William Craig | Forbes | April 19, 2016
It’s not enough just to make something. Many companies are so busy breaking new ground and inventing new things that they sometimes let their values fall by the wayside. But what good is owning a company if you don’t have beliefs worth standing up for?
Don’t just make something — make something better. That’s what we’re here today to discuss: Company values and how to make them really matter. Cut through the cookie-cutter jargon and find out what your company is really meant to do and how you can tell the world about it.
Expand Your Vocabulary
Our first step needs to be rooting out some of the most overused words and phrases in the business world today. As a precursor, know that I’m not here to put anybody down. If you or your company uses any of these phrases, you’re certainly not alone – but that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?
I want to suggest that your favorite mottos, catchphrases and company values really do need to communicate something about your values beyond “We do stuff better than our competitors.” Cookie-cutter values aren’t going to leave much of an impression on your employees or your clients.
- “Think outside the box.” I’m not sure which box we’re talking about but if you have to try real hard to get outside it in the first place, there’s already a problem. Real innovation says there are no real rules to begin with.
- “Paradigm shift,” “Game changer,” and/or “Revolutionary.” It’s been quite a long time since America saw a true revolution. Stand behind your products and your ideas, by all means, but don’t forget to temper your excitement with a small dose of humility.
- “Hacking.” Growth hacking. Life hacking. Hacking hacking. We’re always hacking something. Maybe our devil-may-care use of this word comes from television’s oftentimes hilarious visual depictions of “true” hacking but we throw it around a little casually these days. Worse: So much of what passes for “hacks” these days is little more than common sense.
The Problem With Copy-And-Pasted Values
As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit of stale phraseology that gets bandied about but means very little in practice. So why have them in the first place? It’s not a rhetorical question – why print your values everywhere if your employees aren’t really expected to benefit from them or truly take them to heart?
Well-thought-out company values have the power not just to encourage and inspire new customers but also to spur your team members toward greatness. Company values should say something about what you want to accomplish in your little corner of the world — not just that you’re going to do it bigger, better or faster than everybody else.
Something like 80 percent of active companies publish their values for the world to see. So what do we really want the world to take away from these small first impressions? Hopefully something memorable.
And so we return to the idea that a company’s set of values and ideals should communicate something about what they want to accomplish in the world — a mission that goes beyond Move X units this quarter or Post record profits. What do you stand for?
To find out, consider that there are several different types of values, and each one can not only help you frame your company’s mission, but also potentially help you find it in the first place. Nobody is born with a set of values — they must be cultivated over time.
Core values. Core values are the most obvious starting point. They describe the relationship between what a company produces and what they hope to accomplish in the world. A great example of this is TOMS, which donates one pair of shoes to a needy part of the world for each one that it sells. This is a great thing to value. It’s also innovative, but TOMS puts a much better and much more human name on it: “Improving lives.”
Aspirational values. Aspirational values describe a company’s long-term strategy. They set forth the things a company needs to survive and thrive in the future. Take, for example, Worldwide Supply. One of their aspirational values is Flexibility, which is of significant interest to any company that has longevity in mind. There can be some overlap between core values and aspirational values, and Flexibility is one example of this. Being flexible, one imagines, is central to daily life at Worldwide Supply — but rolling with the punches is also a thing that one aspires to and will be as valuable 10 years from now as it is today.
Accidental values. This really cuts to the heart of what company culture is all about. Accidental values are all of those little tacit things that come up in the course of a day. The traditions and niceties that makes life in your company so fulfilling, hospitable, and worthwhile. These values describe what it looks like to be a valued employee, and what it takes for each employee to work well together in common cause. Whether you choose to write them down and disseminate them, and whether you even realize it, your company already has a handful of accidental values. Do you know what they say about you?
For the remaining points, read the whole article on Forbes.