Respect, integrity, leadership, honor. You see these sorts of terms etched in the lobbies of corporate headquarters, emblazoned on the landing pages of company websites, and threaded through internal memos. Purportedly, they refer to a company’s values – the ethical, philosophical and aspirational standards under which the entity operates.
As you’ll see, the “values” listed above aren’t very inspiring – nor are they necessarily values in any practical sense. They use the language of values, but they fall massively short of their goal to inspire change and communicate principles.
At their best, company values are relevant, specific, actionable and flexible. Fully-formed company values, like the kinds discussed below, have the power to rally employees together, root a company culture in a deeper sense of meaning, and convey humanity to consumers. They are a rare crossroads in business between strategic acuity and moral accountability.
Interested in penning effective, compelling company values? Read the short guide below.
Relevance: Start with Your Core Business Concept and Purpose
Why would a muffin shop need “leadership” as its company value? What good is “honor” to a chemical manufacturing company? Too often, companies reach for platitudes (more on that in a moment), missing the opportunity to relevantly connect their values to their core business concept.
For an example of relevant company values done right, look to the real estate digital marketplace Nobul, which has its principles built right into the name. CEO Regan McGee explains that “I came up with (Nobul) because it refers to two core company values: the “noble” goal of bringing transparency and accountability to the real estate market, and the other is that there is no room for “B.S.” on our platform.”
This is an excellent example of a company aligning its values with its purpose – to remove complexity, opacity and dishonesty from real estate transactions – and packaging the whole statement into its central branding.
Specificity: Move Beyond Clichés
The next thing wrong with our introductory examples is that they are hollow – indicating a lofty value but ultimately meaningless. “Respect,” “integrity,” “leadership,” and “honor” are clichés.
To refresh the memory of readers who may forget their high school English classes, a cliché is an overused term or phrase that has detached from its signifier. In other words, people have (mis)used it so often that it fails to elicit an emotional or intellectual response.
Move beyond these platitudes. Notice in the Nobul example above how McGee specifically delineates his company’s value (“accountability in the real estate market”). Another great example of specificity is from Trader Joe’s, the grocery chain. “We’re a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores,” reads their company values statement, which tells you everything you need to know about their big ambitions and community-focused priorities.
The Follow-Through: Make Your Values Actionable
What good is an unkept promise, an unfulfilled resolution? Not much. And the same goes for company values, which should never settle for being lip service on your company website. Follow through on your values with actions.
Take Deloitte as an example, one of the largest professional services networks in the world. They followed their company value statements, “Commitment to each other” and “Strength from cultural diversity,” with a Reconciliation Action Plan and Accessibility Action Plan, each designed to foster inclusion and empowerment in the organization.
Agility: Listen, Adapt and Change
A final note: Your company values aren’t set in stone. It’s perfectly acceptable to adapt your values to the changing times, much in the same way people and societies do. Solicit input from your employees and consumers to find what’s meaningful to them. If their concerns and principles align with your company’s aspirations, work their language into your value statements.
Hopefully, this short guide to company values can help you determine the principles underpinning your venture. Remember, be relevant, be specific, be adaptable, and be ready to take action with your values.