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How to Launch & Live Company Values: Part III

Haven't seen Part I, The why and what of values, or Part II, How to launch values? Check them out and then come back to this post.

At this point, you've got a good grasp on what company values are, why they matter, the five types of values you need, and the four phases to launch company values. In essence, you've completed your planning for the treasure hunt.

Like in any project or adventure, there are successes and learnings. I saw this when we implemented values at Springboard, and more recently, at Devex. By the end of today's post, you'll know how to avoid common pitfalls, do more of what works, and make changes based on tough lessons.

Common Pitfalls and Solutions

Think of common pitfalls as a booby trap. They can mean the success or failure of launching your company values. Success means the team understands the values and strives to live them every day. Failure means that the values live in a document, never to be referenced or practiced in real life. Here's how you can avoid the most common booby traps.

Pitfall #1: Creating Commitment to Values

Saying you have company values is easy. Living them is hard. It's vital to create commitment from the beginning. Have the leadership team and the greater team take an oath or sign a contract/handbook. It gives a sense of ownership. Build this into the recruitment and onboarding process, too.

Pitfall #2: Clarifying of What Values Mean

You can interpret values in many ways. It's essential to make your values as clear and straightforward as possible, so your team is living the same values, while still honoring each team's unique culture. Make sure to properly document the values and include specific behaviors that bring each value to life. Give concrete examples from team members, clients, or job applicants to show the values in practice.

Pitfall #3: Communicating Values to Understand Them

Do team members understand them in practice? Have they discussed in small groups? Have they read the documentation, examples, and stories? Facilitate group discussions, activities that reflect your values, hackathons, etc. You can do them asynchronously, too. For example, we have spotlights for a Devexer of the week, and one of the questions they answer is, "Which Devex guiding principle resonates most with you? How have you brought it to life recently?"

Pitfall #4: Bringing Them to Daily Conversation

If you're not intentional about bringing values to day-to-day conversations and workflows, they'll merely be "that values document" lost in your cloud. Do you use them in hiring? Do you use them in everyday team conversations or 1:1s? Do you use them for decision making or announcements? Do you incorporate them into meetings or play games to memorize and embody your values? Are they tied to recognition? Find ways to make them a part of a conversation.

What Worked Well

The Culture Blueprint is an excellent guide for rolling out values. However, here are some additional things you can do to make launching your values a success.

  • Meet with at least 50% of the company in focus groups of 4 people or less from different business units. The number of conversations depends on the size of your company. If you're an early-stage small start-up, speak with everyone individually. And if you have the capacity, make them all 1:1s to prevent groupthink.

  • Speak with ambassadors as well as detractors. Knowing what you're biggest fans think is just as important as what your biggest critics think. It helps uncover any blindspots.

  • Have someone assess sample coding of the analysis. Qualitative analysis can never be 100% objective. When you conduct the analysis, code about 25% of the data and then have another team member go through and code the same data.

  • Ask for comments directly in the values draft. When you ask the team for feedback on the values draft, have them add comments directly to the draft rather than sending out a survey.

  • Make it clear where the decision making comes from for final values. Is it truly co-created by the entire team, or does the Leadership team sign off on the final values? Be upfront about this from the beginning of the project.

  • Incorporate the values in all things People Ops for the launch. This could include the code of conduct, pulse surveys, performance reviews, and team recognition, to name a few.

What We'd Change

  • Better Manage Expectations with Leadership. Get explicit, written commitment from the leadership team at the beginning of the project. Be clear about what you need from them to launch the values successfully.

  • Make the Define & Understand timeline longer or change the approach altogether. This phase took 3 times what we had estimated due to timezone differences, workload, etc. Getting a group of 4 people together can be a major bottleneck. A better way to do this could be through a survey + 1:1 follow up as needed or scheduling 1:1s instead of focus groups.

  • Make it more apparent that teams create their unique subculture. Values aren't about controlling teams. They're about creating a shared understanding of behavior for the company. Communicate to all teams that they know their teams best and can integrate the values in a way that makes their subculture even stronger. Offer coaching sessions with team leads or each team to brainstorm how they can integrate values into their team.

Actions To Take

If you're in the process of launching (or relaunching) values at your company:

  1. Identify which pitfalls are most likely for you to encounter

  2. Define potential solutions that will mitigate these pitfalls

In the last post for this series, you'll learn how to live and test your company values for the long-term.