Core values. We talk about them extensively here at Hype, and many companies center their entire business processes around theirs. During the natural company growth stages, it’s imperative that your core values are flexible and continue to evolve, while keeping the ones most important to the original team top of mind. A founder who doesn’t define his or her core values could very well find themselves leading a different company from the one they once envisioned — these simple statements determine who you hire, how you handle employee behavior, and your own self-awareness as a leader.
“I remember when I was working for other people’s companies, there were numerous times where I didn’t really know what we stood for. What made us do what we were doing, you know?” says TJ Muehleman, co-founding partner of Standard Code. Standard Code, an Atlanta-based startup that builds cloud-based data apps and tools for global health organizations, went through a process to open source their company handbook, in turn promoting accountability for themselves and inspiring everyone they hire to understand the importance of these values to the team.
When drafting your core values, there are so many things to consider. Here’s what to keep top of mind.
Get some core values down from the beginning
Starting a company without core values may seem fine at first. “Oh, we’ll do that when we’re more established” you might think. Don’t. When you get them down early, it allows you to keep the same initial vision you had for your company as you scale.
“Aligning what’s important is pretty easy, but the deliberate act of writing it down, sharing it, and checking in on it every few months helps reinforce it. That way when you start to build a team, you know what you’re looking for,” says Muehleman.
When it comes to hiring new employees, you’ll find that you’re able to onboard those who will fit best with the company by comparing them to your core values. This narrows the margin of error with hiring, and promotes teamwork when employees with similar mindsets work together. A company culture is only as strong as the employees who embody it, and building a strong team is a great place to start.
How to select the important ones
You, as a founder or original team member, are the only ones who know what values are important enough that you want to carry them over into your company. Your experiences with work, family, and life in general are personal to you. Don’t overthink them — you know yourself better than you think.
“I think deciding core values is easier than people realize — founders need to decide what matters to them. What makes you tick? As soon as you start to overthink the values that matter most to you, you start to lose authenticity,” says Muehleman.
Let them evolve as you grow
It’s important to be open to change in your core values. No matter your age, you aren’t the same person you were 10 years ago. The same will go for your company. Having solid core values is beneficial, but being close minded to any flexibility isn’t. Allowing input from employees and being self-aware is key to making sure your values are fluid and scalable.
“Technology changes as fast as industry — if you want to stay relevant, you have to stay curious. How do we activate that curiosity though?” says Muehleman. His company’s 20 percent rule (borrowed from Google) activates company-wide curiosity by allowing employees 20 percent of their time to work on something that makes their products better, aside from their regular work projects. Interestingly, this specific philosophy is on its third iteration at Standard Code, after being tweaked twice with lots of input.
Take them personally
“I remember in past companies we’d come up with core values that we thought investors would like to hear. Or something a customer would find intriguing. But it didn’t define us founders. And that was reflected in how we did and our culture,” says Muehleman.
Your core values are the foundation for how your company operates. They will cover everything from your managing style, to how you treat customers, hiring practices, and how you’re perceived. Make them specific to you.
Communicate them regularly
“The backbone of the cultural dynamics of any organization, the leader has to constantly be pushing the mission, standards, community, and processes of the company. Without effective leadership, the [other] elements cannot thrive,” says Andy Cabistan of Watson Works.
If you’re not constantly reminding your employees of your core values, who else will? As you bring on new employees with their own standards, values, and habits, it’s important that everyone is on the same page. Communicating them regularly will give employees the sense that they’re all working toward the same purpose with the same mindset. This will, in turn, build a sense of community in the workplace and ensure a positive and productive company culture.
Images courtesy of Standard Code