Most of us have a set of values that guide the way we behave in daily life. Perhaps we value integrity above all else, or maybe we always make a point of being helpful to strangers and friends alike. These values not only make up an important part of who we are and how we view ourselves, but how others view us too.
Business values should be no different. They should be a set of guiding principles which lay the foundation of how a business operates, both internally during team interactions, and in the outside world with clients or customers. They should be a reflection of an organisation’s moral compass and provide a framework for decision-making that extends beyond profit maximisation to social responsibility.
The problem, however, is that designing business values sometimes becomes a tick-box exercise. Businesses know they ought to have values, but they aren’t quite sure how to create a set that truly embodies their brand personality and how the world should perceive them. Values are more than just words to stencil on a wall – they’re a living embodiment of your company’s identity, culture, and everyday working life.
In this article, we’ll be walking through a step-by-step process of how to create business values that actually mean something.
Step one: Take it back to the beginning.
Think back to the reasons the company was launched in the first place. Did you spot a gap in the market, and a chance to provide a service where others were falling short? Perhaps you identified a societal need that begged for a solution, or you were driven by a passion to make a difference in a specific industry. The former might indicate you’re driven by innovation, while the latter indicates you’re driven by a sense of purpose and impact. Your company’s inception holds the seed of its values, so this is a great place to start.
Step two: Talk to your team
The strength of your values lies not only in their creation but in their collective ownership and commitment to living them every day, which is why actively involving employees is essential. Ask your employees about their perceptions, aspirations, and what they believe the company stands for. To make sure you have complete candour, you might also consider sending out an anonymous survey. You might also consider seeking input from external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and industry peers, too; their perspectives can provide a well-rounded view of how your organisation is perceived.
Step three: Look for inspiration
It goes without saying, you don’t want to copy another company’s values, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from brands you aspire to emulate in some way. For example, you might admire a tech giant’s dedication to innovation, a sustainable fashion brand’s commitment to environmental responsibility, or a customer-centric company’s unwavering focus on service excellence. Analyse what ‘sticks’ with you about these brands and how their values align with their actions and consider whether similar values could resonate with your own business.
Step four: Synthesise your ideas
By now, you should have some great ideas you can start consolidating into a more manageable list. It’s time to get your employees/ team together again – which do you feel really represent your brand, and which should you set aside? Remember to only choose values that are concise, easy to remember, and resonate emotionally with your team and stakeholders. Memorable values are more likely to be internalised and lived by. You should also consider how well each value can be consistently upheld across all aspects of your organisation, from employee behaviour to customer interactions.
Step five: Refine and perfect your values
With your preliminary list in hand, it’s time to enlist some expert help. Your copywriters, designers, and marketers can help you clarify the wording, create visuals, and add memory devices such as alliteration, an acronym, or a core values video to help further embed your values into organisational culture. Before finalising, gather feedback from your employees to ensure that the refined versions still resonate with them. Their input can help identify any potential gaps or areas for improvement.
You can present your value statements in several ways. For example, you might opt for short sentences – an example of this is Google with values like ‘Focus on the user and all else will follow’. Alternatively, you might choose a noun, or an adjective followed by an explanation. For example, here’s one of the brand values we live by at GRG Executive Search:
Honest and open communication is the foundation upon which all our processes are based and allows us to stay accountable to ourselves and others. By staying transparent and being straightforward, we’re able to build deep-rooted relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
You’ll also want to add your new values to your website, perhaps in your careers section so that future talent can easily discover and connect with your core principles, or on customer or client-facing pages.
Of course, how you present your values is only the start of your organisation’s journey. You’ll also need to consider how to successfully integrate these values at every level of your organisation and for new and existing employees. Therefore, how you incorporate into your hiring processes, employee onboarding programs and ongoing performance evaluations.
Step six: Align values with actions
It may come last, but this is without a doubt the most important step of all. Take the time to have a deep discussion about each of your new values and ways in which they might be exemplified in your team’s everyday working lives. For example, what are some ways to demonstrate empathy on a call with a client? How can you ensure honesty is truly embedded into your decision-making processes? Discuss these questions with your team and develop specific, actionable examples that align with each.
Ultimately, crafting brand values should be a collaborative exercise that systematically explores your company’s roots, inspiration, and ambitions. They should help keep your team centred around common goals and a sense of shared purpose, defining not just what you do, but why you do it. Just as importantly, they send a strong signal to the world beyond your office walls that your company stands for something meaningful and enduring, attracting those who share your vision and inspiring a collective journey toward a future defined by purpose and impact.
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