Ideal Outcomes

Don’t Just Define Your Organization’s Values, Live Them

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

When you’re working to bring about culture change in your company, the process starts with defining your values. They’re the moral blueprint for everything you do! But how do you identify these values and bring them to life for your employees?

In this blog post, we’ll look at the process in detail and focus on leaders’ roles in defining, communicating, and living these values out.

What are Company Values?

Company values are your shared beliefs; your organization’s moral code. While it’s helpful to define them at the same time as your purpose, they’re not quite the same thing.

Your company’s purpose articulates why your organization exists—the problem it’s trying to solve. While your purpose provides inspiration, your values provide more of a guide. They offer an ethical framework that informs the organization’s norms, behaviors, communications, and decisions.

Values Matter More Than Ever

If you’re looking to build a culture that can attract and retain top talent, you can’t ignore values. And it’s critical to communicate them effectively to your employees.

A recent survey found that nearly half of employees in the UK and the US (46%) are thinking about leaving their organization because it doesn’t demonstrate their own values, while 56% wouldn’t even consider taking a job if their values didn’t align. This is even more pronounced for Gen Z and Millennial workers, indicating that this trend is here to stay.

How to Define Your Company Values

Defining your company values is a collaborative process. Leaders and employees should work on them together to identify the core values that resonate with everyone. The process breaks down into five steps:

1. Identify the Right Values for Your Organization

This first step is a sorting exercise. Take a list of values statements and, working as a group, narrow them down to a small number (four to six is ideal) until you reach a consensus. Remember that these values won’t be the only thing that makes your business unique, but they will provide your moral framework and help you make better decisions.

2. Define the Behaviors that Support Your Values

Next, look at the behaviors that will bring these values to life. For example, if innovation is one of your core values, ask yourself what innovative people do and how they behave to help refine your guidelines. These are the behaviors that you’ll be looking to demonstrate and reward as you begin to build your desired culture.

3. Get the Word Out

Once you’ve articulated your values, it’s important to spread the message. As a leader, you have an important role to play, but effective communication isn’t simply a one-shot bulletin from the top down. Sure, a communications plan should include a town hall meeting with the CEO and senior leaders to communicate the company values. But to truly get them across, you’ll need a wide range of messengers and methods.

For example, your HR team might be responsible for regularly recognizing employees who embody a particular value. Your communications team might put up posters in the breakout space to ensure they’re at the forefront of people’s minds.

4. Integrate with Organizational Processes

Next, check in to see if your processes are aligned with your values. Are there any processes that make it difficult for your employees to live your values? While it’s important to involve a cross-functional team at this stage, this is for leaders, too. At every executive retreat, examine any new or proposed policies through the lens of your company values to identify anything that might need to be reworked.

5. Hold People Accountable

This is arguably the most important step of all. Nobody wants a bunch of “values” that you all pay lip service to once a year but that sit around gathering dust in a document most of the time. For your values to truly take root, you must live them and honor them daily. If you don’t let them guide your behavior and decisions—and if you’re not seen doing so—they’ll lose their meaning.

Living Your Values as a Leader

The most powerful thing you can do as a leader is embody the values you believe in. Quite simply, they should guide everything you do, day in, day out—from how you communicate to your ability to make difficult decisions.

Your actions can set the tone for the company as a whole. For example, if one of your values is openness, you can bring this to life by abandoning the private office and opting for an open-plan setup with your employees. Is learning on the list? Signal its importance by signing up for training or asking for reverse mentoring.

What happens when you don’t actually embody your values but simply go through the motions? Well, the credibility of your organization, as well as the bottom line, can take quite a hit. In the 2010s, Wells Fargo’s values included “ethics” and “what’s right for customers.” This didn’t stop the bank from opening millions of fraudulent accounts, resulting in massive fines, the resignation of the CEO, and a scandal that rumbles on to this day.

Similarly, when cryptocurrency leader Sam Bankman-Fried was charged with defrauding investors, it was hardly the best example of his philosophy of effective altruism and “doing the most good.”

However, leaders who stay true to their values and use them to help them make painful business decisions have the power to inspire. One of the Ideal Outcomes team previously worked with a CEO who didn’t flinch when he had to deal with a senior executive who was found to have sexually harassed a colleague. The executive’s behavior didn’t support the company’s values; therefore, he was fired immediately and without severance. Our colleague has never forgotten it.

What Do You Stand For?

Ready to take the first step toward creating a thriving workplace culture? It all starts when you articulate who you are and what you stand for.

At Ideal Outcomes, we can help you develop a values-driven culture that employees and customers love. Download our process tool to start defining and communicating your core values, and get in touch with us to find out more about working together to bring your ideal culture to life.