Corporate Culture Should Not Just Happen–4 Steps to Create the Values that Guide You in the Right Direction

Corporate cultures exist and evolve with or without you.

Effective leaders purposefully shape and align their organizational culture to create high performance in both the short- and long-term in a way that propels their business strategy forward. Ineffective leaders react to and are victims of the default ways that things get done.

How do you “design” the culture and high performance environment you want? A great place to start is to set the corporate values that will support and foster the strategy that will work for you, your employees, your stakeholders, your customers and, ultimately, your business.

Done right, corporate values are powerful drivers of how we think and behave. Done wrong, they are fodder for sarcasm and hypocrisy. And organizational values, well chosen, are right at the heart of the strategic planning process. They help you make tough decisions, cascade your plan, define your desired performance environment and guide your selection of talent that fits. In action, they become the bond that connects the three pillars of a well-aligned organization–strategy, culture and talent.

As you seek to define your corporate values, know that, to be effective as guideposts, they must be few (3 to 5 are best), very simply stated and reflect the desired traits and qualities of your top current and future employees. Here is how to begin:

  1. Assemble your team and think carefully about what drew you to them. As a group, what do you admire about each other? What behaviors and attitudes do you share that the success of the business really depends on? Then think about what qualities you want to see in the employees you hire. Write them down.
  2. Evaluate them as a team. Do they resonate with everyone? Do they highlight your strengths as a company? Sift through the list until you have no more than five. Then ask if they are easily understood and succinctly expressed. Determine if they are core values being currently lived or aspirational values necessary to get to where you want to go.
  3. Test their longevity and relevance to your organization by fleshing out why each value matters and how you will live it day-by-day in your business. Discuss and agree upon the consequences for not living the values.
  4. Put them to the test by assigning members of the executive team to be “keepers of the values.” Keep ones that are being lived, and challenge the practicality of keeping ones that are aspirational only. For aspirational values that are aligned with your strategy and where you want to go as a corporate culture, put specific plans in place to reward the desired values and to weed out traits, attitudes, actions and behaviors that go against those values.

Here are a few actual examples of corporate values:

  • The number one value at Zappos, the online retailer, is “Deliver WOW Through Service.” The company believes in providing the “wow” in every customer interaction and only hires employees who commit to that core value. They must genuinely delight in giving superior service every time. This belief is 100% aligned with their brand promise, business strategy and talent plan.
  • Southwest Airlines calls it “Living the Southwest Way.” Their values include Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart, Fun-LUVing Attitude and Work the Southwest Way. For anyone that has flown Southwest, you know that they behave differently from other airlines.

How do You Know if Your Values are Working?
From an employee perspective, you will know you have a values-driven organization when employees know your corporate values, can describe the specific behaviors that represent your values in action, and know that leaders and high performers embody the values on a day-to-day basis. From a company perspective, you will know you have a values-driven organization when the corporate values are aligned with and visibly part of the way you do business internally and externally to all key stakeholders.

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