Over the past months, I have worked with a team of collaborators to update the strategic core of Thinkergy to better align this to the fundamental changes of the business environment following the ongoing global pandemic and the advent of the Sixth Wave of technological innovations. When you reshape the essential strategic core of your business with your executive team, you revisit the WHY you’re in business (corporate vision and mission), the HOW you want to do business (corporate values), and the WHAT you want to offer to the world and do in the marketplace (value propositions and related strategic actions to create them).
In his excellent book of the same title, Simon Sinek suggests to Start With Why as the most important question and then asking HOW as the most challenging question to convincingly answer for most businesses. We’ve just updated our Thinkergy values to better align them to our future strategic roadmap. I share Sinek’s view that finding and animating fitting values is hard thought-work. Today, let’s talk about the importance of corporate values, and please allow me to share some tips on how you can first find the right ones for your business and then bring them to life for your people.
What are (corporate) values?
Values are a person’s or organization’s principles or standards of behavior that are based on their judgment of what’s important in life or business. As such, corporate values outline general principles of conduct of how a company wants to undergo its business activities.
People and organizations vary in their values based on differences in their preferred cognitive styles and fundamental base orientations (which I have captured in TIPS (Thinkergy’s innovator profiling system) as well as their preferred ways of doing things. For example, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson are successful entrepreneurs and billionaires who built their business empires based on their almost diametrically opposite individual value systems. Likewise, the organizational values of a government agency are likely to be very different from those of a creative agency, and the corporate values of a logistics company most probably vary noticeably from those of a strategy consulting firm.
The values of a new venture often reflect the individual values of its founder or founders. These initial values may change and evolve later when professional managers run the company. Moreover, in different industries, specific values tend to dominate. For example, corporate values such as security, honesty, or integrity can often be found in finance, while firms in creative industries emphasize values like curiosity, creativity, or surprise.
Why are good corporate values so important
For executives, taking the time to formulate and operationalize a strong set of corporate values that fit the corporate vision and mission of their business pays many dividends down the line:
- Your corporate values signal to all stakeholders of your business (customers, shareholders, managers, employees, suppliers, government offices, and society at large) how your organization wants to conduct itself.
- Well-formulated corporate values are instrumental in developing a strong corporate culture that moves the organization toward the desired future vision. Executives can role-model the chosen values to managers and employees by exemplifying the selected principles of conduct in their daily behaviors.
- A concise set of corporate values allows managers and frontline employees to make decisions more quickly and effectively by judging different options based on how well they hold up to the relevant organizational values.
- In the hiring process, well-defined corporate values can help bring the right people on board who can live up to the agreed-upon values. For example, having clear values allows interviewing managers to ask specific questions that give hints on how a candidate intends to approach certain values in their everyday
5 tips on how to create a strong set of the right values
1. Find the right values for your business.
To arrive at the right corporate values in the first place (or update your existing ones), consider following these steps:
- Start with Why. To find the right values, first review your corporate mission and vision to remind everyone of why you do what you do.
- Then, create a shortlist of ca. 20 possible values (out of a total of roughly 5-6 dozens of possible corporate values that can be found in the literature).
- Next, let each member of the executive team determine their 5-6 top values.
- You can do this more analytically with the help of a Paired Comparison Grid, or in a more intuitive way by moving the shortlisted values up and down on a “Value Pyramid”.
- By the end of the previous step, 2-3 core values emerge that most or even all members of the executive team agreed on. For the other values, have everyone explain why they think a particular value is important.
- Discuss the remaining values to build consensus on which values are more likely to contribute to successful vision and mission achievement.
- Alternatively, move to a higher level of abstraction by looking for a way to capture two values with the help of a higher-order value. For example, you might unify the values of trustworthiness and responsibility with the higher-order value of integrity.
I recommend foregoing the widespread practice to choose values starting with your company’s letters. Why? The result often looks contrived and sometimes even comical. For example, at Thinkergy, we don’t spell our values as teamwork, honesty, innovation, novelty, kindheartedness, enthusiasm, resourcefulness, greatness, and youthfulness. We have carefully crafted the Thinkergy values following the steps outlined above, which resulted in the following six values: Value (Creation), Play+ (Playful Positivity), Creativity, Wow, Action, and Growth.
