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We’ve all seen those “company core values” posters laden with nice-sounding words that seemed to have zero effect on day-to-day operations.
Company values are often overlooked or regarded as a mere formality that adds little value to a business. And there’s some truth to that skepticism. Corporate values that are poorly written or not applied have very little impact on a business.
But every organization has core values, whether they’re defined in writing or not. When done right, taking time to clearly define these values can have a significant impact on the success of your company.
It takes some work. But identifying, clarifying, and operationalizing your core values will help you make better decisions, attract the best talent, and build a stronger organization in the long term.
This article covers everything you need to know about creating your company core values, and putting them to work so you can start building a better organization right away.
What are company core values?
Your company core values are an established set of beliefs, principles, and philosophies that guide your organization.
A company’s values play out in both big and small ways. They help guide the organization as a whole, and also help define how individual members of the company behave toward customers and toward each other.
This means your core values must be relevant and actionable. Your company values will get ignored if they don’t align with what your business actually does in practice. Likewise, if your corporate values fail to give team members guidance for making decisions, they are useless.
Actionable and relevant values
To give you a more tangible idea of what we mean by “actionable and relevant,” these are Biteable’s core values:
This one is especially relevant because Biteable is a consumer service. Without our customers, Biteable wouldn’t exist.
However, this is also actionable. The Biteable teams make loads of decisions every day about design, marketing, and engineering. Following our “customer first” value means always doing what’s best for the customer, even if it means more work or greater expense for the company.
How do we measure success at Biteable? By looking at the results we deliver for our customers. This is relevant because everything Biteable does has to work for our customers. And it’s actionable; we gauge Biteable’s success by the results our customers see with our product.
Easy to use
This value guides our user interface design and engineering decisions. But it also applies to our marketing and internal communications. We favor a simpler, more user-friendly approach to everything we do.
This is simpler than sounds. It boils down to being supportive and kind to each other and to our customers.
Transparent and inclusive
There are no secrets here at Biteable. Everyone gets a chance to speak. And we actively share information with anyone who needs it. This is especially relevant for Biteable because our teams are fully remote. Open communication is critical to success, so we created a core value to make sure no one is left in the dark.
This is a work standard. It has to be extraordinary if we’re going to put the Biteable name on it. Good enough doesn’t cut it. In action, this means we favor maximizing quality over meeting deadlines.
Each of the Biteable core values has a direct impact on some aspect of the Biteable business. These values help drive actions, big and small, which make Biteable the sort of company that treats its team members as well as it treats its customers.
It’s core to our operations and it has been core to our success so far.
What company values are not…
There are a few core values mistakes which are easy to make. When you think you’ve come up with a good set of company values, do a sanity check to make sure you haven’t stumbled into one of these common pitfalls.
Basic moral principles
If you check around, you’ll see examples of core company values that are little more than the bare minimum requirements of being a decent person.
“Honesty,” “respect,” and “teamwork” are great to have. And there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing them at the individual level. But basic moral principles are best handled in your company code of conduct and HR materials.
Your company core values should be one layer up from foundational principles. Focus on creating values that help your business improve its products or services, create better solutions, and operate more efficiently.
Being vague is an easy mistake to make. We naturally want our company core values to cover every possible situation or eventuality. So we default to things like “hard work” and “high quality.”
The problem with being vague is that it doesn’t help people make better decisions.
The solution here is to be more specific. Refine your company values statement to reflect exactly what high quality or hard work looks like for your company, so that anyone who reads your core values understands what that value looks like in action.
Hard to remember
People need to be able to put your core values into practice. If your company values are too long or complex, they’ll be hard to remember. That makes them difficult to apply. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to whip out their company core values handbook whenever they need to make sure they’re doing things right.
As such, it’s wise to keep your organizational values relatively short and sweet.
It’s also helpful to put your core values into multiple formats. (Notice how we turned our values into an eye-catching visual that reads well on the screen? That was no accident.)
Creating a company values video is another great way to make your core values more memorable and engaging.
It takes just a few minutes for new hires to watch your core values video and quickly get up to speed. This works equally well if your organization is revealing its newly forged set of values to existing employees.
If you work from a company values template, it takes very little time to create your own core values video.
Why are clearly defined values important?
Ultimately, your company core values act as a guidepost for making decisions at every level of your organization.
Your company values guide everything from product development to marketing. Clearly defined core values enable your company to operate better as a whole and your employees to make the best individual work decisions in every stage of your business.
Having everyone on the same page is obviously important. But well-defined core values go beyond making sure everyone works in the same direction.
Your core values also give the overhead in your company leverage to hold team members accountable. If you never communicate your company values, it’s unfair to get upset with an employee who does something that doesn’t reflect the company values.
Organizational values can’t be honored if they’re unknown.
Explicitly stated core values also help your business attract the right people. Being skilled doesn’t always make a person a good fit for your company. And candidates assess your business just as much as you assess them. Clear core values help both you and your candidates determine if a working relationship is a good fit.
