Updated: Jan 20
This article is the second in a series about organizational values. This piece explores how to uncover your company values, and includes a worksheet with different frameworks we found useful when working with our clients on their values.
Values are essential in helping propagate meaning in teams, and can significantly help team members connect with the purpose of their work (we elaborate more on this in the first part of the series). Companies need to know how to effectively communicate and live by their values and truly place them at the core of everything they do. Every individual in the company should see those values as first principles. While it may sound obvious, the first step is to know what those values are. In this article, we discuss how to clarify and document your company values.
Value in large scale organizations vs. small teams
The process of documenting the values of large scale organizations requires thorough discussions between executives using a clear discovery and decision making process and with an eye to public perception is a lot more complex than that of smaller and founder-led organizations. The advantage of running this exercise in smaller organizations is that the process can be more unconstrained, and inclusive of everyone in the organization.
There are no good or bad values. The beauty of small companies is that you can stay true to your core, without being influenced by public perception or consensus. In that sense, there is less pressure on the curation and copywriting. For example, caring about profitability is a value that can be perceived negatively because the public generally perceives company values as indicators of moral judgements. But values are not about moral compasses. Their role in a company is to work as pointers on how to behave and how to make the right decisions on behalf of the organization.
What matters is not the wording of values, but how we live by them. Values are difficult to understand if you don’t explain the positive behaviors associated with them, also known as virtues. You can clarify virtues by specifying first which values you believe people within your organization should abide by (stating your values), and then giving examples of how those values are acted upon. For example: We believe in being compassionate, and we go the extra mile to be understanding, empathic, and helpful, with our coworkers as well as with our customers. Going the extra mile to be compassionate could mean being mindful of time zone differences when starting meetings, or making an effort to check in on each other. Stating your virtues while uncovering your values can be useful in helping employees practically visualize the kinds of behaviors that reinforce a value and those that undermine it. When communicating your values, during onboarding or a workshop, you should always mention the specific actions that align with those virtues.
While it’s important that values and virtues are specific enough to guide behaviors, it’s necessary that they remain simple. To quote Patrick Lencioni, a thought leader on the topic of company values, in this interview with Forbes: “Be extremely clear about the most important things in your organization and turn people loose within those parameters.” Overcomplicating or overstating your values and virtues will only make it more difficult to align with them, so when you are in the process of uncovering them, don’t feel pressured to reinvent the wheel. Instead, focus on the values and virtues that leaders and employees already express and believe in.
When is the right time to document your values?
Although we recommend writing your values in the early days of your organization, many companies don’t formalize these until much later in their growth phase. In our first article on values, we shared that Google updates their values every year to make sure they are aligned and up to date with what they are currently doing - there is nothing wrong with coming up with your values as you go! In fact, it can be an opportunity to keep learning and evolving without being fixated on a set of words.
To uncover your values, you can refer to the frameworks in this worksheet, and run them with your team(s).
If you need help in running this exercise or in (re)defining your company values, contact us - We help organizations establish, document, and communicate their values.
We will be publishing other articles about company values, so stay up to date and sign up to our newsletter here for the latest update and insights from Cosmic Centaurs!