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Pick up any book on organizational culture, effective hiring, or employee retention, and you are sure to read about the critical role of organizational values.

Talk to any leader, business owner, individual contributor, and organizational values are one topic they love to speak about.

Organizations put them up on websites, frame them, put them up on walls, display them in boardrooms, and proudly speak about them in press releases and interviews.

Organizational values have become so universal that it’s hard to find any CEO or an organization that doesn’t believe in them.

A research conducted by MIT across 700 companies showed that nearly 80% of the organizations said they had published their corporate values on their websites.

Business leaders and managers spend days and hours debating, discussing, and thinking to formulate their organization’s values. And yet, in many organizations, values are limited to be window dressings or just wall hangings.

Employees, partners, and customers hardly know the organizational values or don’t believe that they are relevant to how they function. Organizational values, in such cases, become a nasty joke.

In this article, we take a deeper look at what organizational values are - their different types, and how to ensure that they are more than just words on the wall.

What are organizational values?

Organizational values or corporate values are a set of abstract ideas that guides employee actions and thinking.

Organizational values shape your organizational culture and create a sense of commitment in the workplace.

Whenever you ask a group of people in a workshop or a conference about what organization values are, you invariably get to hear words like Equality, Loyalty, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, Teamwork, Efficiency, and so on.

At the same time, these sound strong, meaningful, and concise. Research shows that these are the most common set of words used as a part of values and are probably meaningless in most cases.

They have become so common that they might even be a part of your organizational values.

Have you ever wondered how relevant they are?

Having organization core values can help ensure that everyone in the organization - from top leadership to entry-level - share the larger purpose and work towards the same common goal.

76% of employees believe that well-defined business values help cultivate a positive work culture. | Builtin

Organizational values have a huge impact on both internal organization's external matters of an organization how employees treat one another and show how partners, customers, and other parties are treated.

However, mere words mean nothing until they are engrained in their practices. After all, actions are always louder than words.

Let’s take the example of Google. One of their fundamental values is “Focus on the user, and all else will follow.

This value is undoubtedly delivered each time you search for something on the google search engine. You will find answers to any question – from the most common to the weirdest – within seconds and on the first page!

Values are meaningful only when they are expressed through everyday behaviors.

Different types of organizational values

Organizations can benefit from values only when appropriately defined, and their people know exactly what they are talking about and what they are trying to achieve.

In an article published by Patrick M. Lencioni in the Harvard Business Review, he speaks about the various types of organizational values and understands these can help define more precise values.

1. Core values

Core values are the foundation of organizational culture. These are the values that guide the entire organization to conduct themselves and perform under all circumstances.

Core values exhibit shared behaviors, beliefs, and attributes within an organization. In a world that is constantly changing and evolving, core values are the ones that remain constant and do not change for convenience.

2. Aspirational values

As the name suggests, aspirational values are the ones that define where the organization aspires to reach but are currently lacking.

Leaders with great vision often define aspiration values very well, helping the organization achieve where “they want to be.”

3. Permission-to-play values

Permission-to-play values are exactly what the name suggests. These values define the minimum standards of behavior an employee should exhibit.

They are not differentiators like core values but define principles or rules of your business decisions & conduct. For example, you as an organization might not want to encourage dishonest behavior.

And not hiring employees who tend to blow up their resumes with exorbitant lies can exhibit the permission-to-play values in your organization.

4. Accidental values

Accidental values are those values that bubble up unintentionally as an organization grows.

They are unintentionally shared behaviors, attributes, and beliefs that a team exhibits – though not explicitly visible to the employees working for a long time, but are immediately apparent to new teammates.

It can be as simple as how managers communicate with the team or celebrate birthdays and special occasions of their teammates.

How to develop & reinforce organizational values?

When leaders are trying to define organizational values, they sometimes forget that the purpose of organizational values is to inspire positive behaviors and end up focusing more on buzzwords.

Approaching organizational values by merely listing some beautiful-sounding words won’t do any good to the organization.

Finding and establishing a proper framework for the organization – that brings everyone together in achieving a more significant purpose is the key.

“The best companies take their core values to heart, challenging themselves every day to ensure they are truly living their values. Likewise, the companies that have core values, but don’t focus on them, often find themselves struggling financially and culturally.” - Rob Dube, Forbes.

Here are eight simple steps on how to reinforce company values in an organization:

1. Don’t develop values in isolation; involve employees

When people are emotionally invested in something, they tend to be more committed to achieving the purpose.

The same goes for organizational values. When you take employee inputs on what they like about the organization, where they see it going, etc., while developing the values, employees feel happy about the process and are also more committed to adopting it.

One of the easiest ways to achieve this is using an open communication channel like an intranet platform. This will facilitate the easy exchange of ideas, thoughts, and opinions between the management and employees.

2. Find out where the values fit for your employees

Mapping the various touchpoints across the employee lifecycle can help understand the various challenges and nuances and reinforce all organizational values.

For example, while hiring new employees, you can always add questions to the interview process to assess if they exhibit appropriate behaviors to your values.

