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How to Create Company Values That Employees Embrace

Company Core ValuesWhen your company created its core values, do you know if it was a “checkbox exercise,” or something that was supposed to motivate employees and drive your company culture? For some companies, core values can be nothing more than words to add to an About Us page on a website. But company values should be much more. They can be guiding principles that inform everything a company and its employees do. In the pandemic era, they can also serve to guide your virtual workforce. When company values drive the actions of employees and how companies actually operate, customers are more likely to do business with you.

“Core values determine your culture. Your culture determines behavior. Behavior determines performance.” — Sue Hawkes, Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Implementer/Author

According to Sue Hawkes, EOS Implementer/Author, “If you’re having issues with performance or behavior, or your culture isn’t where you want it to be, check in with your core values. You’ll know exactly what to do to affect the change you want.”[i]

Now that we’ve established the importance of company values, how do you create authentic values that are demonstrated by company leadership and embraced by employees across your entire organization? It’s a process and one that should be driven not from the top down, but the bottom up. If you want values to be accepted and adopted by all employees, be sure to include cross-functional teams comprised of individual contributors (those that are on the front lines) in the creation process.

Creating Company Values That Employees Embrace

Here are a few key steps to establish your company’s core values and best define your company culture.

  1. Get Your Team Involved: Create a volunteer company values committee comprised of a cross-functional team of employees from all levels of the organization. This will give you a true understanding of what employees think of the work environment and the underlying culture that you are trying to define. An employee-driven approach creates a much more authentic and meaningful set of values with immediate buy-in.
  2. Encourage Input: Have your committee brainstorm a list of values they feel represent the company and culture through meetings, breakout sessions, and even interviewing other employees who are not on the committee. At Arena, we started by sharing information committee members gathered from peer interviews to spark discussions and information sharing. Be sure to let employees know their involvement is critical and encourage them to be open and creative when providing their input.
  3. Keep It Focused: You’ll want to determine how many core values are appropriate. There isn’t a set rule, but you’ll want a manageable number. Many companies select three or four key values so that their employees can easily recall and consider them in their daily interactions with peers, managers, customers, partners, and prospects.
  4. Iterate: Once you’ve gathered all of the feedback from your committee, you’ll want to review the complete list and identify common themes. Breaking into small groups will foster more discussion and encourage brainstorming. Following those breakout discussions, each group can then share their thoughts with the larger committee to reach a short list of values. If you can’t reach a consensus, then review and discuss the values until you do. Creating the short list may require more than one discussion or meeting.
  5. Present to Leadership: Once you’ve agreed on a final proposed list of company values, it’s time to present to the executive team for feedback and approval. Make sure several committee members are involved in presenting and sharing the reasons why each value was selected. Stories carry weight, so if there are real-life stories that support why a given value was chosen, be sure to share those. While you’re not trying to “sell” the executives, you do want them to understand and feel the emotion behind the selected values.
  6. Keep Values Alive: After the leadership team has agreed to adopt the company values, it’s time to promote them within and outside your organization. One way is to present them in a company all-hands meeting where various committee members can share the rationale, as was done with the executive team. You can then add the values to your website to inspire current and future employees along with your targeted customers. You might also post them physically in your office or on your employee intranet or wiki. Regardless of where you promote them, it’s important to make sure your employees know them well to remind them how these values should drive their daily work and interactions.

Arena Company Values

Team Brainstorm Session“At Arena, we had an idea of what values our employees cared about, but until we got input from all teams, we didn’t crystalize on what the top core values were that drove our culture,” said Erin Teter, Vice President Human Resources for Arena. “We’re proud of our company values and our employees now strive to encompass them in our daily work.” Our cross-functional team owned the process reviewed above to arrive at our core values. Our values describe who we are, what we stand for, and how we act. More importantly, these values help us determine the best way to interact in any situation. These values have become the backbone of our company culture and what we aspire to. We want to provide great software solutions that help companies design and deliver innovative products. But, we want to do that while embracing these values:

  • We invest in shared success – We partner with our customers and are invested in their success
  • We believe in flexibility – We recognize that work and life blend together, so we value a casual and flexible workplace
  • We seek transparency – Our leaders set the tone from the top down with transparency, honesty, and accessibility
  • We value trustworthiness – We take the privacy and security of our customers’ data seriously, providing them with a highly reliable and secure solution

This year, more than ever, determining your company’s core values and keeping them alive is so important. As employees work remotely, they need to feel engaged and know they’re working for the same common goal. Having a foundation of these guiding principles will be quite valuable to help your employees and the company as a whole.

What are your company’s core values? How do they impact employee behavior and culture at your company?