Building a Foundation of Values
Values are a large part of what makes up the culture, operations, and reputation of a company. As we know, the foundation of any good company is made up of many things including good client relations, employee treatment, quality products and services, etc.
Values are usually determined by company leaders when the business is formed and at major milestones in the company’s evolution. There are generally multiple values that represent a company. Common values are accountability, diversity, teamwork, integrity, and innovation. Don’t worry if these seem too predictable. We’ll discuss choosing values below.
Values, mission statements, and taglines are generally permeated throughout a company’s marketing and sales approach both directly and indirectly. If you look at any company’s website, you can gain a lot of information on what the company’s values are with a glance. The colors, imagery, and keywords give a first impression to consumers that shapes their idea of the company instantly. It is the same with sales representatives that represent the company. Their demeanor and manner in which they describe their company is reflective of company values. This is why choosing values is so important, since they have such a profound effect on how the rest of the world perceives and consumes information about the company and its products or services.
Mission and Vision Statement
Additionally, a mission statement can be used to accompany a set of values and sometimes replaces them altogether. A mission statement is a great, succinct description of the “why” of your company and is easily added to marketing material. It gives clients a softer view of what you offer as opposed to a hard sell or specific description of your products and services. I believe all companies should have a mission statement as well as a set of values. These are baseline beliefs and ideals that can evolve with a company and serve as a guide that outlasts the tenure of individual leaders.
An example mission statement I love is from Patagonia: “Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Even if you don’t follow this well-known clothing brand, their mission statement communicates a commitment to quality and sustainability. If you read the mission statement and knew nothing else about the brand, you may be already willing to purchase their products. A vision statement is similar but usually speaks to the future or a desired outcome the company influences.
Some businesses also have a tagline. It is usually a short, catchy phrase that is easy to remember even after hearing it just once. Taglines may seem less formal than a mission statement. In some ways they are, but they also embody a company’s values. For example, take Allstate’s tagline: “Are you in good hands?” It’s so memorable, short, and descriptive. It encourages you as the consumer to consider if you are in good hands, or more literally, if your insurance needs are being met. It also causes you to consider if you should use Allstate’s insurance products and if doing so would give you more peace of mind. Just those five words in the form of a question are very effective in terms of gaining potential customers’ attention. The tagline embodies Allstate’s values as an insurance company which are along the lines of providing preparation and protection for their customers.
OK, so you have started a new company or you just became an owner at a company. You and your team are in a stage of your company’s life in which it’s important to choose or reevaluate your values. My suggestion is to not go with the first ones you think of. Can you and your team spend a few hours really defining what it is that you want to be known for as a company? Perhaps. It may take more time and input from more people. That is up to you.
Your values should amplify your company’s strengths and really speak to what you want your reputation to ooze. This is a point at which speaking to current customers or potential customers may help. You can ask them how you are doing in terms of serving your customers and clients. You can ask potential customers what traits you need to have to win them over. Is there a reason why long term customers stick with you and not a competitor? These are great questions to ask anyway, but they can help form your values in a very genuine way.
You can also prescribe your own definitions to your values and market these interpretations as well. Just saying your company value is integrity may not go far from a customer’s perspective. It is a bit cliche and therefore has lost impact despite being a strong word. By adding your own definition to a value, customers can understand your intention more clearly. For example, if you choose the value of diversity, you can define it like this: XYZ Company values diversity and seeks to include input from individuals across the spectrum of skills, perspectives, and backgrounds to enrich and strengthen our ability to serve our customers. The custom definition gives customers a glimpse into your mind and a guage they can use to see if you are living up to the values you chose.
All companies will experience internal and external conflicts. Even if a company is run by family members or seemingly synergistic groups of leaders, there will always be some sort of conflict of varying degrees throughout the company’s life. Company leaders have the responsibility to predict future conflicts of both large and small scales. This practice can help the leaders choose values that will serve as a backbone and a guide that unites the leaders. The values and the leaders’ dedication to them should be stronger than a potential conflict.
I understand that values may seem fluffy or soft to some, but their importance is clear to me. All of these strategies are gearing up a company for greater success. Having loose, undefined values opens up the potential for division and confusion regarding what the company stands for.
