The 5-Step Exercise for Creating Meaningful Company Values

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If you’ve ever stepped into a startup office or were interviewed by a small team, you may have sensed a very specific attitude or a set way of doing things. This is more than merely culture, as company values are the foundation of both a business and a brand. We recently caught up with Jena Booher, a corporate culture consultant, to chat about values and why they matter so much at work.

According to Booher, solid (and enforceable) company values are important for businesses to establish, and then keep, because they drive culture and behavior. “Company values provide a compass or an anchor to what is acceptable or unacceptable within an organization, and they provide guardrails of accountability. Even more, rewards and recognition systems are often built with company values in mind,” she shares. “Values give team members clarity about direction and the path to success. They can breakdown silos, inspire performance and collaboration.”

Do your current values need a little TLC? Or are you looking to create a set of values for the first time? Booher suggests using the following five steps as a thoughtful exercise to guide you:

1. Create a list of potential values. Booher says that she starts work with companies by asking everyone to read a study from the Harvard Business Review, followed by an exercise that helps CEOs and leaders determine what’s most important. “The general list of 15 or so values should include core, aspirational, permission-to-play values — as well as accidental values,” she instructs.

2. Focus on what matters most. Next, Booher suggests setting up focus groups for discussing these values, followed by a survey that makes it easy to select a final five. If you work for a startup or small business, you might share the values survey with some or all of the team; if you work for a larger corporation, managers may be the only ones invited to chime in.

3. Tally up the votes. Booher notes that while the team’s input is important, leadership should have the final say. “Occasionally, the top values are not the ones chosen by the leadership team and that’s OK,” she acknowledges. “I believe the leaders of the organization know the company strategy and direction best and typically have the most visibility into what kind of culture will drive the organization forward. As a result, they have the final vote.”

4. Bring values to life. “Once you’ve established values, it’s time to work on bringing them to life,” Booher shares. “Once the first three steps are complete, I recommend that the leadership team sit down with their relevant departments to have discussions around how ingrained the values list is within their specific department and what more can be done,” she offers.

5. Share the plan. Last, but certainly not least, it’s time for HR or a leadership team to create a strategy and action plan that puts the company values front and center. “The values should live and breathe in all areas of the organization,” Booher affirms. Though this part might seem like a tough task, there are plenty of ways to have fun infusing the office culture with the things everyone should keep top of mind moving forward.