(Third in a series about fundamental documents every business needs. The second was: Develop a vision statement to propel your business.)
What does your company stand for? What defines you at your core? How will you behave as you set out to achieve your vision?
Taken seriously, writing your company’s core values is probably more difficult that writing either a mission statement or a values statement. How do you narrow down to just a few things – and ideally it should be no more than four or five – those attributes that are most important about running your business?
This is where your brand really comes to bear. If you are a pizza delivery or an express package delivery service, then “speed” is very, very important. That will be in your values statement. If you are a luxury jewelry or clothing brand, “quality” is going to be in your values statement.
Some businesses choose values that are primarily externally focused. They make a statement about the business’s commitment to customer service and function as motivation to employees to treat customers well.
Nurse Next Door home care services provides an example of company values that are primarily externally focused:
- Admire people.
- WOW customer experience.
- Find a better way.
- Passionate about making a difference.
Zappos, which has 10 core values and more than most employees can recall, is an example of a company that primarily focuses on internal core values. It’s known as a company with a very strong corporate culture.
- Deliver WOW through service.
- Embrace and drive change.
- Create fun and a little weirdness.
- Be adventurous, creative and open-minded.
- Pursue growth and learning.
- Build open and honest relationships with communication.
- Build a positive team and family spirit.
- Do more with less.
- Be passionate and determined.
- Be humble.
Zappos really lives its values – they aren’t just a plaque on the wall. The employees are encouraged to do crazy things like wearing funny hats on certain days, and they are given wide latitude to solve customer issues.
Hallmark, located in Kansas City, has just three values:
- Excellence in all we do.
- High standards of ethics and integrity.
- Caring and responsible corporate citizenship for Kansas City and for each community in which we operate.
Just as your employees should be involved in writing your mission and vision statements, they should also have a hand in writing your values. Buy-in is key. It’s important to communicate with your staff that this is more than just a feel-good exercise – they are establishing priorities for employees regarding how the business will operate and serve customers.
Your values should be general enough to be useful to every employee from the mailroom clerk to the president, but specific enough to have meaning. Ditch the one-word values, such as “excellence” (I realize that Hallmark comes very close in the example above).
Wendy Maynard has a system of developing values called “Living, Breathing Values,” or LBVs.
Her rules for creating LBVs are:
- Start with a verb: LBVs are something you do. They are actionable, decision-making tools. As such, they must be a sentence that starts with a verb so that each person can ask themselves “Am I doing this?” and be able to easily answer yes or no.
- Keep ‘em short and sweet: Limit each LBV to a few words. Some of our clients have created powerful values with the shortest sentences possible. Short and memorable = powerful.
- No more than four. We recommend no more than 4 LBVs. Don’t be scared of the simple. Three is a great number and we even have a client who has two LBVs that work powerfully for their company.
Some examples of LBVs – values – that start with verbs are:
- Exceed expectations
- Create win-wins
- Serve with purpose
- Go further
- Lead the way
- Think smart
- Make it better
- Think big
- Do the right thing
- Go for broke
When you write your values statement, don’t put it into a drawer. Live it. Breathe it. Work it. Find ways to bring it to life. Communicate it frequently. Talk about it at important times, such as during employee orientations and at year-end reviews.
What does your business value?