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How to Develop Company Values That Resonate With Your Employees

At this point, you’ve probably already read a bunch of management articles declaring, “Every successful company has a set of company values!” Or “5 Reasons You Need Company Values” Or even, “100 Brilliant Examples of Company Values, and How to Get Yours.” While these kinds of articles are often just a starting point, this kind of pressure can push companies to rush the process. Slapping some values together only to have them sit on an office wall or web page without thinking about them again for a couple of years isn’t exactly what you’ve been reading about. 

In fact, having values written out without incorporating them into the day-to-day of the company could be worse than not having them at all. 

But how do you make sure your values will have a lasting impact and integrate well into your team’s daily work life? 

Firstly, pick values that actually describe your company

Be specific. 

There’s no point in choosing vague company values that could describe anyone. Words like integrity, respect, determination, and teamwork may initially feel quite descriptive and aspirational but are often overused, which makes it difficult for a team to identify and therefore want to take ownership.  

As a company, Shield really identifies with the act of empathy. It was even one of our initial values before our latest rollout. However, as we began to workshop our core beliefs and solidify our terminology we realized what we were really getting at was ‘humanness.’ Now, one of our four core values is ‘Be Human’ which encompasses a whole host of terms we identify with, including empathy for ourselves and others, understanding our limitations as well as striving for connection and a human touch. 

It might not seem like a big difference, but to our team “Be Human” describes more accurately who we are than empathy and it’s, therefore, more likely to continue to be expressed on all levels as well as encouraged and called out when we see it. 

Include your team in the development of the values 

One of the first projects I was involved with when I joined Shield nearly two years ago was the rollout of our company values. Our HR team, Tim (our co-founder) and Stella had already been working hard, defining what the values might be, and I was brought on to create the accompanying content. The idea was to present the finalized values to our whole team at our company retreat (back when we could still do that) and have something that could remain evergreen on our website. 

At that point, we could have put something together that described the values and what the three of us thought they meant for us as a company. However, it made much more sense to us to ask our team what they thought the values meant to them. 

Over the course of a few weeks, Tim and Stella hosted roundtable sessions with every team member, broken up into time zones. They asked whether the values resonated and whether anyone had examples to share that they felt represented these values. We received dozens of stories and scenarios where the team could identify our values playing out, and it really gave shape and substance to something which previously felt quite abstract. 

We unpacked these examples, identified common themes, and asked further questions in follow up sessions to ensure we were capturing our values accurately. We then featured these stories, quotes, and examples in our content and collateral, making sure our team’s experiences were intrinsically linked to our company values. 

This connection to the roll-out meant that our whole team could personally identify and see themselves and their experiences as the official representation of our core values as a company. In contrast to a presentation from only three members of the team describing what our values were going to be, it’s much more likely that our team will embody these values every day because they were a part of the development. 

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Create visual representations of your company values 

Another way to ensure connection to any content, but particularly content you want people to remember and take to heart, is to think about how you present it. Long blocks of text, with jargon-filled or academic language, can be challenging to read and remember. Readers may feel bored or overwhelmed or simply get distracted by seemingly more important tasks. Including our teammates’ stories in our values content, not only made our team feel a part of the roll-out, but it also made the characters recognizable and the content more appealing to read. 

We also commissioned an accompanying comic strip by our editorial illustrator Rachel Tunstall, who has an incredible knack for bringing our content to life.

“I did my dissertation on how adults still really like children’s books because they’ve got so many emotional, mental stimulations from visual imagery,” Rachel says. “And, I may have a biased opinion because I’m an illustrator and I’m an artistic person, but if I look at a piece of text and it’s five massive paragraphs, just no visual stimulation, I’m falling asleep partway through.”

For our values content, Rachel turned Grow, Do the Right Thing, Own It and Be Human into a comic following the process of growing wheat organically through the different steps to sharing bread with neighbors. Each step of the process embodied each value and turned them into a narrative story anyone can connect to. This means that any new recruits or contact outside the company can easily understand our values even if they weren’t part of the original team who developed them.

While Rachel encourages using the visuals you have access to, she does have some tips to keep in mind when choosing illustrations. 

“The whole market of editorial illustration is sort of saturated with the same repetitive corporate style artwork,” she says. “It’s always nice to see something different and approach it uniquely. Using a narrative approach to corporate, I don’t think that’s been seen before.”

However, consistency is critical when developing a brand identity. So, if you were to try a new style, keep similar colors or characters so that it makes sense in your overall story. 

The illustration style is such an important key,” she says. “We’ve always worked with a specific color palette; it helps build that identity. Anything that just sticks out like a sore thumb just doesn’t look like it fits in with the website. 

She says you want to avoid a reader thinking, “Why is that there?”

Recruit and hire employees based on your values 

When you’re bringing on new members to your team, who haven’t been a part of the development of the values or seen them in action within your company, it’s important to gauge whether they align with these values before hiring them. 

At Shield, we have incorporated our values into each step of our hiring process, including a dedicated values interview. This interview can be conducted by anyone in the Shield team and asks potential recruits a series of questions that allow us to get to know them and their value system. We do this interview before our technical interview (where we ask about role-specific skill sets and experience) as we feel it’s essential all new recruits pass this stage. 

This means, our values are one of the first things new recruits learn about Shield as they go through the hiring process and onto onboarding. It lays a foundation for the kind of company we are as well as showcasing the importance of these values in our company culture. 

By having various team members host the values interviews, it once again reinforces that the team is a part of not embodying our values but selecting new team members who share them. 

We’ve also embedded our core values into our competency frameworks for each role. As each team member progresses through the various levels of their position, they’ll be required to embody and display the company values across multiple action points throughout their individual roles. 

Incorporate shoutouts, emojis, and hashtags 

Another essential way to incorporate values into every day is through your internal communication. Whether it be Slack, Skype, all-hands meetings or emails, making a point to encourage, call out and just generally draw attention to the values is a great way to keep it top of mind. 

At Shield, we have a Slack channel dedicated to shoutouts, where we make public announcements encouraging and praising our teammates. This is a great habit to boost team morale and connection in general, and it’s also a great opportunity to call out examples of company values in action. Not only is this encouraging to the individual, but it also continues to showcase how important our values are.

Another way we like to do this is via our company values emojis, which we commissioned Rachel to create and then integrated them into Slack. We’re already a company that uses emojis a lot for communication and interaction, so it wasn’t a stretch to incorporate a new set. Now, when we see comments, stories, or anything that we feel embodies our values, we can react using the specific emojis. If creating your own emojis seems out of reach, I’ve also seen companies use hashtags in a similar way. 

Conclusion 

Integrating your company values into your everyday work life doesn’t have to be elusive. With a little intention, you can see how easily values belong in the various areas of your company culture. From hiring and promoting to communication, your values should already be at the core of who you are; it may just be about communicating them effectively and consistently to ensure your whole team remains on board. 

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