Avoiding “Fluff” or Meaningless Values
It might be easy to choose a few words that sound nice and call it a day on choosing company values. For example, just choose integrity and honesty. Done. Well, those are very similar and basically tell the client that you are not a liar. Not lying to your customer or client is a baseline expectation, and you just shouldn’t do it. Consider choosing values that open up a broader picture of you and your company. I like the value of innovation, since it can communicate that your company intends to improve their methods and offerings and stay ahead of the curve in their respective industry. Of course, it will be important for a company to create their own definition and actionable steps to live out that chosen value.
Consider your audience as well. If your company markets to millennials (which all companies should be doing), understand what millennials find valuable. Transparency and sustainability are great values that can persuade a millennial to become your customer, but just know that you will have to have the actions and statistics to back up these values. This is where “fluff” can be dangerous. If you slap a value on your product or service offering without anything to back it up, you can lose customers quickly.
There are a lot of great examples of values easily found via a Google search. I encourage you to not copy and paste the first ones that catch your eye. If some stand out to you, keep a list of those, but really work through the reasons why they seem relevant. This process will help you narrow the list down. Now you and your team have a short list of potential values. You can then create your customized definitions and actionable ways to imbed the chosen values into your work.
Reevaluating Values at Business Milestones
We have looked at the process of choosing values for a new company. There are other major milestones in a company’s life at which it can be beneficial to reevaluate the current set of values. These could be at quarterly company retreats, hiring new employees, and bringing on new partners. Also if there are major successes like landing a big contract or setbacks like an economic downturn, these could be great opportunities to sit down and reevaluate what your values should be.
Values are not set in stone and can evolve as the business does. Even if your values are printed on marketing materials or posted on your website, it is healthy to revisit these core values to keep a fresh outlook. It is also a good chance to let your customers know if you choose a new value or change the definition of an existing one to better serve your company as it is presently and how it hopefully is in the future.
Clients Should Know Your Values
I read recently that clients should be able to tell you what your values are without ever reading them on your website or hearing them from you. To explain, your clients should be able to identify if you and your team act on values like providing quality work, honesty, etc. They should be able to see you and your team live out these values in every interaction and transaction organically. It’s less effective to claim, “look at me! I’m acting on the value of integrity right now!”. Instead, the value of integrity should be woven throughout your company’s processes, standards, and everyday operations.
If your company chooses the value of quick response time, that should be one of the first things clients notice and hopefully talk to others about. You can quantify and define the value of quick response time by promising responses within 2 hours or the client is provided with a discount on your product or service.
It is good practice to ask your clients to review you throughout your business relationship with them. This could be an informal check-in in the middle of a project or a formal review online or on a standard company form. These regular reviews give you, as a company leader, a priceless gauge that can inform your decision making when it comes to daily operations and general company direction. You will surely face some tough truths if your company values are not apparent to clients. You will also hear some great insight regarding how clients experience you and your company. Whatever values your company chooses to live out, they should be obvious and visible through your actions, marketing, and track record.
Your office is a big indicator of your company values. Does your office seem inviting to clients and employees alike? Does it showcase the success you have or hope to achieve? Can it support values like work/life balance, physical and mental health, continuing education, etc.?
Upgrading to quality furniture, finishes, and equipment in your office can have great impacts on how your employees and visiting clients feel about your company. If your renovation budget is low or nonexistent, there are very economical ways you can use to spruce up your office space and create the office environment you envision. That’s a great idea for a blog post, actually. Stay tuned for that one!
If you don’t happen to have a physical office, you do have a web presence. That web presence should mimic what a physical office can provide. Your website should be welcoming, easy to navigate, and provide visitors with access to and guidance regarding your product and services.
So, company values are definitely a foundational element to a successful business. Internalizing the values and embedding them in everything your company does is essential to getting the most out of your values. They will serve your company as a whole and your internal teams by providing a backbone and a guide for both future planning and everyday decision making. I urge you to build off of the foundation your values create for you. Your company’s future will thank you for it.