Walk into any of the silicon-valley behemoths or trendy start-ups and there’s a good chance you’ll see a colourful mural of inspiring words on the wall, an ever-present backdrop for the team as they work on objectives from the most minute to the highest level. Core values — along with mission and vision statements — have become essential for any business, especially now that the active construction of company culture has become standard.
Payara’s seven values of Community, Growth, Openness, Initiative, Trust, Excellence and Passion have guided our behaviour since leadership unveiled them. So, what are core values and why are they useful for a business?
What Are Core Values?
In short, core values are a selection of fundamental ideals that function to guide behaviour. These values make an abstract goal like, on an individual level, “be a good person” and break that down into key, practical characteristics that one thinks essentially make a good person. For a business, core values are the qualities that would build what those in leadership consider the ideal culture to achieve that business’s vision of success.
What are they good for?
A business’s core values serve as a point of reference — a Polaris, if you’ll allow the metaphor — for policies, procedures, interactions and environment, guiding decisions at all leadership levels. The integrity of a business’s culture may be tested by whether core values are followed when they’re less comfortable to follow. A core value of transparency, for example, may inspire a company to post all KPI’s on a company-wide site, which is easy when numbers are encouragingly strong — but what about if sales are in a slump? Core values can keep a company culture consistent and on track throughout challenges, when stability is perhaps most crucial.
How does a business implement core values?
In short, values should be —
- Actionable – Their purpose is to guide actions, not to philosophise. Payara’s value of Openness has inspired many channels of internal communication so that anyone in the company can easily access exactly how we’re doing against objectives and in real time.
- Memorable – They must be retrievable, so generally fewer than 10 and either a single word or short sentence. Mnemonics and acronyms help: some Payarans remember our values with the mnemonic Payara Is Going On The Excellence Campaign.
- Diverse – Think of values that would “cover all the bases”, at least broadly, and don’t greatly overlap (like Transparency and Openness would for example)
- Bespoke – The right values for one company are not the right values for another. Payara had inherited its values from the its old parent company c2b2, but as we evolved, leadership recognised that what suited c2b2’s team and vision didn’t work for Payara, so we went back to the drawing board. We carried over some values (Community, Initiative, Excellence, Growth), adapted others (Trust from Trustworthy), and created new ones (Openness, Passion)
When: Choosing at the business’s start
There’s no single way to choose core values. Some start-ups select them before building a team, when the business plan is hot off the press. They may choose values that fit their vision and build their team and culture around them from the ground up.
This blank slate has obvious advantages, guiding a fledgling culture away from easy pitfalls, requiring positive corrective manoeuvres and fewer onerous reversals (hiring the wrong personality fit can create a years-long spanner in company culture).
Everything from the office layout to team building can construct an envisioned culture that is inseparable from the company, and these values may seem more integrated than they would have if selected later. But that integration also makes adjusting core values more problematic, and putting a plan into practice often raises unforeseen weak points — and surprising strengths.
When: Choosing values later
A business that selects its company values later, on the other hand, may take inventory of what qualities would compensate for identified weaknesses. Leadership may also identify what makes their team stand out from other teams and select an emphasizing values. At Payara, Passion was added later when we realised that this characteristic often made our team shine — and inspired Payarans to follow our other values.
Changing your values later may require a change in policies, procedures, aspects of the work environment, etc, but if change improves your company culture then that process can be rejuvenating for company culture. Still, have an unveiling campaign for your business that engages staff. Payara announced our values at a company event, and we’ve plastered them wherever we could — from t-shirts to email signatures — ever since.
How to put values into action
So, your business has selected its core values. Now what? It’s one thing for leadership to adopt values, but what about everyone else? The key is visibility and consistency. Some ideas that Payara have done include —
- Post them throughout the work environment — eye-catching wall art perhaps?
- If your company has an internal wiki, put them prominently on the home page.
- Integrate them into 1-1’s between managers and staff. (In our monthly reviews, Team Leaders asks each Payaran how they have demonstrated each value.)
- Integrate them into recognition and rewards, always referring to the values staff have demonstrated. (At Payara, R&R nominators select the core values shown by their nominee’s actions, and we include these in our company announcement.)
There are of course many other ways values can become integrated into company culture. You can be as creative as you want to be!
You may have core values in place and are looking to tweak them or just how you put them into action. Or maybe you’ve decided to introduce core values to your business from scratch, to take control of your culture. Whichever your aim, start with taking inventory of what should be improved and what should be enhanced in your existing culture. Start with the now, and select the qualities that, if followed, will guide your company culture towards your greater vision.