#2. Define what you understand under each value.
Now that you have settled on a set of corporate values as the executive team, what do you have? Five to six nouns. As Simon Sinek explains: “But nouns are not actionable. They are things. You can’t build systems or develop incentives around those things. It’s nearly impossible to hold people accountable to nouns.”
So the first thing to make your values actionable is to define in plain words what you understand under each value. For example, what do we mean by the value WOW?
“We value the WOW. At Thinkergy, we know how to wow. We believe that the world needs more wow-creators, more wow-solutions, and more wow-moments to seize the opportunities of the Sixth Wave and rise to humanity’s fundamental challenges. And that’s why we share our wow know-how with worthy parties, thus enabling them to also do the wow.”
#3. Operationalize each value in concrete behaviors
Once you’ve defined each of your corporate values, your people have a rough idea of how you want them to do things at work. However, defining it isn’t good enough to clarify how you expect your managers and employees to live a particular value. So, better operationalize each value with 2-3 simple behaviors.
The word “behavior” can be defined as the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others. As such, corporate behaviors exemplify actions or principles of conduct that bring a particular corporate value to life at work. For example, at Thinkergy, we animate the value Play+ (= Playful Positivity) using three desired behaviors and related behavioral descriptions:
- Team Play (“We work and play hard together as a team.”),
- Can-Do attitude (“We practice ‘Yes. we can. Yes, we will.’ We find a way to do it.”), and
- Assertiveness (“We act & communicate with respect — and dislike B.S.”).
#4. Create a tagline or a short mantra for each behavior
You can make life even easier for everyone by exploring if you can exemplify each desired behavior in a snappy motto or —even better— a short mantra. Let me explain the difference by sharing how we animate Discipline (the first of three desired behaviors related to our corporate value Action):
- A motto is a short sentence or phrase encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family, or institution. A great motto expressing what we mean with Discipline goes as follows: “Discipline means doing what you don’t want to but know you have to out of respect for yourself and others.”
- In contrast, a mantra is a short statement or slogan repeated frequently. We have also shortened the Discipline motto to a catchy mantra: “Just do it!” (Big thanks to Nike!)
#5. Update your values from time to time as your company evolves
If you take the previous four steps to heart, you arrive at a solid corporate value system that defines how you want to do things in your organization and will serve you well for many years. As time passes, however, changes in your company’s market environment or industry might make it necessary to refresh some of your values to stay competitive and relevant.
In addition, when your venture passes through the corporate lifestyle (with the four stages of value creation, sales growth, consolidation, and maturity & slow decline) into a new stage, you might also want to review and evolve some of your values. For example, with Thinkergy, after having created an integrated suite of premium innovation methods in the first phase of our corporate life cycle, we will move into the second phase. In the 2020s, our primary focus will shift from value creation to dynamic sales growth and expanding our market presence and teams. Hence, we have recently replaced the former value (belief) in the center of our value system with a new one: growth.
Conclusion: A great time to review your corporate values is now
“It’s the discipline to never veer from your cause, to hold yourself accountable to HOW you do things; that’s the hardest part. Making it even more difficult for ourselves, we remind ourselves of our values by writing them on the wall… as nouns. We remind ourselves of our values by writing them on the wall… as nouns. But nouns are not actionable. They are things. You can’t build systems or develop incentives around those things. It’s nearly impossible to hold people accountable to nouns. (…) For values or guiding principles to be truly effective, they have to be verbs.”
—Simon Sinek, Start with Why
In the 2020s, the business world will undoubtedly change dynamically thanks to the advent of the Sixth Wave of leading-edge technological change. So, 2022 is an excellent year for your company’s executive team to revisit the strategic core of your business and realign it to the evolving business environment.
- Would you want us to help you develop a set of well-fitting corporate values and related behaviors for your business? Or perhaps even help you reshape the entire strategic core of your business to align it to the Sixth Wave technologies better? Contact us to tell us more about your organization and your current challenges.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. The article will be reprinted in a shorter version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.