Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX
I visit a lot of corporate headquarters in my role as a coach and consultant and I can tell a lot about the company’s culture from their office space. I enjoy seeing the ping pong tables and putting greens and snack areas, and, in at least one office I’ve visited, the doggos lounging under desks. Most modern office spaces are vaguely similar in their casual atmosphere – a far cry from my early days in corporate banking where formality and pantyhose reigned. But one thing has caught my attention lately. Almost all companies have their corporate values or core values prominently displayed, on large posters in the reception or murals in the breakroom. It has made me wonder if these core values have become merely decoration or if they have truly become part of the culture.
Core values should be the moral compass to achieving the corporate mission and vision – the “how” of your business plan. These principles should not only allow employees to answer the question, “How should I act?” in any situation, but also signal to customers that they can count on each of your employees to act in a certain way. You may have a great mission – “We deliver the best product in the world.” – but if you can’t articulate a “how” – honestly, with integrity, transparently, with kindness, etc. – you may not achieve the results you desire.
But, knowing that every employee comes with different experiences, cultures and personal values, how do you ensure that your employees have really embodied your business’s core values and readily default to them in all aspects of their jobs? Aligning people to the core values takes consistent reinforcement across the entire company using a variety of methods.
Most companies are eager to communicate their core values. They are printed in company literature, highlighted on the website and splashed across the break room walls. But written communication is not enough. Incorporate a significant portion of your employee on-boarding and team training to not just reciting, but examining what these values mean in everyday work life. Explore new ways to communicate your values outside of the company, perhaps incorporating them into sales presentations or placing them more prominently on your website.
Creative training and on-boarding can make the core values come alive. Explore case studies or stories from outside the business world that highlight your principles. Group activities and exercises can lead to memorable learning opportunities. Allow employees to have discussions about the core values, to explore “what it means to me” and how they can incorporate the values into their teams. Use values in performance feedback and annual reviews.
Make sure that your core values are demonstrated from the top down. If “transparency” is a value – does the C-suite make it a consistent practice to be open and honest with employees? Good news and bad? Do you treat internal customers with the same respect that you expect your sales team to treat your external customers? Is the leadership team willing to make hard decisions when employees violate core values? Allow space and processes for grievances regarding lack of value-adherence and take such violations seriously.
Highlight and lift up stories of employees that exemplify your core values at your all-hands meetings. Some companies have core value awards – monetary or symbolic – that celebrate the embodiment of these principles. Establish the use of a hashtag for each value so that employees can share stories and examples. Many companies have an annual “culture week” or “values week” with speakers, awards and activities meant to highlight and celebrate the values they share.
The bottom line is that your corporate values should serve to make your employees, and therefore your company, more ethical in every situation. Strong core values should become part of every business decision and interaction. They are fixed and timeless and are the best definition of what your company stands for. Something that important to your business should never be reduced to just wallpaper.