What to consider when creating your company values
Remember that your core values need to guide your business decisions and ultimately make your company more successful. Your company core values should reflect who your business serves, what your company delivers, and the overall environment of your industry.
Also, it’s best if you create your company core values after you develop your company mission statement. That way, your values support your mission and align with that central goal. Have your mission statement on hand as you go through this process.
When you sit down to create your own company values, start by answering these three questions:
1. What are the most important aspects of your finished product?
Consider the most valuable part of your product or service. And go deeper than simply stating the central problem it solves. Also think about the intangible aspects of what your business does for customers.
- How do you want your business to make your customers feel?
- How do you want your company to be different from the competition?
- What is the most important goal to achieve when your employees make design, production, or customer service decisions?
Your core values should give everyone in your company guide rails for every aspect of delivering the final product.
2. What are the best ways to measure success for your business?
Believe it or not, profit is a poor metric for measuring business success. Profit is a byproduct of solving problems for your customers and delivering a positive experience as you solve those problems.
When you answer this question, look for metrics that show how well you solve customer problems and whether or not you solve those problems in the way you want. From here, you can develop a value that helps your company improve those metrics.
3. How do you want your core values to affect your internal company culture?
Your company values work in two ways: internally and externally.
Even if they are externally focused, your core values will still affect how your teams treat each other and what sort of internal decisions they make. Your values should be written in a way that doesn’t put excessive pressure on a single team or make it difficult for the different parts of your company to work together.
After you answer these three questions, you should be ready to dig in and write your company values. If you need more help during the information-gathering stage, check out this helpful worksheet from the Small Business Administration: questions for clarifying your company values.
How to come up with your own organization’s values
Once you’ve gathered some detailed information about your business goals, you can create your own company values using a three-step process. This is the process we used to create the Biteable brand values, including the “CREATE” visualization.
1. Get the team talking
The first step is to talk to your current team. Everyone can contribute, but your founders and long-time employees are going to be in the best position to offer insights. The goal here is to identify the values your company already has and what makes your business unique right now.
This is an information-gathering process. Carefully encourage everyone to contribute anything they can think of. You want as many honest insights as you can get.
At this stage, it’s also useful to look at examples of core values from other companies (like the ones we’ve included below!). This helps your team understand the sort of insights you’re looking for.
2. Synthesize the inputs
Talking to your team will give you a ton of unfiltered information. Naturally, the next step is to filter and synthesize that information. Set aside the outliers and anomalies that aren’t central to developing your core values. Then look at the bulk of the information and identify patterns.
Compare the input from your team with the insights you identified during the prep questions phase. This will show you where your current values match up with your goals and where you may want to take a leap and create some forward-leaning values.
At this point, you’ll begin to see a set of values emerge. However, the values that emerge may be far too numerous to remember or efficiently put into action. Trim the list of values down to a manageable number. Five to seven core values are enough to create strong guidance while still being easy enough to remember.
Once you’ve identified a rough set of values, get everyone together again and gather feedback on the values you’ve identified. Be warned that you won’t get a full consensus. But make sure that at least a majority of your team agrees with the values and believes they can abide by them.
Tweak your rough list of values based on this feedback. Double-check to ensure that your values are viable over the long term. You can adapt and adjust your company values as your business grows, but the goal is to create company values that will remain stable for a long time.
3. Bring in the polish
At this point, you have a rough draft of values. Now it’s time to polish them up and make them as memorable as possible.
This is where your copywriters, designers, and marketers come in. They’ll help you clarify the wording, create visuals, and add memory devices such as alliteration, an acronym, or a core values video to help make your values stick.
A word of warning: be careful with the memory device. It’s easy to go over the top here. You also don’t want your values to come off as silly. Often, being clear and simple is memorable enough.
Give your final draft a good once over before you go live with your values. Double-check that they are crystal clear, action-oriented and that your visualization and memory device is well-polished.
You’re going to repeat your core values a lot. The visualizations will be distributed to everyone in your organization, repeated often, and posted where even customers might see them. Make sure your finished product is well-polished and that you’re proud of it.
Company values examples
As promised, here are a few of our favorite company values examples. We hope they help you as you write your own.
1. It is our nature to innovate.
2. Nike is a company.
3. Nike is a brand.
4. Simplify and go.
5. The consumer decides.
6. Be a sponge.
7. Evolve immediately.
8. Do the right thing.
9. Master the fundamentals.
10. We are on the offense — always.
11. Remember the man. (The late Bill Bowerman, Nike co-founder)
Why they work
One of the standout features of the Nike company values is that they’ve held up for a very long time. These values have helped Nike continue to be successful throughout decades of cultural evolution. Nike clearly took its time choosing and crystalizing these core values.
Beyond that, there are a few aspects of these values that really stand out.
First, values one and two state that Nike is a company and a brand. These make it very clear what Nike does (build a brand and let the products sell themselves) and give context for applying the other nine company values.
