“Well-defined values don’t sound like the safe platitudes of a Hallmark card” – Patrick M. Lencioni, Management guru
Lencioni also wrote that “Most values statements are bland, toothless, or just plain dishonest. [They] create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility.”
For early stage startups, formal value statements are multi-functional; they should help your team understand and act on your internal best practices and empower them to make decisions that will benefit the company as a whole.
These values are the boundaries within which your business will operate in pursuit of its goals, and set the tone for day-to-day operations.
Think of core values as one of the three pillars of principle holding up your business operations; the other two being mission and vision.
In this Process Street article, we’ll explore why core values are important, how they align with mission and vision, and some examples of core values from other companies.
We’ve also got some statements from our own team about how they live and act on our own internal values in their day-to-day work.
- Start with why
- Vision, vale, and mission statements
- Why core values are important
- Examples of core company values
- How the Process Street team lives our core values
- Core values: the backbone of daily business operations
Start with why
Some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others fall short. To attempt to explain this, Simon Sinek talks about the “Golden Circle”.
Every organization understands “what” they do.
Some of those organizations understand “how” they do (or should be doing) it.
And according to Sinek, relatively few people or organizations know “why” they do what they do.
Here “why” refers to purpose – in other words, what is driving you to do what you are doing? And why should anyone care?
Inspired leaders and organizations all think, act, and communicate from the inside-out.
Often, a startup’s mission or vision statement will encompass the “why”.
Core values, then, might be better understood as the groundwork you set down beneath the “how”. They allow internal employees as well as external stakeholders (including customers) to align themselves with the “why” in a way that is clear, actionable, and grounded in the work that the business is doing on a daily basis.
What are core values (& why are core values important?)
Core values, also referred to as “values statements” (not to be confused with a “value statement” or “value proposition”) are a short list of concise, actionable values that should aim to capture the priorities and operational spirit of the organization. Core values should help your employees and customers understand what is important to your business, and put a window pane up against your company culture.
Ideally, core values are effective both internally and externally. As well as being a guide for internal operations, it should also serve as a marketing message that speaks to your core audience.
If your core values pander too much to your external stakeholders (and are not grounded in clear, actionable language) you run the risk of confusing and demoralizing employees with a limp, hollow message.
Likewise, if your core value statement is too clinical or technical, and designed with pure operational efficiency in mind, you may potentially alienate external stakeholders by delivering a message that has no chance of captivating or compelling them.
During early growth stages when you first begin to consider your core values, it’s worth considering how a values statement differs from mission and vision statements, so you can be sure each component does its job without watering down or hindering the effectiveness of the other.
Vision, value and mission statements
- Core values (value statement) – What’s important to your company, what it prioritizes, and how it conducts itself.
- Mission statement – Why your company exists, usually by saying what it aims to do in the short-term.
- Vision statement – A long-term view of what the company wants to achieve.
Why core values are important
Core values are important because they clearly define and illuminate the behaviour and operations that your organisation has approved as “best practice”. If done well, core values will also demonstrate personality and send a clear brand message.
This acts as an anchor for almost all work done in your business.
It can help unite teams and eliminate ambiguity around how to resolve issues or make decisions.
It will help you onboard new employees by clearly communicating company culture and expectations.
It will resonate with your core audience by showing that you care about the same things as they do.
Almost any internal (and often external) operation will be made easier for new and old employees alike with a firm foundation of core values to rest upon. Not to mention that clearly defined core values help to stave off bad habits and essentially function as a form of preventative risk management.
Examples of core company values
Process Street’s core values
Process Street’s mission is to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless.
Our vision is to be the world’s leading no-code workflow automation & collaboration platform, as well as the world’s largest repository of business operational knowledge.
And our internal company values, designed with actionability and directness in mind, are here to help everyone on the team support and move the dial towards our mission and vision:
- Act like an owner
- Default to action
- Focus on the process
- Practice prioritization
- Pay attention to details
- Over-communicate everything, twice
We make a point to over-communicate these core values during regular all-hands meetings. We share thoughts and observations on how our team is acting on these values in their everyday work. This serves as both a reminder and an acknowledgement of good work, which is especially important for remote teams like ours.
Our core values help to align our internal teams around a common practice and also reflect the importance we place on using processes to optimize the work we do as a company.
Revolut’s core values
FinTech company Revolut has made it clear that they care about core values by producing short explainer videos for each one of them.
