The Value of Values

Ed Vickers
May 13, 2019 · 3 min read

Company values.

Whimsical corporate jargon? Employer branding fluff?

Or essential commercial drivers for scale?

Urggh.

Give me 180 seconds of your life and I will try to convince you of the latter.

Put simply, values are ‘how we do things round here’. If operationalised effectively and reinforced consistently they guide behaviour, power execution and deliver bottom line value for everyone from seed stage startups to market-leading multinationals.

However values are frequently wrongly understood, widely mishandled and woefully under-valued. Values don’t add value when they are purely seen on cliché custom mugs and tired meeting room posters.

In order to be effective, they need to authentic, actionable and attended to constantly. Then they can really start to move the needle on key internal and external metrics.

Here’s how values drive internal alignment and success:

  • Values drive significant operational efficiencies. When phrased as directives or imperatives, values clearly communicate how employees and employers should operate. Take one of our values at Multiple, ‘Lead with conviction’. For employees, this sets expectations around stepping up, taking ownership and acting with confidence. For employers, it means setting the right conditions for this to happen i.e. giving opportunity to lead on projects and ensuring team members have the right development opportunities. Framing values this way creates a clear value exchange between employee and employer, boosting efficiencies around decision making and increased autonomy. Two essentials for scale.
  • Values have a direct impact on employee brand, talent acquisition and churn. They can act as a powerful filter to attract and retain the right people. And equally, repel the wrong fit. This saves significant time and money in any hiring process. People join companies for many reasons but stay mostly for one: because they feel like they belong. A powerful set of values can strengthen a sense of belonging and resonance between an individual’s values and the company’s.
  • Whilst no company culture remains static, values guide fast-growing teams with clear frameworks of thinking, behaving and speaking. Uniting cross-functional teams across seas. So no matter how big the team gets, you work as one tribe, sharing the same rules, rituals and rewards.
  • Values can enhance performance tracking and talent development. Some companies map individual performance reviews to their values. To continue our ‘Lead with conviction’ example, managers could set performance metrics around how many projects a employee led on in Q3.

But they also have a role to play externally:

  • Values are critical when mastering your external tone of voice. How you speak outside of the office should reflect what’s going on inside. Because that’s authentic. And an authentic tone is much easier to scale. So consider distilling tone of voice principles from your values. When it comes to establishing a brand voice, consistency is everything.
  • Values are powerful for customer acquisition. Don’t underestimate your customers’ interest in your how your company goes about it’s business. Take Patagonia’s Let My People Go Surfing book. This book, originally written for Patagonia employees, is all about the company’s unique outlook and values. And it’s become a key marketing channel. In addition to playing a powerful part in any VC’s thought process when considering what gilet to buy.

So. Did I convince you?

Either way, here’s a few thoughts on how shape valuable values:

  • Frame values as imperatives or directives. Avoid single words which are too ambiguous.
  • Don’t go for sentiments that should be table stakes. If you have to remind people to act with ‘integrity’ or ‘honesty’, you may already have a problem.
  • Create a tension. Anchor them in what’s real, and aim them towards an aspiration.
  • Build out the psychological, behavioural and tonal implications of each value. Go big on behavioural examples unique to your company. Get your team to own the thinking on this.
  • Values live and die by implementation. Present them back to the whole company. And lead by example. Stand on a table, point at the screen, cry, laugh and first pump when presenting. But be open to feedback.
  • Review and revitalise as needed every two to three years… the values that helped you three years ago may not work for where you are today.

Culture is like fitness. It should be tended to every day. So keep working out.

Lift, push, pull, repeat.

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