Company Culture: How to Capture Your Values

By Matthew Jagoda

Have you ever walked into work and thought: I’m not sure who we are and why we do what we do?

While there’s no one way to run a company, and businesses operate differently from one to the next, every organization has a culture and exhibits values, whether explicitly stated or not. As a company evolves, it will have to reevaluate its processes and standards to accommodate its growing workforce.

Sometimes this means rethinking whether you are clearly communicating your values and reinforcing them day to day. Whether you’re a budding startup or a centuries-old conglomerate, there are certain key elements and factors that go into revisiting what you stand for, and where you’re headed next.

While culture and values flow from everyday decisions and behaviors, starting the conversation at the top is key to long-term success. If you do not have buy-in upfront from the heads of the company, staying on course will be difficult.

CEOs and their leadership team must exhibit the behaviors they expect of others within the organization. Actions speak loudest. Every choice should take your values into account. From how you evaluate candidates to how you assess and reward existing employees, decisions will be viewed through the lens of your values — Do we do what we say we do?

Ask the tough questions.

If you’re gently reforming or radically overhauling your company culture, the first thing you have to do is be open to change and that means being prepared to ask tough questions.

If you’re a founder-led organization, chances are they have a specific view or focus to convey. If the organization has been around for a while, you might have already established some values or themes. The most effective first step is to ask aloud:

  • What have we said (or shown) our values to be?
  • Have they been explicitly communicated?
  • Are they any unspoken values?
  • Why do we need to state our values? What If we did nothing?

You’ll want to dig into the details you uncover. Sometimes it’s easiest to accomplish this step by bringing in someone from the outside to help. An external facilitator who has been through this process before will offer an outsider’s perspective and help you find what you truly stand for. A good facilitator will tell you to stop, collaborate and listen. Pay close attention to the questions that arose in the earlier steps, specifically where people expressed confusion.

While approval from senior leadership is critical, there’s no better place to turn for input and insights than your employees. They live the culture every day and they know what it’s like to work there. Focus groups can provoke responses you might not have expected. You can also send out a targeted survey to discover what the focus groups might not yield — discomfort, shortage of faith, low morale and more.

Be willing to use a variety of methods to collect and capture information from employees. Some will be more forthcoming than others, but the goal is to get to a 360-degree view of the company. However, do not expect or wait for consensus; you will never get there.

Communicate, put into practice and reinforce.

You’ll want communication to not only come from the top down, but also the bottom up. When you have finalized a set of values, share the wisdom broadly in multiple ways: from senior leadership at company town halls and also between managers and employees in smaller meetings. Let your employees know what came out of the exploratory sessions and where they can find additional tools and resources to serve them better.

Some of what you say will stick, yet other messages won’t take right away. Make sure you’re committed to stay the course and reinforcing the message with action, through behaviors and future decision-making.

Continue to let your employees know you’re assessing the organization and you will report back when it’s the right time to move ahead. Respect your employees for having their say. Repeat the message in company updates and begin emails with, “Because you shared …” They will feel valued and therefore get on board.

AUTHOR:  Matthew Jagoda is the chief people officer at Shutterstock, a content licensing company that includes images, videos and music. 

Reprinted from WORKFORCE

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