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Company Values: How to Create, Formalize and Use Them on a Daily Basis

Posted by Catherine Jelinek on May 25, 2016

As I’ve written before, Junto does not preach or push a specific methodology for running a company. That said, there certainly are common business practices that our Apprentices adopt and integrate as a result of the program. One of these is the process of drafting, formalizing and integrating company values.Having recently been through this process ourselves for The Junto Institute as a business, and observing it with our Alumni and Apprentice companies, I’ve identified a few common practices and experiences.  

Drafting: Make Them Actionable & Operational

During our first cohort, Raman and I were the only members of the JuntoTeam. As the program progressed, several Instructors and Mentors referenced company values, and I asked Raman if we should put our own in place. He gave me the project of brainstorming a potential list.

What did I do? I came up with a long list of words, including things like “integrity” and “professionalism”. After sharing this list with Raman, he questioned me on how we would know if we are living “integrity”. We went on to debate this for at least a half-hour. To make a long-ish story short, when a value is just one word, it leaves a lot up to a person’s interpretation of that word.

Raman shared that the best values statements he had seen were operational and actionable.

Operational means the values reflect the behaviors, language, and habits that are used and practiced in actual day-to-day operations. Actionable means that the value clearly explains a way we aspire and choose to interact and communicate. And the value isn’t as vague and debatable as one-word.

For instance, rather than just saying “integrity”, some companies adopt a value statement like “We do the right thing every time” or “We do what we say and say what we do.”

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Formalizing: A Process with Your People

Even though our discussions about our company values began in 2013, we did not choose to formalize them until late 2015.

Why? One reason is, as mentioned above, we wanted them to emerge from our operation and how we actually ran the business. In our first years, those operational standards were still forming.  

The second reason is we didn’t want the values to just come from the two of us, the founders. We wanted them to come from a team of people. As our graduates will attest, several JuntoInstructors, notably Nick Sarillo and Tom Walter, believe in involving the entire company (and if not every single person, then a representative subset) in the formation of the values.

Therefore, last year we convened our company, at the time a group of five full-timers, part-timers, and interns, and held three separate sessions. These sessions varied from one hour to a half-day.

Before the first session, we gave everyone homework to draft actionable statements they felt reflected the values and culture we all lived together. Then at the first session, after capturing everyone’s ideas, we began to discuss the similar concepts and form agreed-upon language around consistent themes.

We held a second session to continue working on the wording and agreed on 5-7 core concepts we wanted to create values around. This process was completed with a final one-hour session to debate the finer points of the wording and settle on the six values we have in place today.

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Integration: Living the Values

Many companies come this far only to save their values in a folder or post them on a wall, and not look at them, talk about them, or most importantly, be accountable for living them.

How do can you actively use values in the day-to-day? There are countless stories about how companies do this, and below are a few from us, our Alumni and our Instructors.

 

Vetting Job Candidates

Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, has a sheet with their company’s purpose and values stapled on top of every job application. When an applicant comes into Nick’s and asks about any openings, they are handed the packet and asked to read through the values and purpose first before applying.

Nick has shared that applicants that are just looking for a job and don’t know what to make of “all this B.S.” oftentimes hand the application back and walk away. Those who want to work for a company that feels more like a family and are dedicated to creating an unforgettable place for their community (two of Nick’s core values) are applicants who align with the purpose and values and become only more interested in applying.

We have done the same with our job descriptions.

 

Asking Applicants Values-Based Questions

In the screening interviews for our most recent job opening, we ask applicants questions that inform us on how they align with our values. Our first value is “We practice what we preach and teach.”

When hiring, we want to attract and find people who put real actions, energy and time behind their core beliefs; we look for alignment of both word and deed. So one question we ask applicants is “What is something that you believe in?” And if not explained right away, we follow-up with “How do you live that in your day-to-day?”.

One applicant responded that she really believes in caring for the environment and this has led to her becoming vegetarian and helping her roommates recycle regularly. And that’s what we are looking for with that question: a demonstration that the applicant follows their beliefs with actions, and practices what they personally preach.

 

Attracting Aligned Clients

Earlybird, a JuntoIII alum, uses their values to vet prospective clients and work with those who believe what they believe. Every project proposal that Earlybird sends to a potential client has their values on the cover page so the prospect reads that before getting into the finer details. Andrew Parnell, CEO of Earlybird, told us that doing this has helped them find clients that are a better fit, close them faster, and create stronger alignment from the get-go.

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Solving Day-to-Day Issues

 Tasty Catering has their values posted all around their office and kitchen. As Tom Walter, CEO, shares in his lass on Company Culture, neither he nor the other executives at Tasty need to be walking around policing activities and enforcing values alignment. Instead, all the employees (including those in the “front office” as well as in the kitchen) self-police by using the values to makedecisions and solve day-to-day challenges.

Nick Sarillo, who teaches our Operations & Metrics Class, also uses the company values to solve daily problems. He shares that no one needs to come to him to ask how to handle certain situations. Instead, the values are a guidepost that help empower every team member to solve challenges themselves. He refers regularly to their “Issues → Values → Solution” pathway that encourages employees to solve problems themselves, consulting the values before asking someone else what to do.

* * *

Drafting, formalizing and integrating company values requires time, keen observation, team collaboration and most importantly, consistently diligent action. The best values are not vague and lofty words, written on a page, and stored at the bottom of a drawer. They are organic, evolving and living behaviors of an aligned group of people. Values can be a key to driving stronger culture, and as company leaders, we simply have to take the actions to turn and use that key, everyday.

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