The Importance of Company Values in a Start-Up

Shared values help employees make informed decisions and unify the company culture. Decisions should be made with these values in mind.

Smarp team at 2017 kickoff

During the first three years of Smarp’s existence, we did not have any written values. To be honest, we did not really see the benefit at the time — we saw them as something big companies have for creating a positive image of themselves, without adding any real value. We were a small team, sitting in one room, day to day, working on getting our next client, improving our product and gathering feedback from existing clients on what we could improve. We had daily informal discussions with the whole team about where we could take the business and what it could someday become.

What we did not realize at the time was that we actually did have values, just not on paper. The values were the result of our work together and the way our thoughts met during our informal discussions. This made us work effectively together by enabling each one of us to make aligned decisions independently.

Informed decisions based on shared values

The first time we even discussed having written values was when we had already grown to about 20 team members in two locations. What had been taken for granted before now had to be written down, as we were growing quickly and wanted to make sure every member who joined would be able to make informed decisions based on our shared values.

We have always believed that what would make or break us is having the right team. Thus our original value, which would come to determine all the rest, was set at “employees first”. Our hypothesis was simple: by helping our employees become successful, we would, as a company, become successful by default. After all, the people working on product development, sales, marketing, or other core functions are the ones who have the biggest impact on whether the company becomes a success.

In employee communication and advocacy field, this has not just been an internal value, but something we wanted our clients to think about as well when launching our platform. As a result, we have witnessed that the most successful employee communication and advocacy programs have been employees first, and about enabling a well-informed and influential workforce instead of simply benefits for the business.

Setting Smarp values

Like with most fast-growing companies, we have experienced some growth pains. When we were working on creating a new category, we had no direct benchmark to compare ourselves to. While our core “employee first” value is still the underlying reason for having values in the first place, we knew we had to be more specific in order to help our team make decisions in their everyday work.

Setting values is never easy, as they should reflect the behavior and decisions of the whole team (and future hires). They are also the unifying core of the company culture — especially in a highly diverse company like ours, where our team consists of 20 different nationalities. After much thought, we set the following values:

  1. Take initiative and ownership — get shit done and be accountable
  2. Fear of missing out instead of fearing failure
  3. Work smart — go for what has the highest impact with the least effort/time
  4. Be a team player, collaborate, have fun
  5. Get out of your comfort zone
  6. Be positive and part of the solution

While many of these may seem straightforward, they have implications that need to be accepted before they can have any benefit. For example, fearing missing out more than fearing failure means that we need to accept that not all things we do will succeed.

One example of this was our e-learning product we launched back in 2012 which, after investing two years into developing it, did not gain enough market traction to be a sustainable business. It hurt admitting that we had worked tirelessly and put everything we had into something that did not deliver, but in hindsight, the experience definitely made us stronger as a team. If we had not been willing to give up on the product and focus exclusively on employee advocacy and communication, we would never be we are today.

Empowering employees with values

Company values should help employees be successful by empowering them to make their own decisions. While at first, we did not see a need for written values, today they are the very thing that makes us who we are. After all, everything we have accomplished thus far has been thanks to our extraordinary team and ability to work effectively together in creating a whole new category!

Values provide a guideline for making decisions and help hold ourselves accountable for those decisions by asking the simple question: does this decision reflect our values?

As we keep growing rapidly, we are always looking for more people who want to share our values and join our team! Check out our open positions here.