Company Values Demystified
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said that Amazon’s goal is to be “the Earth’s most customer-centric company.” With that goal in mind, Bezos grew his company from a modest website selling books to a global e-commerce giant.
Bezos’ example shows the power of forming real company values and sticking to them. Leaders who invest in creating a set of core values they believe in, and then build their company around those values, will end up well-positioned for success.
What Are Company Values?
Company values are also sometimes known as “core values”, because they define what beliefs are at the core of a company’s strategy.
The Harvard Business Review defines core values as “the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions [and] serve as its cultural cornerstones.” YourDictionary describes them as “the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization, [which] dictate behavior and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong.”
Values are the forces at the heart of a company’s decision-making. In a value-driven organization, important choices should always be made with these principals in mind.
In the 1990s, business experts began talking about company values in books like Built to Last and Requisite Organization. The idea is that values are a system of beliefs and norms which help guide an organization’s culture.
Defining a set of values in writing solidifies them for everyone in the company, making sure all stakeholders are on the same page.
Why Are Company Values Important?
Many businesses create a list of company values at some point, but not all businesses that do so are truly value-driven.
One example would be Enron, an energy company whose corporate values were “respect, integrity, communication, and excellence.”
Considering that Enron was at the center of an infamous accounting fraud scandal in the early 2000s, it’s safe to say that the company didn’t stick to its values.
Company values are important because ideally, they should describe not what a corporation thinks it should believe in, but what it actually believes in.
But a corporation doesn’t believe in anything on its own. Only strong leadership can truly “set the tone” in a business and exemplify its company values on an everyday basis.
When they’re properly implemented in a company, corporate values can drive employee engagement. Many employees place a very high importance on values and culture.
In fact, a Glassdoor survey showed that nearly 80% of respondents would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying for a job, and over half said that “company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.”
How Should You Implement Company Values?
If you’re just starting with a new company values program, you may be wondering how to actually implement it in your business. While it’s one thing to come up with a list of values, it’s another to make sure those values stick.
As with any new initiative, creating an effective company values program starts with a plan. Given that strategic planning has been directly linked to increased organizational performance, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this measure.
Just as in other areas of the business, it’s important to define an individual or group on the leadership team who will “own” the company values project.
This group should brainstorm ideas based on the company’s mission and vision. If you already have a mission or vision statement, this is the perfect time to examine those and use them to shape the company’s values. The values can be words or full sentences, and should be written in a way that aligns with your company’s brand voice (formal or casual).
Once you’ve come up with a list of values, run them by the rest of your team or department to get everyone’s input. After you’ve agreed on what the final values will be, display them in a prominent place so they’ll be top-of-mind.
Once you’ve set your core values, ideally you’ll want to use them to guide decision-making in all areas of your business. You should be checking in periodically to see if your values are being followed.
While all-hands meetings are a great opportunity to talk about values, realigning with values is most effective when you offer concrete examples. Try to pinpoint where your company values are working, or where you could adhere to them more closely, and clearly communicate this to your staff.
For example, if one of your core values is “collaboration”, perhaps the sales and marketing teams have worked together to get exceptional results this quarter. On the other hand, maybe you’ve recently noticed that employees have been working in silos.
A new cross-functional training program could be presented as a way to help your team re-align with the “collaboration” value.
How Many Core Values Should a Company Have?
As previously mentioned, company values can be either words or phrases.
While you’ll want to choose enough core values to cover the important points your company cares about, you wouldn’t want to choose too many and undermine the importance of each one.
Of course, there’s no “perfect number” of company values to have. However, here are a few different opinions:
Hotjar recommends having a small number of core values, between three and 10.
On the other hand, author and entrepreneur Dave Kerpen recommends having no more than three core values.
In an essay for the Harvard Business Review, Jim Collins, author of the pioneering corporate culture book Built to Last, mentions that none of the companies studied in his book had more than five core values.
Regardless of the exact number you choose, the consensus seems to be that tighter focus is better. Don’t try too hard to come up with extra values. Having a few meaningful and well-thought out values is better than having a lot of vague ones.
