What makes your company truly, honestly unique? While we all might like to think it’s our product, that’s not always the case. A lot of the time it’s probably your way of doing business, your people, and how you serve your customers. And those things all come down to a values-based culture. Values are often just as important as your product.
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Running a business is hard work, and it can be tempting to prioritise other business decisions over how to better create and embed values in your company. But how you define your business both internally and to the outside world can play a huge part in your success. Values act as a compass when trying to agree on a course of action or make a difficult decision, they bring your people together under a set of shared beliefs, and are something to help you get through any tough patches.
They’re also unmatched in how they help to attract and retain talent – people who share your values will be drawn to you. They can provide a benchmark for hiring staff, and people who feel connected to your company through values will be more likely to stick around.
At Vend we’ve got a talented team who are committed to defining, evolving and encouraging our values throughout the business. Here’s some of our best advice on accomplishing this – it’s no mean feat.
There are two schools of thought around how to create values. One says that values should be ‘uncovered’ rather than ‘set’, which means you find out the personal values of your employees and then build your company values around that. To do this, some good questions to ask are ‘what gets you out of bed in the morning?’, ‘why do you come to work here every day?’, and ‘what’s been the best moment of working here?’
The other school of thought says that values should be created from the top down. After all, they need to strategically position the company for success in the future. At Vend we check back on our values periodically to make sure they’re still working for us. This is especially important as the organisation is now ten-times the size it was when we established our original values.
We take a hybrid approach – by talking to a number of our people who ‘really get’ Vend and finding out what is important to them. Then we identify patterns and themes and combine that with the founding set of values we established to find the way forward.
When creating your values it’s important to use language that is right for your organisation. At Vend we try to record the language from our fact-finding value discussions, as often this will provide a good steer on wording for our values. Generally, they should be phrased in a positive way, using language like ‘do’ rather than ‘don’t’. Although, there are exceptions to every rule – one of our values is ‘Don’t be a dick’. Make the call based on what’s the best culture-fit for your company and how you want to get the message across.
Many organisations are in constant flux, whether it’s winning new deals, growing rapidly or trying to control costs. So keep your list of values short – three to five is ideal – so that they are memorable for everyone, and can be easily applied or evolved in the long-term. When creating them, take a step back and think carefully about your current environment as well as the future. Values need to be able to transcend time as much as possible, so they’re applicable two, five and 10 years from now.
It’s important to include as many people as possible in the creation process, but once you’ve got your values finalised you need to formally communicate them to your team. The best way to do this is in a group setting, where you can explain the process and how the values came about, and respond to any questions.
Your values need to be interwoven through everything – from how you make decisions, to how you hire people, to how you reward performance. A great place to start is by listing out every aspect that you could weave your values into, such as your careers page and job descriptions, staff meetings and performance reviews. We had some artwork and murals made up in our offices that describe our values, so people are literally surrounded by them every day. If you make it a priority to incorporate your values into one thing every week, they’ll be throughout the company in no time.
Once you have your values, the really hard work begins. Having strong values is hugely beneficial in the long run, but the reality is that it can be hard to live by them every day. It may mean not hiring someone really talented because they don’t share the right values for the company, or forgoing a business deal that would trample on your values. It might mean apologising to your team if you fall short of them yourself.
So ask yourself: Am I 100% committed to this process? If the answer is no, figure out what you can do to become committed. Do these things first and revisit this exercise later. If the answer is yes, then go for it.
Vaughan Rowsell, is the founder and chief executive of Vend.