The other standout value is number seven, “evolve immediately.” It’s a great groundwork for how the company solves problems. If they find that something isn’t working, they change what they’re doing ASAP.
1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
3. Fast is better than slow.
4. Democracy on the web works.
5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6. You can make money without doing evil.
7. There’s always more information out there.
8. The need for information crosses all borders.
9. You can be serious without a suit.
10. Great just isn’t good enough.
Why they work
Google’s values are a great accompaniment to the Nike core values. Google is an example of core values that have driven meteoric success, while Nike shows how strong values can create long-term durability.
Google’s values work because they are incredibly focused. All ten of these values relate in some way to the company being an expert in efficiently distributing information.
It’s clear that Google’s values are derived from a singular goal. This makes the values actionable, which is likely why they’ve helped Google grow so quickly.
1. Play for each other.
2. Build for durability.
3. Make something better today.
Why they work
The great thing about Amperity’s values is that they’re quick and easy to remember. But despite being minimal, they’re effective. Just these three values can help anyone working for Amperity make decisions that move toward the larger goal: make an immediate impact that will also reverberate in the long term.
1. Create wildly successful customers.
2. Deliver outstanding results.
3. Continuously improve.
4. Develop our people.
5. Operate with transparency.
6. Are accountable.
Why they work
We like these core values because they’re a bit similar to the Biteable core values. They place emphasis on putting the customer first, overdelivering, and open communication.
Apptio also clearly understands that their core values influence the internal and external actions of the company, and they wrote their values to reflect that.
Last thing: note how all these values are written so that they implicitly start with “we,” which subtly turns the values into actions.
1. Hard work.
2. High standards.
Why they work
First and foremost, these values are easy to remember (note the alliteration). They’re also easy to visualize. They not only guide decisions for current employees, but also help potential hires quickly assess whether or not they’ll be a good fit for the company.
CB Insights did a great job of creating memorable company values that establish what sort of people they want in their company and how they want the company to operate.
1. Mission critical.
2. Curious and courageous.
4. Grace of space.
Why they work
These core values cleverly distill complex goals into short, memorable value statements. Civitas Learning works to be indispensable to their customers. They’re not afraid to try new things to achieve that goal. And they focus on rigorous data to measure success.
The last one, “grace of space,” is the value that guides how the company behaves internally as they move toward the other three goals. In short, these values quickly address what the business is trying to do and how it’s done.
1. Be the customer.
2. Design is not a luxury.
3. Build the ideal.
4. Learn fast, act fast.
5. Protect creativity.
Why they work
The Squarespace values are focused squarely (pun definitely intended) on being specific about the product they deliver and clear about which direction decisions should take the company. These values also establish a cool metric for measuring success: build something that you would want to use.
1. Hit heavy, stay small.
2. Lead with ambition.
3. Open communication.
4. Bring your big ideas.
6. Teamwork first.
Why they work
The smart thing about these company values is that they create an impressively specific vision for how the company is organized and operates. They work on the approach that the customer will be well-served if the company’s internal operation is strong.
These values give a clear picture of what type of company Teachable is, which is great for recruiting and clarifying how the business works.
1. We love our customers.
2. We believe in our people.
3. We respect each other.
4. We are driven.
5. We collaborate.
6. We innovate.
7. We evolve.
8. We are SpotX.
Why they work
These values are smart because they’re written with authority. They’re clear and direct. And they wrap up by giving ownership of the values back to the employees.
Additionally, they’re ordered logically.
These core values clarify the company’s focus on its customers. Then they go through all the ways SpotX serves their customers and how SpotX employees treat each other. They wrap up with a value related to how the company does work, followed by a short affirmation.
Ordering your values in a way that progresses naturally is a smart way to make them more memorable and sensible.
1. Get Stuff done.
2. Be innovative.
3. Be mission-minded.
4. Be data-driven.
5. Be passionate.
Why they work
Social Solutions goes all in on being actionable. These values are superbly actionable because they’re imperative statements. They are also simple and clear. There’s no question about what these values mean.
Additionally, they cover all the aspects of business operation, from how Social Solutions manages work to the best mindset for the job. These values cover all the bases.
Operationalize your core values
Defining your core values is just the first step. After that, it’s time to operationalize those values by reinforcing them and making sure your business abides by them.
Putting values into action comes with its own challenges. But the problem of abiding by your core values is a good problem to have because it’s much harder — maybe impossible — to honor values that you haven’t yet established.
Now that you’ve established the rules of the game, the real fun begins.
Put your core values into action with video
A great way to start putting your company’s core values into action is to introduce them with a video. Do it in a flash with Biteable, the world’s simplest video maker.
Biteable has hundreds of easy-to-use templates, plus 1.8 million images, video clips, and animations to choose from. You can create your core values video and send it out into the world in less time than it took Steve Prefontaine to run his first mile in a new pair of Nike running shoes.