Five Examples of Company Values
The companies mentioned below are some of the largest in the world, and all are represented in the Fortune 500. Here are their company values:
Nike Company Values
Nike’s mission statement is clear, bold, and directly related to its core product offering:While Nike’s company values are not explicitly mentioned on their website, Business Strategy Hub lists them as “community”, “sustainability”, “diversity”, and “social responsibility.”
We can see evidence of a commitment to each of these core values directly from Nike:
Nike has a section on its website devoted to community initiatives.
Nike shows its commitment to community through its Made to Play program and investment in girls’ coaching.
Another of Nike’s company values is sustainability. This is shown by its commitment to protecting the environment, corporate sustainability initiatives, and recycling and clean energy programs.
Diversity and equality are also important commitments from Nike, as shown by its corporate inclusion initiatives and grants for projects that promote diversity.
Finally, Nike commits to its value of social responsibility with the above programs, plus its guidelines for product compliance and labor standards.
Apple Company Values
On its website, Apple lists some company values that are similar to Nike’s values, including inclusion, supplier responsibility, and protecting the environment.
However, Apple’s original values from 1981 set a slightly different tone. Check out the list below from Cult of Mac:
Apple Values, circa 1981
- One person, one computer.
- We are going for it and we will set aggressive goals.
- We are all on the adventure together.
- We build products we believe in.
- We are here to make a positive difference in society, as well as make a profit.
- Each person is important; each has the opportunity and the obligation to make a difference.
- We are all in it together, win or lose.
- We are enthusiastic!
- We are creative; we set the pace.
- We want everyone to enjoy the adventure we are on together.
- We care about what we do.
- We want to create an environment in which Apple values flourish.
Notice the difference? The earlier values take a more conversational tone. They also include priorities such as “setting aggressive goals” and being “all on the adventure together”, which are geared towards the needs of a growing startup. As Apple expanded, its values evolved to reflect the responsibilities of a larger corporation.
Disney Company Values
Like Nike, Disney’s mission statement is closely linked to its specific industry and target audience.
According to Disney Careers, their company values are “optimism”, “innovation”, “decency”, “quality”, “community”, and “storytelling.”
As you can see, Disney’s values are far from generic… they’re very specific to the Disney brand.
Creating a positive tone is important in a company dedicated to animated movies and theme parks, so “optimism” is an important value. “Decency” is important when creating products for children, and “storytelling” is a key part of Disney’s mission.
How Do Companies Communicate and Reinforce Their Values?
Now that we’ve talked about how to choose company values, and have seen some examples of values from successful companies, the next thing you may be thinking is… “how can I make sure my values really work?”
The examples above can give us some answers.
First, if your current values aren’t working, it might be time to make a change. When Uber realized they had a culture problem, they overhauled their values and transformed their culture accordingly. When Apple grew into a different kind of company, they updated their values to match.
Second, there are many ways you can reinforce your company values. Like Netflix, you can hire for company culture and seek out only people who are already committed to your values. You can also change your processes, make sure leadership and team members are communicating, and improve the tone of your internal communications.
The key thing is to make sure everyone in the organization understands what the values are, why they are important, and in what concrete ways they can commit to them.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Having a clear set of authentic company values is key to having a successful company.
Creating a defined list of company values is the first step to creating a strong business culture. And culture is closely tied to business success.
Deloitte has found that organizations that “create an inclusive culture where workers feel respected and treated fairly” are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Making sure your company values are being followed is all about clear communication.
With the help of our employee communication platform, we enable you to shine a light on all the positive things happening in the organization, bring goals and values alive, generate a culture of recognition and build a sense of community and belonging.
Workvivo is a new breed of employee communication platform created for the future global office. Easy to use, its slick design helps companies engage, inspire, motivate, recognize, and update their employees, wherever they are and in ways that traditional tools simply can’t.
We help your people stay connected to each other but also to the organization’s goals, creating both a happy and winning team!