Integrity. Respect. Team Work.

If your company values look like this 👆 then it’s time for a makeover!

These words are corporate babble, typically found on an office poster that no one looks at.

What you want are actionable values that help you and your team make decisions on a daily basis.  This is what the most successful companies have in common…

Values that people actually believe in.

What are Company Values?

When someone asks you what your values are, you probably think of a few fundamental things that you believe in as a person. I like to think of values as the “lens” in which you see the world through.

This is the same with a company’s core values too. Company core values are a set of fundamental beliefs, or principles, that help guide the organization and its decision making.

Typically core values are a list of words, or phrases, that describe each company belief. These values help people within the organization understand the difference between right and wrong, and what the organization stands for. 

In the best companies, core values inform everything from hiring to brand messaging. They become a key differentiating factor between you and your competitors because, if done right, core values are uniquely you and very hard to copy.

Why are Company Values Important?

First, company values help bring purpose to the work that your organization does. Along with your mission statement, your company’s core values help each person on the team connect their personal ‘why’ to the company’s ‘why’. 

Second, company core values give your team a consistent framework for making decisions. Everything from strategy, to hiring, to branding can be guided by your core value belief system. 

A solid set of core values also plays a critical role in attracting new talent to your org, with a survey finding that 46% of job seekers said a strong culture is very important in applying.

Check out 10 signs that you have a rock-solid company culture.

But don’t take it from me. Here’s what business guru Jim Collins says about company core values: 

One of the key underlying variables enabling a company to not just go from good to great, but to stay great – and become an iconic institution like Sony, like Disney, like General Electric, like 3M—is that they have an underlying set of core values that do not change. 

Truthfully, a company without thoughtful and authentic core values will have a tough time finding success. You can’t build a great team, deliver for your customers, or grow as a business without them. 

Values matter. But most founders spend little time on them. Or just get them plain wrong. 

Let’s fix that, shall we?

My 7 Steps to Creating Company Values 

1. Start with Personal Values

Values start from within.

You’re the founder. The business is your idea. It’s already taken mostly, if not all, your time and effort to build, so don’t stop there. 

What do YOU believe matters? How do YOU want your business to be perceived? What are YOUR personal values? 

Start there.

As a founder, jot down your strongest personal values. Make a list of 5-10 personal values, but don’t limit yourself (we’ll get there later). Write them as raw and unfiltered as possible. 

Values aren’t a fashion statement. They’re a reflection of who you are. 

The next steps will help you develop your personal values into core values the entire company can get behind.

2. Form a Core Team

Creating values shouldn’t be left to HR. 

They’re the ones coming up with corporate jargon like “integrity” and “respect.” 

Building a successful business includes the people helping you get there–co-founders, leadership team, key employees… 

They should have a say in what the business deems valuable. Instead of shipping off the company values to HR, build a team of seven or fewer core members of the business. 

For early-stage startups, the founding team should lead this effort. As you stage up in your business journey, continue to involve the remaining founders, and then add the CEO, and key employees that play a role in developing your overall culture and vision. 

This team will now execute the next step in writing your company’s core values.

3. Identify Team Characteristics

Moving forward… together. 

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll quickly pick up on a common theme to business success: alignment. 

And that doesn’t stop with values. 

As your business and team grow, it’s critical to find themes among all of your personal values so you can create company values that speak to the group as a whole. 

Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Each person in your core team notes three people at the company they admire
  2. Then, list all the characteristics of each admirable person.
    Examples: Rolls with the punches, raises the bar, gets shit done…
  3. Combine the lists of characteristics on a whiteboard

Once you’re looking at all these traits written out together, you’ll start to spot some patterns.

At the end of this exercise, you’ll be left with 5-10 themes that will form the crux of your values. 

4. Write Your Company Values

In business, less is almost always more. 

The last exercise left you with a lot to think about, but it’s time to shrink those themes into five or fewer value statements that align with the company mission, vision, and your personal values. 

Here’s how:

  1. Find 1-2 people in your core group (e.g., CEO + one other)
  2. Reduce the 5-10 themes into 5 of fewer core value phrases.
  3. Make them actionable and memorable (no single words!)

These impactful phrases become your company values! 

Easier said than done, I know. Writing actionable and memorable company values that align across the business is no walk in the park. 

To help inspire the process, check out an example of my company core values:

company core values - lead by example, adapt and overcome, always be learning

Note how they’re specific, actionable, and unique to us. 

Hitting all three of those marks is crucial if you want your values to have any effect. 

5. Define Each Value

Poorly defined values are as good as non-existent ones. 

Short phrases, no matter how impactful they read, will lose their value as more people join your company. So, even though you created your company values in the last step, you’re far from done. 

Now, take each core value and define what it means with two to three more developed sentences. 

Taking my company values from above, here’s how we defined “Adapt & Overcome”:

company core values - adapt and overcome: we think like an underdog, even when we're not, we preserve and thrive in the face of adversity, and we're resilient to the highs and lows of building something that lasts.

Driving the value home through the memorable phrase gets your team on board, but the defining details are what make your employees actually believe in them. Take the time to describe why this value is important to you and to the success of the business. 

6. Don’t Rush

Most things in startups are all about hitting the ground running… 

But values are not something to be rushed. 

Ideally, wait at least a year after founding to establish your company core values. This gives you time to figure out who should be a part of your core team and pick up on some of those common themes. 

To spend the proper amount of time developing your company values, I suggest starting with writing and defining two core values within year one. Take your time to really nail them.

Then, add 2-3 more the following year and spend just as much time perfecting each, but remember to not exceed 5 total values. 

Fewer impactful and memorable values are way better than having a bunch of values that no one believes in. 

Take your time. 

7. Walk the Walk

Mission, vision, values… They all mean nothing if you don’t live and breathe them. 

Once you have your company’s core values finalized, they should be a part of your hiring/firing and promotions. 

They should also be woven throughout your marketing and sales. Your company values tell consumers what you care about and why they should do business with you. Lead the conversation with them.

Whatever you do, don’t hang a fancy list of values on the wall and not live up to them. Save the wall space for those cheesy inspirational posters if that’s your thing. 

Your job as a leader: Never let your values be forgotten. 

How I can help you… 

Are you a founder, executive, or manager? I’d love to support your professional growth. 

Here are three ways: 

  1. Connect on LinkedIn and Instagram – where I post practical tips about leadership and startups every day.
  1. Subscribe to my free newsletter – where I go deep on a variety of management and operations topics that will make you a better leader & operator. 
  2. Join Highland – my executive coaching program for founders, where we help you become a top-tier CEO who can scale into the tens of millions & beyond.

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