Every day, your employees will face decisions both big and small. A customer asks for their money back two days past the one-month refund period. Does your customer support specialist grant the request? An engineering deadline has come and passed. Does your tech lead decide to release the product even though they’re not confident about its performance? A manager is dismissive to their direct report during a meeting. Do their team members speak up or say nothing?
These decisions often have major consequences—for your brand, your customer experience, your workplace health, your profits, and, ultimately, your company’s future. And the bigger your organization grows, the harder it’ll be for you to know that these decisions are being made at all. So how can you make sure your employees are making the right call?
Well, the short answer is, you can’t. You have to hire well and trust they’ll make good decisions. But you can help—by giving them company values to guide their choices.
Company values, or the fundamental beliefs and principles that dictate how your leaders and employees behave, are extremely important. Strong values will help your entire team act in sync. Weak ones will hurt morale and cause confusion.
The good news is, it’s never too late to reassess your values (or choose some in the first place, if you haven’t yet!). Here are some tips for choosing inspiring company values:
Make them specific
The more specific your philosophy is, the more valuable it’ll be. “Teamwork” isn’t a bad value, but it’s relatively vague. “Failing as a team is better than succeeding as an individual” is better. This mantra would help steer someone in a tricky situation; for example, maybe a customer service rep could hit their personal ticket quota with no trouble if they didn’t help any of the new people on the team. With this value in mind, however, hopefully they’d put the team first and dedicate some time to advising newbies.
Similarly, “transparency” is a good thing to aspire to, yet its vagueness makes it harder to practice on a daily basis. Something like “We never penalize people for speaking the truth, even when it hurts—as long as you do it respectfully!” is much clearer.
Challenge yourself to keep adapting your values until they’re detailed and specific.
Make them unique
Strong company values are unique to the organization. Take Airbnb’s company values—while it has just four, they’re each distinctly Airbnb:
- Be a host
- Champion the mission
- Be a cereal entrepreneur
- Embrace the adventure
“Be a host” embodies the idea of making others feel welcome, communicating openly, and treating people with respect (it also nods to the Airbnb product, of course!). “Champion the mission” means think of the long-term plan and participate in the community. “Be a cereal entrepreneur” comes from Airbnb’s founding and encourages employees to take risks. And finally, “Embrace the adventure” represents being curious, working with joy, and accepting failure when it happens.
No other company could have this set of values—which makes it all the more powerful.
Make them shared
Company values don’t matter if no one believes in them. What’s the most effective way to promote your values among your team and get people to practice them? Invite them into the process. After all, it’s always much easier to believe in a philosophy when you’ve had a hand in shaping it.
If your company values haven’t been written yet, ask your employees to submit ideas—or if you have a big organization, to vote on your top 10 choices.
If your company values already exist, consider letting your team review them. It might be time for some changes; as companies evolve, their values should too.
Giving your employees a voice will make your values that much stronger.