For many businesses, talk of “company values” only exists on their website. But, in light of the recent debacle at Uber, the type of culture you create from top to bottom in your workplace–its avenues of communication, the essence of your product or service, your customer and relationship strategies, and the accountability measures you put in place–has never been so socially relevant. But this isn’t just an opportunity to deepen your brand identity; it’s a wake-up call to anyone who hasn’t considered company culture an essential component of long-term viability.

Creating the ideal work environment for you and your employees doesn’t simply revolve around on-site pinball machines, free beer, and skateboard transportation throughout the office. If you want your startup to survive, the goals and values, as well as the internal transparency with which you scale your company will heavily determine whether or not you’re able to surround yourself with people that actually share your vision. Establishing company values is by no means an afternoon’s errand, but here’s a good place to start:

1) Define your values early.

As Danny Crichton, investor at Charles River Ventures, says, “It’s very difficult to undo a negative culture. And the problem is that once culture gets baked in, it’s basically done.”

Whether your startup is still made up of a small group, or departments are already beginning to fill out, there’s only one way to arrive at genuine company values: democratize, democratize, democratize. Begin by tasking everyone in the company takes the time to delineate what they think the company’s existing strengths are, along with the elements of any job and its leadership that make their efforts meaningful. Then hold a meeting to review these responses–how they overlap, how they reveal what holes still exist within the emerging value structure.

2) Create strategies to articulate your values within your company and beyond it.

Merely defining values is not enough–you’ve only made it as far as that stereotypical “Company Mission” page with grandiose, empty abstractions sprinkled throughout. Freada Kapor Klein, co-founder of Klein Capital, likens value implementation to more traditional business goal-setting:

“Companies set business goals all the time. They use these goals to check their progress and hold themselves accountable to the metrics. If a company is not taking the same approach to culture then they’re showing you that they aren’t taking it as seriously as they take other business goals.”

Though values can’t necessarily be measured as conveniently as revenue and ROI, they certainly contribute to these metrics.

3) Hire like you mean it.

The initial core of your company may have taken you this far, but diversifying your talent pool in every way–age, gender, race, academic background, professional background, etc.–only helps to ensure you’ve got the depth of acumen needed to help your company grow.

Corey McAveeney, founder at Kulturenvy, an online community and resource that helps startups define their company culture, warns in a Wired article: “The real trouble is, many companies believe that hiring for cultural fit translates to finding someone just like all the other employees. This is a lazy way to focus on culture.”

A group of people can share the same vision and goals, yet still exist within a tension, created by different backgrounds and experiences, that actually sparks a constructive energy.

4) Maintain transparency at all stages of growth.

The more your employees understand the reward and accountability structures in place, the better everyone will be at responding accordingly, regardless of the situation. This is how executives earn the trust of their team, while the team earns the trust of their executive to represent the company in a positive light.

Also in her article, McAveeney highlights Boundless, a company that provides free digital textbooks, and its strategy for transparency:

“At team meetings [cofounder and CEO Ariel Diaz] presents a ‘Cultural Achievement Award’ to employees who have exemplified one of the four company values, represented by: The Beast (the hardest worker), The Architect (the best strategist), Indiana Jones/Lara Croft (the dedicated adventurer looking for results), and The Most Interesting Person In the World (a well-rounded, funny, charismatic individual). Even as the team at Boundless expands, there is a clear understanding of the expectations and purpose.”

5) Continually reevaluate adherence to your value system.

As your company grows, the old strategies for communicating your values may no longer cut it. Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, recounts a time when other CEOs at a convention challenged him to call a random employee ask that employee to name the company’s core values:

“She [the employee who answered the phone] said, easy, simple and she went on. I was like, oh, that’s really interesting, because she was [supposed to be] describing our people, right? She was describing our product. You wouldn’t describe our people as simple and easy. They [the values] didn’t describe our product, our customers, what we build, how we build it, how we interact with each other on a daily basis, or how we talk to our customers.”

For example, if you’re an athletic equipment company, you and your employees should mirror the culture and values found in sports: where organized fun and unselfishness reign supreme.

Where vision and values seamlessly meet

As southeastern NC’s premiere innovation and entrepreneurial center, tekMountain strives to connect the brightest minds with the means to realize their innovative dreams. By providing startup space and engaging in a variety of business partnerships, we’ve time and again helped companies to outline and embody their core values.

Contact tekMountain today if you’d like to learn more about shaping your company’s ideal culture.

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