There are two key elements to defining your culture; the values a person believes in and the behaviors a person should demonstrate. To define your culture with your team, you can brainstorm together. Provide your team with at least a week to think about the three most important qualities a person possesses or believes in that will make the company successful. Ask everyone to provide feedback in one or two word answers. Take those value descriptors and put them onto one page. Utilize Wordle to create a word picture that highlights the most common words and phrases your team presented. This is a great representation of your company’s values, and from here you should narrow the values down to the most important and frequently used four or five values.
Once that task is complete, you are ready to communicate the values to your team. Remember that your values won’t have an impact on your team if you don’t bring them to life. Here are a few methods to incorporate your values and socialize your team to embody them:
Place the values onto posters, small cards, and computer screensavers. They need to be seen. Like all things, if your values are out of sight, then they will be out of mind. You need to see them to remember to talk about them.
Discuss the values in every meeting. Set aside five minutes at the start of each meeting to talk about how the values are impacting decisions and activities. If you are not talking about it, then it’s not important. Buffer, a company known for social media management and customer support, makes the communication of their values a priority every day through “daily pair calls” where everyone is engaged in one-on-one conversations about challenges, improvements, and their values.
When a decision is being made, ask yourself if the decision is aligned with the values your company believes in. One of the most important parts of having clearly defined values is the elimination of arbitrary decision making. Values, if created strategically, should guide your company in the right direction and trump subjective decisions by any member of the team.
Speaking of decisions, one of the most important ones you make early in your business is staffing of critical positions. Create behavioral questions that require people to articulate situations where they had to engage in behaviors that exemplify your values. An example of a behavioral question that supports the value of ‘creativity’ might be, “Tell me about a time when you had to come up with a solution to a problem. Tell me about the process you went through and the resources you used.”
Utilize your values during the onboarding process to ensure you found the right fit within 90 days of hire. SumAll, a data analytics company, has found testing new hires on their values in the first 90 days is important because their company’s transparent culture is not something that everyone wants or can be successful within. They created a 45-day onboarding program that quickly determines fit and a person’s ability to be great on their team.
Reward and recognize your people based on exhibiting your values. It is important to be able to reward the right efforts, something that Boundless, a Boston-based company that provides educational resources and textbooks via cloud technology, does very well. They present the Cultural Achievement Award in meetings to team members who exemplify their company values.
Counsel those who do not exhibit your values, and don’t wait too long to cut someone lose. Always consider cultural fit in determining someone’s performance. At SGEi, we utilize the Four Types of Associate, made famous by GE and Jack Welch, to consider both results and cultural fit in creating a person’s performance plan. You cannot tolerate someone in your company who doesn’t fit culturally.
Remember that you have to believe in your values. Have you ever listened to someone talk about something they obviously don’t believe in? They lose all credibility and integrity. Walk your talk—it doesn’t matter who you are or what your position is—your integrity and credibility is your most important asset as a businessperson.
Lastly, I want to discuss the need to evolve your values as you bring on more people and evolve as a company. SGEi suggests having your values in place before you exceed six employees, and then suggests challenging those values once you reach 18 employees. By challenging and evolving your values you will help ensure relevancy, diversity, and continued buy-in from everyone on the team.
If you want to take charge of your company’s future, consciously define the values that you want to steer it. Use those values as a standard to hire, make decisions, hold people accountable, and share ideas. As your company grows with those values as its foundation, you’ll see your own unique culture begin to take shape all on its own, and you won’t have to copy the values of a company you admire. Good luck.
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