9 Minute Read

Building a Values Based Organization: 6 Tips

Nothing is more boring than a bland corporation that stands for absolutely nothing. However, so many growth and early stage companies are so busy building their business that they neglect their internal culture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that leaders are to blame for this cultural wasteland that small companies can become. There are a lot of things you can outsource, but building culture is not one of them. According to On Message, a recent Gallup poll found that only 41 percent of employees understand what their companies stand for and what differentiates them from the competition. There’s very obviously a brand mismatch happening here and it starts at the top. Here’s how to keep values top of mind with your employees and the prospective employees that are (even if you don’t think so) always watching:

So yeah, you have to be nice to the people who run your business
Yeah I said it. These people run your business. At one point in time it may have been you but it no longer is and it’s time to treat them like the treasures they are. That doesn’t mean being a format but it does mean, simple and inexpensive measures like thanking them for a job well done, giving them credit when it’s due (and occasionally when they totally fudged up), creating a clean and pleasant workspace for them to work in, providing necessities (coffee!), and fighting for them when needed. By taking care of necessities and letting employees know you care about their comfort, ability to focus and career goals long-term…you show them what you really value.


Make sure they know what they’re signing up for
We get a lot of passive applicants. Why? It’s not because we were sugary sweet in our application process. It’s because we take a completely honest stance about what it’s like to work here. The people who wouldn’t last a day rarely apply. And the people who are up for the challenge come in ready to prove it. It’s a win-win. Instead of trying to sound like every other agency on the planet (trying to talk about awards) we tell candidates that we work HARD and they will be held accountable for every action they take here. Jobseekers also get an earful about the good stuff too. No dress code? Yay. Wine every Friday? Nice. A flexible work schedule and boss willing to teach you everything she knows? Awesome. We say this flat out in our sourcing emails, reiterate it in our job postings, and go over it in detail during phone screens and in-person interviews. People can select in and OUT of working with this team and in doing this, we reiterate what our values are again and again.


Don’t forget about the basics
Compensating employees fairly and being flexible with scheduling when you can aren’t perks. They’re baseline boss moves. You build values by showing that you care not just about your employees when they’re in-office but when they are out of office; their family issues, hobbies and professional development. It’s fine if you, as a boss, don’t want to commit to these things, but remember that when you find yourself dealing with poor attendance, abuse of PTO of sick leave and retention issues. Values are a two-way street. If you can’t afford to pay your people fairly, then you might be doing business wrong.


What are your values anyway?
I get a lot of companies that have no idea what their values even are…could you name yours if someone asked? If not, then you can’t be frustrated with your team for being a little confused. Nature abhors a vacuum and if your executive team has been lax about stating values, chances are your team has filled in the blanks based on the actions they see or their loudest colleagues. This isn’t always bad, but in some cases can result in a fractured culture that management has lost control of (it’s debatable whether culture or values are entirely controllable anyway). If you take time to write out your goals yearly, you should be taking the time to write out and explain each value. JBS, one of the world’s largest protein and food companies, lists their values in every internal and external training program or recruiting initiative and infuses them in employee events and campus visits. No doubt is left as to what the company values.


Don’t “gussy it up”
As an agency, we use our share of ten dollar words, but in many cases, especially dealing with employees who tend to see you, warts and all, stop trying to make it about organizational change. Instead, identify who you are (as an organization), what you do, why you do it better than anyone and HOW you deliver value. Keep distilling until you find your core values. For example, excellence is a value we admire and aspire to, but it’s not a core value. We are more of a FISI firm (Eff it, Ship it) which isn’t for everyone, but in a fast-paced field where the rules change on the regular, it works. You don’t need large organizational change programs or metrics to track it (at least not at the beginning). What you need is a clear message that employees at all levels of the company can grasp. Keep it simple.


The one report you need to run
I know I just said you don’t need reports to figure out if your employees “get” your values, but this is one report you DO have to run. It’s called “asking them” and it means you randomly ask your employees to state your values and how they apply to their job, even a small job they are working on right now. For example, last week we got a client complaint because he was inadvertently listed as the contact on a landing page. In this case, the client was at fault, not the Brancher who got reamed for it. However, she still had to respond and patiently explain the situation with our prescribed time frames. Why? Because timeliness and communication ARE part of our core values and she knows that. The second I asked why she hadn’t responded, her values kicked in and she got the email out. Think of these as values “pop quizzes”. According to Enterprise IG, 70 percent of customers’ brand perception is determined by conversations with employees. Don’t you want your employees to be clear in their communication about your organization?


Thought so.