“Be Honest” vs. “Don’t #@!% the customer.” Which of these two company values stands out the most? Which one will you never forget?
Throughout my experience in the tech world as a developer and entrepreneur, I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing companies with distinct purposes and cultures that made me appreciate being a part of something bigger. From afar, I have also seen other companies emulate good company values, and have always noticed a common theme in building and sustaining a successful company culture: unique, memorable company values. Values that are not necessarily transferable to another company.
However, it is easy for a company of any size to fall into the trap of having values that represent the must-haves of any work environment, such as honesty, respect, and others.
For a culture to truly flourish, the company values should be viewed as the foundation that sets the stage for how a company and its team behave and make decisions. Do you think your company values are meaningful or meaningless?
They aren’t boring and cliché
Many times values are an afterthought for companies, leaders, and their HR teams. Take the value “Be Honest” for example. Business management expert Patrick Lencioni calls this type of value “permission to play,” which he defines as “minimum behavioral and social standards required of any employee.” Lencioni stated that permission-to-play values “tend not to vary much across companies, particularly those working in the same region or industry, which means that, by definition, they never really help distinguish a company from its competitors.”
Let’s take a look at a high-growth, global company like Facebook, whose values include “Be Bold” and “Be Open.” While it is no question that these are important traits to uphold, they do not necessarily tell someone what makes Facebook—one of the most well-known companies and social platforms to ever exist—Facebook.
Values often intersect with moral qualities, but good company values should not be defined by something moral. For example, you can have people that are incompatible with your company values, but that does not mean they are bad people, measured with your moral ruler.
They have a “secret sauce”
True core values are nonnegotiable and unique. If you read your company values twice and have difficulty remembering them or you don’t find yourself using them on a regular basis, you probably have the wrong values. You should aspire to have just a handful—a maximum of five—that employees remember and that can be applied to everyday tasks and challenges they face, both big and small.
Atlassian’s core values are a great example. They are well-defined, focused on just five, and are written in a truly memorable way to guide the company on what they do, why they create, and who they hire. One of these values that that checks all the boxes is, “Don’t #@!% the customer,” which is focused on the customer as the lifeblood of the business and always considering the customer perspective.
Twilio’s core values are a good example of being explicit and categorizing values in three buckets: How We Act, How We Make Decisions, and How We Win. These inform people on how they should make decisions, which in turn is how a company comes together as a whole to be successful.
When I cofounded my company in 2013 with a globally distributed remote work model, we knew it would be critical to build a culture with a strong foundation of values that were our unique “secret sauce” and could align our global team (now 1,000+ employees in more than 37 countries) on how we behave and act, and how we win. Our company values include: We Give a Sh*t; N + 1 > N; and One Team, One Score. This means we care deeply and take pride in everything we do; we continuously innovate, experiment, and get better one step at a time, together; and we win together, we lose together.
They help everyone walk the talk
Company values are more than just words. They should be taken very seriously. Be explicit with them. If you are not clear about what you do and don’t value, then you end up with a hodgepodge of constraints and assumptions. Assumptions are dangerous and can lead to the wrong expectations, which then lead to frustrations and conflict. Not a good end result for a company.
Established core values should be something that employees can live up to and can use as a tool that can lead them through tough times and to make hard decisions in any scenario. This could include who you do business with, who you might have to hire or fire, or how you ship your product. If you are not using your values to make these tough decisions, then they are not the right values. I believe it is every employee’s responsibility to uphold their company’s values. They are lived by everyone and are realized by every action that each employee takes on a day-to-day basis.
While company values may seem like a small piece of a company’s culture and strategy, they should be the glue that holds everything together, not just in the beginning but in the long run.
Eugenio Pace is the CEO and cofounder of Auth0.