chest that you can't open.
Key Differentiator Values. These values differentiate you from other companies and leaders in the field. Think of them as your value prop.
Supporting Values. These values support your vision, mission, and differentiators. Think values like learning, growth, and others not directly connected to the business model.
Experience Values. These values lead to the experience you want to have regardless of the market. Think purpose over profit, personal over professional, trust over control.
Über Values. Without über values, the other values won't work. They could be things like integrity, willingness, relevance, and curiosity, to name a few.
Defensive Values. These values defend against something else. Examples include respect, honesty, or transparency. Defensive values are always proactively worded. Focus on what you want, not what you don't want.
What You Can Do Today
In the next part, we'll cover how to launch values. But first, there's one thing you can do: put on your beginner's mind hat (or your favorite adventure hat) and channel your inner 5-year old's curiosity.
Here's what you'll do:
Go to work and pretend it's your first day. You know nothing about the company or the people. Imagine your embarking on an adventure to find a treasure chest (i.e., your living values). Each interaction creates the path you need to take to find the treasure chest and open it.
Throughout the day, observe, observe, observe, and withhold judgment. If judgment creeps in, respond with simple questions like, "why, how does that work, or what might be the root cause?"
At the end of the workday, reflect on your observations and complete this sentence: The people here are really all about _____________________________. This statement is your treasure chest. It needs to be opened, unpacked, and understood. And that is what leads to Part II.