Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in “Building Your Company’s Vision” (Harvard Business Review, 1996) define core values as the “essential and enduring tenets of the organization” and “timeless guiding principles” — the true essence of who you are as a company. Statements of values are not as common as vision statements in our experience, but a well articulated set of company values can be even more powerful in terms of a decision guide and employee motivator. Some examples might be:
- Quality — we will put our very best into every load of feed leaving our plant. We understand that how well we do our job will affect the profitability of our customers, and they deserve products that are milled to specification, every load done right and delivered in a timely way.
- Safety — we will never compromise safety in any action we take. We will make sure every employee is trained to do their job safely. Our team members will look out for one another. There is no room for shortcuts in our workplace. The health and well-being of our employees is the most important value we have.
- Innovation — we will create and cultivate an environment where our employees think outside the box, approach old problems in new ways, and take calculated risks in order to keep us at the forefront of the feed and grain industry through solutions that are always one step ahead of the competition.
Here, we are talking about plain spoken statements that define what you believe in, what is important to you as a firm. In the end, a set of these statements should describe your culture as an organization or at least describe the culture your company aspires to. Perhaps the acid test here would be turning a reporter loose inside your organization and having them describe it in a newspaper story. If these statements truly mean anything, the reporter’s story would play back that your company believes in quality, safety and innovation.
Bringing vision and values to life
Making these statements more than words on paper starts with how you develop them in the first place. If you type such statements up on a Sunday afternoon, then post them in the break room Monday morning, we are confident of the results you will get . . . . pretty much nothing. In our experience, firms that really engage employees in discussions about “what should our firm look like in the future,” “what are the most important things we do,” “what are the principles that we hold most important,” can truly develop high impact statements of vision and values. In most cases, employees are glad to engage in such discussions and feel good about the fact you believe their ideas are important. In such firms, there is ownership and buy-in of the vision, and the values and that ownership and buy-in are very powerful.
Another trademark of firms that are vision and value driven is the fact that these statements actually guide decisions. If you have a value around safety, and the first thing you cut when budgets are tight is safety training, the fact that your walk and your talk are not the same thing is apparent to all. Likewise, in a tight budget situation, if you maintain an investment in the company picnic (finding the funds from somewhere) because family values are important to the firm, that makes an equally powerful statement in support of your values. The point here is authenticity — if you truly live these concepts, it shows, and your employees are likely to follow . . . and live the ideas as well.
Of course, leadership is critical here. In your role as leader, you have the opportunity to continually reinforce your firm’s vision and values. What do you talk about when you have the floor? What behaviors do you acknowledge, support, encourage? In your speeches, informal conversations, newsletters, and training — organizations that believe in this stuff hammer it home all the time.