We’ve all been exposed to company values at one time or another. Actually, “seen” company values is probably more accurate. They tend to manifest in the form of lofty statements a company puts on its website and in new employee manuals to bolster its standing in the eyes of employees, customers, and shareholders. And that’s typically where they stop.
As someone who oversees the people function at a unicorn tech company and helps every team member navigate our values, I have a significant role in ensuring they are part of everything we do. While this is a huge challenge for a company growing as fast as ours, it’s also one of the primary reasons I took the job. In fact, I knew I was onto something special when every conversation I had with my peers during the interview process included time spent discussing values. Fortunately for everyone involved, the company has been operating this way since it started.
Taking this a step further, I have been out talking with people in the company about why we have values and how we use them vs. what they are. They serve as a useful framework for navigating difficult decisions. They aren’t necessarily the answer, but they give us a path forward that helps us stay the course as a company.
Even if your situation doesn’t mirror mine, there’s no reason your company can’t use values to drive business.
If you distill company values down to their most basic level, what you’re left with is a framework for people working together to do what is best for customers, partners, shareholders/investors, and fellow employees. When this dynamic happens and everyone is in sync with a set of values, it not only brings people together, it also creates new opportunities for everyone involved. This includes maximizing revenue.
An important thing to note: everyone being in sync does not mean that everyone shares the exact same values. What is important is that everyone respects each other’s values. With that mutual respect as the base, company values can transition from abstract niceties to an integral part of your organization’s DNA.
The Values ‘Stack’ for Success
When it comes to company values, I’ve seen more than I can probably remember. No doubt you have as well. What is different now is that I have found a core list of values that I believe can be the foundation for any organization that wants its values to be more than just a list that vanishes soon after first sight.
The great thing about these values is that they transcend industry and company size. The more of these you incorporate into your daily workflow, the better your chances they collectively act as a business driver.
- Put customers first: this is my company’s number one value; in essence, it’s our “North Star”
- Integrity always: encourage constructive, respectful disagreement and debate; they are the basic ingredients of problem-solving and decision-making
- Think big: innovation requires risk
- Be excellent: hold yourself and others to the highest standards; easier said than done, I know, but worth it over the long term
- Get it done: results matter; make commitments, follow through and deliver
- Own it: we all make mistakes; when you do it’s critical that you own it, fix it, learn from it and move on
- Make each other the best: offer help and ask for it when needed
- Embrace each other’s differences: when you accept and appreciate everyone, no matter their walks of life, you strengthen yourself and your company
Making Values “Real”
These values are great, but how do you turn them into fuel that drives your business? Like many aspects of running a successful company, it all starts at the top. Specifically, there has to be more than just buy-in from a company’s executives—they also have to “walk the talk” each and every day. And the more they do this with humility, the better the chances the team ecosystem will also do so. The “do as I say, not as I do” approach does not work. I can’t overstate how important this is.
In practical terms, those in management positions—including C-level executives—need to be present and accountable everywhere. All-hands meetings are a given, but this reach must extend to the break room, new employee orientations, the hallways, company events, and any other in-person and online scenarios. Without this level of visibility and adherence to the values, they will be too watered down to function as business drivers.
Taking this a step further, I recommend challenging company leaders and people on your HR/People team to offer colleagues feedback in the context of your values as a way to help everyone better see where they align with them and where they can improve their alignment.
If, like me, you are tasked with helping colleagues navigate and implement your values, I also strongly suggest including them in the process. I have found it valuable to be out talking with my colleagues—and others in our extended ecosystem—about why we have values and how we use them versus just what they “are.” My company’s values serve as a useful framework for working through difficult decisions. They aren’t necessarily the answer, but they do give us a path forward that helps us stay the course as a company.
On a more granular level, it’s helpful to understand everywhere your company’s values appear. Frankly, the more places, the better. This protocol extends from the aforementioned sign on the headquarters wall and printed versions in conference rooms to the website and the boilerplate in job descriptions.
Our values represent who we are, at our best. To truly drive business, strive to exhibit these values every day—regardless of your standing in the company—and always focus on doing what’s right for your extended “team” of colleagues, customers, partners, `and shareholders.
Kathy O’Driscoll is the Vice President of People at Snowflake Computing.