This highlights the potential of core values as public-facing signifiers that can help with brand image as well as recruiting (all of the videos point the viewer to the career section of their website for current job openings).
Here are Revolut’s core values (with the video for each linked):
Slack’s core values
“These are some of the values we live by, as a company. We work by them too. We’re building a platform and products we believe in, knowing that there is real value to be gained from helping people simplify whatever it is that they do and bring more of themselves to their work, wherever they are.”
Slack is first and foremost a tool for sharing knowledge within organizations. This first value reflects the understanding that, as a software, part of Slack’s functional value is how it interprets user input; “empathy” here is understanding the user’s needs and goals when using the product.
Slack’s core values are another external-facing statement aligned with their recruitment efforts, presented on their careers page.
On their careers page you can find open job listings, alongside additional programs and initiatives they have in place for diversity and inclusivity hiring.
You can also find info about additional perks associated with working for Slack (like parental perks and healthcare).
Discord’s core values
- Upside Down Leadership
- Small & Mighty Teams
- Unleash Talent
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint
“Years ago, when starting the company that became Discord, I wanted to build a workplace that was rewarding, challenging, and positive. To achieve this, I started with a simple question, “How do you create a place where people can thrive doing their best work?” – Jason Citron, Founder/CEO of Discord
In a blog post unpacking Discord’s core values, Citron cites Dan Pink’s TED Talk on The Puzzle of Motivation as an inspiration for choosing four values that he believes create the kind of environment that talented top performers thrive in: autonomy, mastery, purpose, and compassion.
How we live our core values at Process Street
Our values are a big part of how we communicate as a team (after all, one of our core values is over-communicate everything twice!)
So during our regular all-hands meetings, we make a point to highlight our core values by offering a small window of time for a team member to talk about how they have practiced (or observed) core values recently.
In the spirit of living our core values, I asked our team the same question; here’s what they had to say.
Brian Ralston, Customer Success Manager
- Act like an owner: Everyone’s hands fly up to take ownership of a project, where in some organizations you hear crickets and people shy away from taking on additional tasks.
- Practice prioritization: Meetings are very well structured to maximize efficiency and prioritize what is important for that meeting.
- Default to action: Similar to act like an owner, people take charge and GSD.
- Pay attention to details: Sometimes things take a bit longer than expected but we’d rather provide the right information and do it right the first time.
- Focus on the process: Onboarding has been tough at times but if I focus on the resources I have available and trust what the team is telling me I know I’ll get more comfortable with the product but it just takes time.
- Over-communicate everything, twice: We reiterate a lot of the same information in meetings, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Sales (Rob Lane, Product Specialist)
- Act like an owner: This is a default requirement to succeed at an early stage startup. If you look at the employees that do well and stay for 3+ yrs, most have an entrepreneurial background in some way shape or form. So I think this mentality either directly or indirectly is part of the hiring process. I think this is true for the CS and Sales team, not sure about other teams. On the sales side, since we are a horizontal product we have so many unique use cases. So when an AE has an opportunity with an unfamiliar use case, they need to act like an owner and learn on the fly about the use case and/or industry, which involves googling and asking other reps (Sale or CS), they need to be very proactive.
- Practice prioritization: Focusing on deals that are most likely to close, or tasks that will have the biggest impact (work on lead flow automation, ahead of a ‘nice to have’ report)
- Default to action: I think this ties into the points I made for act like an owner, but for example if you’re performing a security audit [which can require sign off and approvals from various individuals], you might work on the questions you can answer using available documentation, and then once you’ve done that, you could pass on the more complex questions to the Engineering team. So you default to doing the parts you can do yourself.
- Pay attention to details: We use checklists for a lot of sales processes, and that helps us to pay attention to detail by breaking the process up into smaller, digestible chunks. But custom proposals with custom terms require a lot of attention to detail, and multiple reviews. Anything you are presenting to a client will need a high level of attention to detail.
- Focus on the process: We use processes to help us work more efficiently; we have checklists for proposal generation and approval, for example, and they help us to eliminate recurring manual tasks.
- Over-communicate everything, twice: We try to ensure that we overcommunicate ideas or essential information via Slack, even if we think most will know that information already. So you default to over communicating instead of assuming others have the same understanding as you. This could be right after a call with a client where multiple team members were on, and you might send a summary of key points to the sales group, and @mention the attendees, and anyone else that might need the details.
What are the core values at your company? Do they reflect the reality in your org, or could they do with a refresh? Let us know how & why your values stand up to scrutiny in the comments below!