Once hired, you can also conduct regular surveys and polls to collect feedback and understand:

  • How the values make a difference to each employee.
  • How have your values helped the sales teams in talking to the prospects?
  • How are the values making a difference to your support staff while handling customer issues?
  • How will the values work for the call center executives?

In the process, you can identify the different areas where you can embed desired behaviors through values in your organization.

3. Make the values easy to understand and remember

Keep the values as simple as you can. When people find it hard to understand what your organization stands for, they find it hard to stand by them and bring them to life.

For Example, Slack uses emojis in its core values to simplify its employees to understand and remember. One of Atlassian’s unique values is simple and straightforward – “Don’t f*** the customer.”

Organizational values of Altassian

4. Model values and behaviours

One of the simplest and most effective ways of making your core values effective is to ensure that you work (and play) by your values and not let them be just wall-hangings.

Actively live by our values by making them part of your cultural activities, customer communication, partner engagement, etc. Lead by example – and ensure all leaders live the values in each of their actions.

After all, employees look up to the leaders as role models and consciously or unconsciously absorb their ways and means of working.

Also, assigning role models or buddies to newly hired employees can help them understand and embrace organizational values.

5. Consistently communicate the values

An excellent way to keep your employees reminded of the values is through strategic reinforcement initiatives that subtly plug the values into corporate communications, daily briefs, project goals, and informal discussions without coming off as too preachy.

Such affirmations will make the employees more focused and motivated. Those engaged will outperform their un-engaged peers, resulting in your company becoming up to 20% more profitable.

6. Incorporate the values while hiring and onboarding

Selecting candidates who culturally align with your company is as essential as hiring employees who match your required skill set and experience level.

Run the potential employees through a rigorous questioning process to identify whether or not they align with company values. Similarly, you can reinforce core values during employee onboarding.

For example, when sharing about your company, the HR team can show the recruits a culture deck, just like Netflix, explaining their company values and why they are essential.

Netflix company core values

That way, your employees will start incorporating the core values early on and perform according to the system.

7. Promote values through rewards & recognition

Recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate the organizational values and live by them can reinforce these behaviours in everyone.

So never hesitate to reward someone publicly when they exhibit behaviors that uphold your organizational values.

It makes the employee feel good and encourages everyone else to follow suit.

When appreciating them over a call or email, highlight which core value they exhibited in their effort and how that contributed to their accomplishment, this will encourage your other employees to aspire to uphold those values too.

8. Ask for employee feedback regularly

Your employees are the best to tell whether your company is living by the core values.

The easiest way to make sure that you reinforce the values in the organization is by regularly checking with the team to see what they have to say.

Companies with inspiring organizational core values

Core values drive the company's purpose every day, so be sure to pick ones that truly define what you stand for.

Several well-known brands have crafted inspiring lists of organizational values from which you can get ideas.

Some of the examples of companies with great organizational values include:

1. Ben & Jerry's

The ice cream company strives to support sustainable and safe methods of food production, which reduce environmental degradation, boost the economic viability of family farms and rural communities, and maintain the productivity of the land over time.

It also strives to minimize the negative impact on the environment.

2. Coca-cola

The world's most popular beverage company believes in having "the courage to shape a better future" and is "committed in heart and mind."

3. HubSpot

Hubspot company core values

HubSpot’s core values are spelled in the form of a “HEART” to help employees remember each one.

4. Nike

It is Nike's nature to innovate and do the right thing!

5. Starbucks Coffee

The coffee retail chain wants to "create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome!" It believes in being present connecting with respect, dignity, and transparency.

6. Airbnb

On the company page, Airbnb includes a lengthy description of these core values. You could lay them out crisply for the reader to get the key points while elaborating each value in detail.

airbnb company core values

Now that you know the organizations with amazing core values, it is time to start creating the core values for your company.

Empuls' core company values

Setting core values is never easy as they reflect the behavior and decision of the whole team and future employees.

Here are the core values of our company, Empuls.

  1. Do it right the first time.
  2. Unlock new value.
  3. Be the master of your own work.
  4. Feet on the ground.
  5. Customer is our true north.
  6. Be thorough to make through.

Bottom line: Organizational values are important

While almost every organization has given a jab at defining core values, only very few of them succeed in living up to them. Most of the time, they end up being just another window dressing.

However, it would help if you remembered that values make a difference only when they are genuinely converted to actions and each employee lives by them.

Simple measures like intranet platforms, engagement surveys, rewards and recognition systems, etc., can go a long way in making corporate values more effective.

When everyone’s plate is full, the bad news is that company values may take a back seat in today's world. The good news is by implementing these pieces of advice, your company’s core values will be cemented into every stage of operations.

A company's core values need to be consistently lived up to, from the senior management to down, if those values are to be more than just fancy statements on a corporate website.

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Rashmi Singanamalli

Rashmi Singanamalli LinkedIn

Rashmi is a Content Marketing Specialist at Xoxoday. She is a passionate, result-oriented, seasoned marketing professional with overall experience of 7+ years in IT industry.