Unfortunately, some of us hear “company culture” and “company values” so often during hiring, performance reviews, and team building that they’ve lost all meaning—especially if we never see them in action at work. But have you ever considered how the two interact? What’s often misunderstood is what company values are, why they matter for creating a supportive company culture, and how you can bring the two together.
What Are Company Values?
A company’s core values are underlying beliefs and principles that guide its behavior. These foundational concepts should never be compromised and should be reflected in every decision.
- Ikea’s core values include togetherness, simplicity, and caring for people and the planet.
- Tesla’s core values include doing their best, taking risks, and constant learning.
- Atlassian’s core values include openness, building with heart and balance, and being the change you seek.
Values are part of what makes a company unique, and they define its individual way of doing things. When they’re translated into company culture, strong values help create a pleasant work environment and positive employee experience.
What Is Company Culture?
Company culture is the outcome of the practical actions and behaviors that (ideally) arise from these core values. A company’s culture is the sum total of how its people, from interns to executives, interact.
Culture includes a company’s overtly stated policies around topics like remote work, dress codes, and time off. But it also includes implied policies, and unspoken standards of behavior. What kind of language do people use in the office or to communicate on Slack? What’s the pervading management style? Do colleagues socialize outside of work? And if so, how?
Why Company Values Matter
Strong relationships are built on shared values. Work, no matter how technical, is all about relationships—the interconnected bonds between teams, leaders, managers, and colleagues.
Strong values, authentically reflected in culture, make companies a better place to work.
Values-driven culture helps companies attract more people. Employees tend to perform better, too. Research has found that companies driven by a clear purpose see 400% higher returns.
Company values also have a proven positive impact on employee retention and engagement. In one study, 88% of workers who knew their company’s core values felt engaged, as compared to just 54% of those who did not.
Decision making is also easier when companies have a clear set of core values to refer to. Shared values keep everyone on the same page as they determine the best course of action.
In a competitive labor market, company values are also invaluable during hiring. People want to find employers who share their values. Making those values clear helps build relationships from the start, and attracts people who are more likely to stay committed and engaged.
Company Culture Is Values In Action
Most companies have a set of core values. But they’re frequently vague and generic, and not reflected in daily culture, employee experiences, and policies.
When the concept of “company values” became popular in the mid-1990s, leaders and executives rushed to draft their own. But too often, they were merely a formality; little more than a few words and phrases on a company’s About Us page.
The results of these empty words can be surprisingly harmful. Insincere statements about company values cause employees and industry peers to feel disillusioned or excluded by the company’s failure to put them into action.
You need look no further than company review websites such as Comparably or Glassdoor to see proof. While every organization is bound to have at least a few unsatisfied former employees, reading dozens of reviews about how a company doesn’t exhibit the values they supposedly cherish can damage a reputation. Worse yet, hollow values can get hijacked and misused in ways that prevent honest conversations, distract from misconduct, and serve as a barrier to positive change.
How would you feel if you experienced discrimination at a company who claimed inclusivity as a core value? And then you weren’t taken seriously when you reported it? A toxic work culture is often born from a lack of values.
What does a strong culture built on core values look like? Here are a few examples:
- Airbnb recently formalized its design for employees to live and work anywhere to support employee flexibility.
- Concentrix has been praised in reviews for upholding an inclusive and equitable workplace.
- American Express made strides changing the stigma surrounding mental health. They offer an array of services and ensure that support stems from leadership.
Don’t let core values languish in your employee handbook or in the dark corners of your website. Share them—and how they translate into culture—both widely and often. Values are the foundation of a thriving company culture. Here are a few ways to translate company values into positive culture and happy, satisfied employees:
Connect Process To Values
Company values are nothing unless they become real, concrete action. Once you draft your values, brainstorm important behaviors, processes, and policies based on them.
For example, if a core value is inclusivity, you should remain mindful of cultural differences and give staff paid leave on the holidays important to them. If self-improvement is a core value, dedicate a budget and staff time for education.
When you put these decisions into action, make sure people understand why they were made. Show your team that, as a company, you practice what you preach and you’re committed to living your values.
Make A Company Culture Deck
A culture deck is an easy-to-read, accessible, and engaging document to explain your culture and values. They’ve become popular at companies like Zappos or HubSpot. Not only are they great to share with new or prospective employees, but they function as reminders before important events like company retreats.
Make Company Values Part Of Brand
Clients and customers should see your core values in action. Look to companies like Buffer and Spotify who’ve made their remote-first work culture public. By proudly sharing that their employees can work from wherever they like, they prove their commitment to values of autonomy, flexibility, and boldly unconventional thinking.
Another example would be women’s fashion line Everlane. Their commitment to transparency and sustainable, ethical manufacturing is woven through all brand messaging, from how they describe their core mission, to how they talk about workplace culture.
Live Your Company Values
Living an authentic, principled, ethical life is great all the time, not just nine-to-five. It can be a challenge to create a values-centric company culture, especially at large or distributed organizations. But nearly all companies want to give their people a sense of shared values and purpose at work. Strong, individual company values are the first step. Core values are the nutrient-rich soil from which the tree of your company culture will grow.
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