6 Tips to Turn a List of Corporate Values into a Value-Based Culture

Published On:
February 26, 2016

For many companies, corporate values are just a list of words and catchy definitions in the “About Us” section of their website. They simply serve as marketing material for the eyes of shareholders and potential customers. But what about those of us who really believe that creating a value-based culture provides a foundation and a set of guidelines that will make everyone more effective at their job? 

Finding the methods to articulate and implement your corporate values can take time and some experimentation, but below we have put together six tips to jumpstart your transition toward a culture infused with your core values.

1. Choose values that resonate with your employees and your business.

Agility. Compassion. Learning. Teamwork. Integrity. Safety.  Flip through a thesaurus or find what’s trending online – but ask yourself, and ask your employees, are these the words that describe us or who we want to be? Survey your organization to understand if your current behaviors are consistent with an existing set of values as well as to identify what other values the organization should strive to exhibit. 

Do they establish guidelines of acceptable or desired behavior that will help your business achieve its goals? Are they achievable? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you should feel confident that you have a list of values that can become the foundation of your culture. But that is just the first step.

A quick note: For the best survey results, collect anonymous responses using a third party or an online survey tool. Anonymity promotes honest feedback, but do collect some information, like the department of each respondent, so teams can tailor their improvement efforts (see tip #4).

2. Clearly define your values.

Unless your definitions are clear, it is unlikely that all employees will explain or interpret each value the same way. Your goal is to have everyone agree to and achieve common values, so you need to make sure everyone is speaking the same language. “Excellence”, for example, might signify quality to you, but performance to me. So, you must define your values so they have specific meaning to your business and your team. 

Write concise descriptions for each value that make it clear how your organization explains and identifies with them. Show them to your colleagues. If they need further explanation, then they are not clear enough. This will take several iterations.

3. Describe behaviors that exemplify each value.

Once your definitions make sense in the context of your overall business, your employees will want to know how those values apply to their day-to-day work. For example, if I answer customer service calls, what behaviors should I exhibit to show “Commitment”? Perhaps it is following up on a call I transferred to another department to make sure the customer’s problem was resolved. 

To demonstrate “Accountability” in a Finance or Technology function, maybe I make a habit of sending an email to confirm my understanding of a task requested of me and agree the due date, then communicate my status until I deliver. It is beneficial to get the team involved – hold a brainstorming session to define a list of actions, activities, and scenarios that will help illustrate values in on-the-job situations. 

This will engage the team and ensures they have a say in establishing how these values will be applied (and measured) in the organization.

4. Create a values-improvement plan.

If you want to improve your culture and embed your new values, you must have a plan. Based on your initial survey results (see tip #1) determine what percentage of time teams should spend focused on improving value-based behavior each week. If you prioritize values improvement as one of your strategic objectives, it will be much easier to devote a defined amount of collective effort and it will be time well spent. First, set measurable goals for each value. 

These could be: metrics you would like to achieve, new programs or working sessions you want to create, or specific behaviors that you will purposefully implement and track. Each department should set their own targets based on their original survey results. Next, department leads should take ownership of creating a plan to achieve their targets in a realistic timeframe. While some activities are quick and easy to implement, others may require significant time or resources and should be evaluated and prioritized through your organization’s normal work approval process. 

This will ensure approved initiatives will be properly staffed and funded. Lastly, teams should report progress on a regular basis. Senior leaders should analyze results and suggest changes in plan, and communicate status back to the boarder organization.

5. Recognize desired behavior and incorporate your values into daily work.

In our experience, change happens much faster when you recognize positive behavior and keep change at the forefront of everyone’s mind. 

Direct, on-the-spot feedback from managers and peers is a great start. Make an effort to write at least one personal email at the end of each day, pull someone aside to let them know you noticed their effort, or recognize someone for exemplifying a value. 

You can also provide more structure by creating reward systems where individuals are nominated for company-wide recognition or for a small monetary award ($5 Starbuck’s gift card?). Publish a feature of an individual or department in your quarterly newsletter highlighting an achievement resulting from value-based behavior. Make your values visible. Hang them on the walls, add them to standard issue computer images as default desktop backgrounds and screen savers. 

More visibility and positive association with desired behaviors will encourage continued adoption of your values as part of everyday culture in your organization, and will prevent them from becoming a “flavor of the week” memory… “Is that thing we did with values in Q1 still going on?” Most importantly, management needs to emphasize the values continuously, and must practice them as well.

6. Tie values to performance evaluation and compensation.

Now it’s time to bring it all together. Use your rewards systems, values improvement plan targets, and where applicable, 360-degree feedback, to firmly tie value-based behavior into your organization’s performance evaluation process and compensation systems. 

Track and measure individual and team contributions to value improvement initiatives, account for awards and nominations that individuals collected in the last measurement cycle, and gather feedback from peers, subordinates, managers, and customers to understand how values are being applied and to what extent. Set value-based goals just like you would for revenue growth or expense reduction and weight them according to your strategic priorities. Compare performance to future value assessment survey results to see if actual performance aligns with organizational perception.

Hopefully, these six steps will motivate you to finally take on that cultural shift you have been thinking about – to move to a value-based environment where daily activities and behaviors align to core principles, providing focus and direction to help you achieve your strategic goals. I wish you luck!

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