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Rethinking Company Values: Are Yours Too Generic?

In today's fast-paced business environment, corporate culture isn't just a buzzword—it's a vital component of a company's DNA. And at the heart of this culture lie our values. But here's the million-dollar question: are we getting our values right, or are they just a generic set of words that could fit almost any company?

The Trap of Universal Human Values

Let's be honest. While virtues like "honesty," "integrity," and "teamwork" are undoubtedly essential, they could be applied to pretty much any human setting and are also table stakes. 

When your stated values are too universal, you risk not helping your people know how to conduct themselves in the unique environment of your company. It’s tempting to write universal decency into our corporate values (because who doesn’t want honest, friendly people?!). Still, it’s vital to drill below the generic into some of the concrete and context-specific values that connect specifically to your culture and outcomes. When creating a value statement, focus on what will set your team apart from other industries rather than hollow mantras that provide little guidance for daily operations.

Tailoring Values to Business Goals

Let’s imagine a new tech startup as we dig deeper into this paradigm shift. What if, instead of those universal virtues, our startup focused on the core characteristics it needed to succeed and instead anchored its values around "relentless innovation," "always agile," and "win as a team"? These terms resonate more directly with the tech field and reflect tangible goals. 

The next step is to explicitly connect our stated values to characteristics and behaviors so that everyone can easily identify when we live out our values. 

  • What will we do each week as we live out our values? 
  • What sort of things will we say during team meetings? 

So, back to our tech startup, we might imagine a values document that adds more detail and definition, such as: 

Value: Relentless Innovation

  • Concrete Action: For every problem we encounter, we brainstorm at least five different solutions.
  • Characteristic: We celebrate failures as much as successes because each misstep teaches us something new.
  • Saying/Habit: During team meetings, ask: "What's one new thing you've learned this week?" or "Share one experiment you tried, whether it worked or not."

Value: Always Agile

  • Concrete Action: Embrace rapid prototyping. Before diving deep into a solution, create a minimum viable product or version to test and gather feedback.
  • Characteristic: We pivot without hesitation when data shows us a better direction.
  • Saying/Habit: At the end of each project or task, ask: "How can we iterate on this?" or "What would we do differently if we started over?"

Value: Win as a Team 

  • Concrete Action: Foster cross-departmental projects or hackathons. These initiatives encourage engineers, designers, marketers, and other departments to work together, breaking down silos and fostering new perspectives.
  • Characteristic: We actively seek input from team members in various roles and seniority levels. No voice is too small, and every perspective is invaluable.
  • Saying/Habit: During team meetings or brainstorming sessions, prompt with: "Who haven't we heard from?" or "Is there another department or perspective we should consider for this?"

Notice how intentionally filling out these values with clear behaviors and habits reinforces the value in ways that will drive success. 

Hiring for Values: The Cornerstone of Strong Teams

Building a team isn't just about skills; it's about aligning personalities with company culture. Hiring for values ensures you onboard people who naturally embody your company's ethos. When team members resonate with the core principles, not only does collaboration soar, but the workplace also becomes more harmonious.

It’s vital that these values are not just words on a page but are lived out in the daily interactions between coworkers and especially embodied in leadership. These values then become the cornerstone of the recruitment process. Convert them into pointed interview questions, like asking a potential hire to describe a time they introduced a novel solution to a persistent problem. It's about discerning those candidates who don't just speak to your values but have lived them in their previous roles. Once on board, immerse them in workshops that spotlight your company values, painting the picture with past successes and real-life scenarios. This isn't a one-time exercise but an ongoing culture-building effort. It involves fostering regular team dialogues, ensuring every task, every project, and every initiative is seen through the lens of these values. In this way, team leaders aren't merely filling positions but are strategically positioning individuals to fortify the organization, ensuring cohesion and amplifying team synergy.

Concrete Steps to Rethink Your Values

  • Deep Dive: Regularly evaluate if your company values genuinely represent your business essence.
  • Employee Feedback: Involve your team in shaping or reshaping company values. They're the ones living it daily!
  • Value Manifestation: Clearly define how each value translates into daily actions and behaviors.
  • Reinforce Through Actions: Recognize and reward employees who exemplify these values consistently.
  • Onboard Right: During hiring, prioritize value fit as much as skillsets.

Embrace AI with Instill's Culture Vital Signs

As we delve deeper into tailoring company values, tools like Instill's Culture Vital Signs can be game-changers. Leveraging AI offers lightning speed, valuable insights into your company's cultural health, and helps identify values that truly resonate. We help you identify where your team is at in core areas like Psychological Safety, Trust, and Innovation and provide personalized nudges to keep your teams on track. Because, at the end of the day, values that align with your company's purpose aren't just words—they're powerful drivers of success.

So, as you ponder your company values, ask yourself: are they merely generic sentiments, or do they pulse with the unique heartbeat of your business?


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