How To Successfully Develop Your Company's Core Values – And Ensure They're Practiced

These values should be the backbone of your business -- and everyone involved should reflect them.

learn more about Stu Sjouwerman

By Stu Sjouwerman

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If you look at all the thousands of businesses that are operating right now, then you'll quickly see that it's no sweat for customers to get similar products or services from a lot of different places. What really differentiates you are your core values. It's these ideas and beliefs that both employees and buyers are going to empathize with and connect to. So, how do you create them and make sure people really follow them?

Related: 3 Mistakes All Successful Leaders Know to Avoid

1. Look at what other companies are doing

Chatting with leaders from other businesses clues you in about how they operate and what they believe. There are a ton of books out there that lay out what high-growth companies do, too. But either way, you want to get a summary of their best practices so that you get a basic perspective on how a company needs to run.

2. Consider how you want to shape the world

Think about what you personally want to create as a founder. This is where you make your mark and innovate with real individuality, even as you're considering the best practices that are in place. How do you want the environment to be or look like? What do you want to achieve based on who you are? Then, be as radically transparent and honest about your goals as you can. Take extreme ownership of your concepts and advocate for them consistently.

3. Create a clear handbook

Looking at best practices and how you want to shape your universe both give you clarity about what your core values actually are. But once you've identified those values, you have to translate them into everyday behaviors at the business. You can't just sit around and talk about what you think.

This is where the handbook comes in. The handbook is where you outline all the policies and procedures that shape what people do. Between the lines of all the technical regulations, you communicate about what you intend the culture to be like. Train your team well on your policies. Test them to make sure they understand and can work in the framework you've set up. If you do this the right way, then you'll have built-in mechanisms that give your team accountability and that continuously reinforce your value concepts.

4. Make the values visible outside of the rules

You can reinforce the ideas in your handbook in different ways. For example, sprinkle in a natural mention of your core values in an email, or put them up on your wall so people see them every day on the way to their desks. The more they're exposed to the concepts, the easier it is for them to internalize those concepts. People need to internalize values before those beliefs can really direct their behavior or decisions.

5. Walk the walk — and don't do it alone

How well people really follow your handbook rules depends a ton on whether you're actually modeling what you want others to do. If you're not walking the walk, then people will get the impression that you're not serious about any of the framework that's laid out and repeated. Policy can go out the window.

Of course, you're only one person. You can't be everywhere all the time. So you need some deputies. These are people you can count on to model on your behalf. They're people who already share your thinking and have great accountability and integrity with their own actions. They dramatically speed up how quickly others come on board to shift what they're doing.

6. Rinse and repeat

No market is static. Not only that, but as you gain life experience, your perspective — and values — are going to change. So, developing your company's core values and ensuring that people practice them is an ongoing process. Set aside time to revisit your beliefs, goals, policies and modeling. Make adjustments when and where it makes sense.

Related: These Are the 3 Most Vital Techniques to Retain Employees

Core values are the real differentiator in today's global market. They make an enormous difference in whether your company culture is healthy and inviting. So it's super important that you take best practices and your own goals, meld them together, and establish a handbook that gives people specific ways to act according to clear principles. You can't be afraid to model the beliefs that the handbook lays out, and you need to have reliable people who can magnify the modeling that you're doing. Whether you're in a startup or need to do some serious rebranding with an established company, insist that establishing and acting on core values be priority one.

Stu Sjouwerman

Founder and CEO, KnowBe4

Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”) is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, Inc., which offers a platform for security awareness training and simulated phishing.

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