A Guide to Defining Your Company Values

What are company values?

Company values are how organizations define the core pillars of their identity and principles which also affect the way they conduct their business. Every company has a unique set of core values and they support the vision and decision making processes within the organization.

Defining your company’s values

Core values are really important. They are an essential and guiding force helping your company grow and strengthening organizational culture. Thus, we’ve spent a lot of time researching best practices for defining company values, and what have we found? Here are two main takeaways:

  1. There is no one right way to do it. While there are some guidelines, every company has its own story when it comes to values.
  2. It’s not just about coming up with your values. It’s about living them.

For now let’s focus on the first point and explain what was helpful to us as we defined our original set of core values during a company retreat in 2014, and established new values in 2020.

So, where do you even start?

Like with any good event planning, we began by establishing our intention: bond as a company and define our core values. We decided on a hike in a nearby state park, followed by our values workshop over a campfire.

There were a few benefits to how we went about this process:

  • For one, timing the workshop after a few hours of hiking and bonding helped us get in the right mindset for discussing company values.
  • Additionally, by choosing a setting that was separate from our every day work, we were able to clear our minds and focus on what is important.
  • Finally, defining our core values while building a fire was powerfully symbolic– building fire as a key driver of civilization, our values as a core driver of our company.

Who do you involve?

CultureIQ began in 2014 as company of seven employees, so we had the luxury of involving the whole team in the workshop.

You can still involve employees as a larger company, and you should – as we did, when we refined our values this year. While the core group developing the values should be much smaller– maybe just key leadership roles– they should serve as the liaisons and derive their inspiration from everyone else in the organization. You can accomplish this through transparency and communication.

The core of it

After hiking for a few miles to a lean-to, setting up the fixings for lunch, and searching for firewood, we started our discussion as the embers lit up in the fire. I sat there with a notepad, and let the discussion take its course.

Our process looked like this:

  1. Throw out an idea and discuss it
  2. Write it down if there is potential and continue to discuss
  3. Repeat
  4. Regroup and read aloud what we have so far
  5. Discuss again to refine and check for overlap
  6. Sit on our list for a week and refine again

Here were some questions that guided our thinking:

  • What’s important to us?
  • What brought us all together and continues to hold us together?
  • What will help guide us when we are facing a difficult decision?
  • What are the things you like about what we do at CultureIQ and how we do it?
  • What parts of our company are we proud of?

Here are some questions that guided our refining:

  • We’re young. Is this something we’ll still believe in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Is this something that we are willing to hire on?
  • Is this something we’re willing to fire on?
  • Is this something we can apply to customer relations? Or internal development? Or product development? Or all?

We understand that this can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. The thing is, you aren’t starting from ground zero. There was a lot of overlap in the way we had approached the topic during our individual brainstorming, and we are a very eclectic bunch. We were already living our values to a certain extent, we just hadn’t defined them explicitly.

What was the result?

Here is the list of our original company values in 2014:

  • Treat ourselves and customers with respect
  • Be creative and resourceful
  • Great people over great resumes
  • Understand metrics, but make human decisions
  • Be open to change and maintain flexibility
  • Celebrate and enjoy the journey

Since then, we’ve found it helpful to revisit our values as we’ve grown, and the goals we want our company culture to help us achieve have changed. All organizations change, and while basic values may stay mostly the same, they can be re-articulated in a way that matches new goals and desires. Our current values are:

  • We embrace individuality
  • We look ahead and never settle
  • We figure it out together

These streamlined values all reflect, in some way, our original core values in 2014, and speak to being respectful, authentic, flexible and responsive to our colleagues and customers. 

What comes next?

As we mentioned at the beginning, coming up with our values is the first step. Then, you have to live them. Living them means using them as guiding tenets when making decisions in all aspects of the business: hiring new employees, developing company policies, customer service decisions, etc.

But now if we feel overwhelmed, we can reference our latest value: we figure it out together. That’s exactly how we’ll approach whatever comes next.

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