All companies have, at their core, a fundamental set of values that reflect what is most important to the co-founders and in turn informs the culture and priorities of employees. And yet, many companies struggle at communicating values, especially during periods of rapid growth and hiring.
When a startup is young, people often align on values automatically, drawn together by a common cause. Those who don’t “buy in” tend to move on while those who resonate with the values stick around. But as the company grows larger and headcount increases, you can’t assume every employee will immediately understand and align with your mission. To address this, values should be clearly communicated throughout the organization and integrated into how you do business every day. Let’s look at how best to do so.
Documenting Your Values
Core values should be more than just a reflection of co-founder priorities. They should be representative of your employees’ vision for the company and its culture. To do this, ask them what they feel strongly about. Get input on what “integrity” means to them and how they quantify “commitment” both by the company and its management. Vague buzzwords like these tend to be included in a mission statement but are interpreted differently by everyone. This is your chance to clear up any ambiguity.
Values written without employee input often struggle to take hold. Employees need to feel that their personal and professional goals are aligned with those of the company. Being handed a list of values to work towards from on high can lead to resentment rather than engagement.
Live the Values Daily
While communicating values to your team is an important step in changing community culture, the process should start from the top. Your team should live and lead by example, showing that they have taken these values to heart.
Leadership in particular should spearhead this effort. It’s difficult to say “we value work-life balance” if management is sending emails at 11pm, or to claim the company listens to feedback if management makes decisions without employee input. The most effective way to share values is to show them in action consistently, prioritizing these values above all else and not just when it’s easy.
Rewarding Those Who Showcase Values
Don’t just reward hard work. Look for opportunities to reward people for going a step above and beyond in exemplifying the company’s values. This should be an integral part of the performance review conversation. Include an evaluation based on values so that there is a clear and consistent way to measure people’s commitment to them.
There is no better way to instill the importance of key behaviors than to reward them when witnessed. These small but important moments happen every day, often going unnoticed. Watch for them and use them as teaching and growth opportunities.
Communicating Values to Your Team
Finally, let’s look at how to build a communications plan that ensures every member of the team – existing and new – understands the organization’s goals and is fully aligned.
Even if you don’t have a written culture code or a deck that you present to new hires, following the first steps will get you 90% of the way there. Showing these values on a daily basis, from the leadership level down, demonstrates your expectations and helps people to make the right decisions in tough situations.
To supplement that and reinforce the importance of those actions, you can:
- Discuss them in one-on-one meetings – Weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings are an incredibly important part of a healthy organizational culture. It allows team members to share concerns as well as recent wins with their manager. It allows management to communicate the importance of core values and how to handle tough situations, even as organizational goals shift.
- Team discussions and announcements – Weekly standups with small teams are a great way to keep everyone aligned on organizational changes, allow for questions that impact the team as a whole, and ensure all employees feel they are heard by management.
- Open communication platforms – For those with remote employees especially, it’s important to have a technology platform in place that facilitates centralized communication. Slack is just one example of a great online collaboration tool, allowing everyone in the company to gather and have conversations about important topics and company changes. Leaders should be active in these conversations and help set the tone.
Whether you are a larger company struggling to hold on to your roots or a startup entering a faster stage of growth, take the time to clearly identify, document, and communicate your values to the company. This will establish a stronger, more resilient culture in the face of rapid change.
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