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“Our company is value driven” is fast becoming a mainstay in all corporate messaging, after all, it has been clearly proven that value driven companies are more successful.

But there’s a lot more to being a value-driven business than the company masthead, you need to instill the values you create in to every employee, from the top to the bottom, ensure they are a part of every decision made, and most importantly, you must embody those values as a leader, or the leader at your company.

Without the expectation that values are a real, tangible, required, part of your business, they quickly become lip service externally, and even worse, a joke internally. This can become a risk to your business as your values go from something that drives your business forward, to something where people may actually avoid bringing up company values in serious discussion.

A Value-driven business has written, solid values that all employees sign up to, and it has to have a culture that supports the values behind it (Read WTF is Tech Culture Anyway for more on that). It can’t just be a thing for the press, it has to be something that every employee strives to work towards, and espouses every single day, in every single decision.

The good news is that companies new and old can instill value-driven performance in to their organization, and we’re going to discuss some ways your business can do that.

Deciding on Your Company Values

Whether your company is new or old, if you don’t have your values set you need to decide what they are. If you already have values, and they aren’t working maybe it’s time to rethink them. Be warned though, values are not something you should change on a whim. Your values are a reflection of your company and your leadership. Any shift in values must be done deliberately, and explained openely with your company.

Done correctly, and with employee communication and involvement, you can use this as an opportunity to reinvigorate your organization. Done poorly your employees will care even less about your values.

There are two kinds of values most commonly implemented by companies that are value driven. Performance and Mindset. The action mindset companies talk about aking an action daily, or always testing. mindset driven companies talk about always improving the employee, and doing the right thing.

The most successful companies in the world focus on mindset driven values. Apple’s “think differently” strives to push employees to innovate. Google’s “Do Good” mandates that no employee should ever make a decision that is “evil”.

Hubspot has a string of values from boldness, to learning, to humility, all of which focus on the employee.

And some, such as Atlassian’s “Don’t fuck the customer” are pretty direct at how their decisions should not harm their user base.

Performance driven company values often focus on employees being driven by company metrics and performance. They focus

Mindset driven values address actions and decision making, instill thought at a higher and more strategic level. Rather than focusing on always improving the metrics, they often focus more on the employee, and their improvement.

Below we’ve listed some broad definitions of real company values, and as you can see, some focus on explicit directions to improve company performance, wile others look to grow performance by setting individual employee values, and seeing improvement through employees improving themselves..

Data Focused
Work Hard
Double Check
Customer is Always Right
Build Faster
Process orientated

Take Calculated Risks
Act with Integrity
Self improvement
Be Curious
Get Better
Humility/Be Humble
Listen First
Trust/Assume Good Intentions
Give Back
Elevate others
Customer Inspired
Innovate with Freedom
Have fun
Do the right thing
Build to last

It’s not hard to spot the directive style values over the cultural values, and it’s also easy enough to see why some values can inspire while others, kind of just define how you should be working. That’s not to say there’s anything intrinsically wrong with performance/directive style values, but they may not have as much impact as cultural values.

Take for example process orientated. Ensuring that your employees follow process could be critical to your business success.

However innovate with freedom empowers every employee to think about ways to improve that process, rather than simply following it blindly.

When Action Doesn’t Match the Value Promise

When companies have values, but don’t follow through on them, the effect can be catastrophic. The values set by a company should not be lip services, they should be a promise. The company needs to protect and support the values by ensuring that any decision is filtered through the values as part of any decision making process.

If your company promises that it’s employees can take calculated risks, but then punishes someone for a failed experiment, your employees will take notice, and you’ll foster a feeling of fear within the company.

Taking Enron as an example. It’s values of Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence provided a mix of cultural and directive values. But as the Enron scandal unfolded, it quickly became transparent that not only were the company values not followed, they were actually a joke within the company. Anyone who actually attempted to follow the company values would quickly become excluded from the company.

Enron had a very cliquish culture, spent a large portion of time falsifying it’s performance, it intentionally stifled communication to allow plausible deniability, and excellence, well, we all know how Enron turned out.

The company values should define how the company, and it’s employees act, and make decisions. It should help foster employee and company growth, as well as ensuring that employees know that if they are making decisions within the company values they are making the right choice.

If companies and their culture does not align with their values, employees will make decisions for the wrong reasons, they won’t feel safe taking risks, and they are more likely to push decision making up the ladder, slowing down your overall company performance.