This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Company Culture, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
Everyone wants to work for a company they believe in. We’ve all heard tales of startups trading a paycheck for shares in an effort to scoop up the best talent. Some companies have captured great employees for peanuts simply because they have something for people to believe in.
Even though many of these companies have some innovation poised to change their industries, they are almost always coupled with a culture that people want to be a part of. And by culture, I’m talking the emotional draw and support one feels when working for a company.
Unfortunately, there seems to be an epidemic in the business world that is swooping in and telling CEOs and founders that their employees will be happy and productive if they fill their walls with posters of inspirational quotes poised over a crew team and fill the office with a few healthy snacks and massage chairs. If you want a company culture that draws and keeps the best employees, you have to start with your core values.
We are living in a world where people are no longer impressed by the cereal bar and spiral slide to the breakroom. Employees of today want to be inspired. They need to trust the brand they are handing their talent, time and effort over to.
Words and phrases like integrity, people first and passion are used by everyone -- or at least should be. These words won’t set you apart. Skim any of the hiring company profiles on CareerBuilder or Monster.com, and you’ll see hundreds of businesses thrown into a big bucket of companies with no brand, values or story -- just a job listing from a company that knows the right buzz words.
So what are core values, really?
Core values tell stories. By definition, core values are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action. Values are things that you can tell specific stories about. Stories of when a colleague did something amazing for a customer or a teammate. If you can’t tell a story about something you’ve listed, it’s not a real value.
Where do you start?
If you are an established company, you have an advantage. Sure, your framed core values plaque is probably due for a good dusting, but as a functioning company with employees and customers, you have stories to draw from.
The first step is dusting off the plaque and really evaluating what you’ve narrowed your values down to. Do they speak to the services your company provides? Do they evoke an emotion that is specific to your company and what you do on a daily basis? There are plenty of examples to draw from. The biggest thing you can do is to get your team involved. By asking your employees or managers what they think the core values really are, you’ll get priceless insight and some real life examples.
Once you evaluated and/or chosen your values, imagine yourself in an interview. If a potential employee were to ask you what one of the company’s values meant, could you draw from a real life experience from you or your team? Be unique and let your core values tell your story. On the flip side, your core values should help you make decisions on hiring and firing. Many of today’s most admired companies hire for culture first and skill second.
What if your business is in its early stages?
As a younger company, you may only have a co-founder and a dream. This means you have the perfect opportunity to create an outline for the stories you want to tell. By creating meaningful core values, new employees will be able to make better decisions if they know to align their daily activities with the core values.
If communicated properly, your team will know how to respond to tough customers, treat fellow teammates and even start a path to career growth -- all based on the foundation that you’ve built for them. Regardless of the size of the company, as a leader, be sure to commend people publicly when they demonstrate a value, and (maybe not publicly) tell them when they haven’t.
Core values carry a lot of weight, but unfortunately, often go overlooked after the first 30 days of employment. When embraced properly, core values become part of your day-to-day activities within your company’s walls and beyond. They are a compass for performance and the stories you tell when asked about your business. Make them matter.