Creating meaningful company values
Strong, distinctive brand values can be a crucial point of difference – they clarify our identity, remind us why we all get out of bed in the morning and serve as a rallying point for everyone in the team.
On the other hand, empty, generalised brand values are not just a weaker, harmless version of the above – they can be highly destructive. A disjoint between corporate words and working reality leading to cynicism among team members, alienating customers and undermining managerial credibility.
But coming up with strong values, and sticking to them, requires bravery and honesty. It’s important to distinguish between those values that actually make your company what it is (and set you apart), and those you share with your competitors because they’re the minimum customers expect. Worse still, beware of “virtue signalling” values – those you feel you should talk about because everyone else is. So, first off let’s clarify the different types of values.
Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that govern everything a company does, at every level; they’re its cultural cornerstones. These should run through the veins (or at least the brains) of everyone in the team – inherent and sacrosanct; they’re never compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain.
Aspirational values are those on which the company’s future success may well depend, but aren’t yet part of your make-up. It’s crucial to be honest about this. Ask yourselves, “Is this really how we behave, or how we feel we need to behave?”. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having aspirational values, they can help you plan for market changes, introduce new strategies or overcome weaknesses. But it’s highly dangerous to promise what you don’t yet deliver.
‘Entry-Fee’ values, to put it bluntly, are just the bare minimum behavioural and social standards required to be in business. They’re like food safety certificates in restaurants. ‘Our food won’t kill you’ is not a recommendation; hygiene ratings are not Michelin stars. Entry-Fee values are pretty much the same whatever company you walk into, particularly those in the same industry, so they’re about as useful in defining culture as ‘showing up for work’ or ‘not stealing’.
We’ve all seen entry-fee values in brand guidelines, vague, wispy words like ‘Communication’, ‘Respect’, ‘Integrity’, ‘Excellence’. But do they have any effect? If you have an unusually rigorous process for ensuring integrity or excellence that sets you apart, why not talk about that instead?
Accidental values are those which have arisen without management guidance and have become ingrained because they’re simply a common trait among the employees. A start-up company with young employees that go out together after work may feel their culture is one of “we work and play hard together”. But as the company matures this may no longer be a defining characteristic.
Why they are called values
Let’s be clear, values aren’t words, they’re feelings, passions and reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Nobody throws back the covers in the morning shouting ‘teamwork’ or ‘excellence’. So, what values can you honestly say make your company different? What things do you do that others in your industry don’t? If you haven’t already, take some time to identify your company values and then build them into your strategic plan.
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