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The value of values in your business

We sat down with Advisory & Design Director, Angela Waddell, who has been part of creating values for over 40 companies at Sprout, to discuss 'The Value of Values.'

First of all, we know most established companies have values, but do all startups have values?

I would say approximately 30% of early-stage startups we come across have values created. In our experience those that do have them have usually been quickly pulled together by the founders or investors, without taking into consideration the behaviours needed to achieve the vision. Values are often thought of as ‘culture’, which is true, they can and should form the culture, but this should be reverse-engineered from the mission/vision. Values should be based on the behaviours needed to achieve the mission/vision.

Have you got an example of what you mean by that?

Yes, the value of ‘Family’. We see a lot of businesses trying to weave ‘family’ into the values, but we often caution around this as not everyone has a positive family experience. Families can sometimes be dysfunctional, and this is not necessarily going to help the team achieve the plan together.

Instead, you could consider a value with the essence of ‘collaboration’ - words that are more meaningful. In saying all of this, context matters as your ‘value’ may be interpreted differently by different people. It’s the definition of the value that matters - this is a big part of the process.

So is having a vision essential to create good values?

Everything should ladder down from the vision. You wouldn’t want a values system that doesn’t align with the vision. Your values are known internally and felt externally - so if you haven’t got the values right, your customers will feel it too, and this can impact your ability to work towards the vision.

What impact have you seen values bring to a company?

Values create a common language, driving accountability and aiding decision-making. They are crucial for talent attraction and engagement, used for recognition, reward, and alignment around expectations of how to work together to achieve something.

Where I find real value is when I see values come to life. One startup I work with recently shifted strategic direction and reset their values to align with the new vision. Within two months, these values were deeply embedded across the teams, used daily, and even influenced recruitment decisions based on cultural fit.

What impact have you seen values bring to a company?

Values can really bring a business together, they create a common language and become those guiding principles for behaviours, decision making etc. Values play a big role in talent attraction and talent engagement, they help to define alignment between employees and a business. They are an awesome tool for recognition and reward, and they inform expectations of how we work together to achieve something.

Where I really get a kick is where I see values start to come to life. One startup I work with recently went through a shift in strategic direction and decided to reset the values to realign with the new vision. Within two months of doing this, the values were so embedded that you could see them and feel them across the teams. You hear people using them around the office daily. It is phenomenal how they have come to life in such a short time. What I love is how two of the values came from two of the most introverted engineers who have English as a second language. We have recently seen them go through a recruitment process and use their new values to identify the right candidate for the role culturally, which helped make the decision.

Can a business operate successfully without them?

All businesses will have values, the difference comes down to how you form them. You can be deliberate about the values that drive the behaviours you want to see to achieve your vision, or they will be formed accidentally and these may not drive the right behaviours for your business to succeed.

We hear you talk about finding your ‘core’ values, so those that already exist. If a culture shift is needed, can companies create an ‘aspirational’ value to work towards?

You can certainly use aspirational values to move towards something, we recommend having two core values to every aspirational value. This allows a business to shift the culture slowly, without a culture confusion or the perception that the values aren’t genuine.

Who should create the company values?

If you are going to go through a values design process, at Sprout we feel it should be sponsored by leaders, but it should include a cross-section of people from across the business who are great culture ambassadors and already displaying the behaviours you want to build from. We don’t include people just because of tenure or role level.

When scaling offshore do you keep the same values?

Yes, I believe you should have the same values across different markets, however, the way you bring those to life in different markets may differ. For example, in the US, where they are more bold in their style, you might see that playing out differently than in the New Zealand market where they are a little more understated. But the values should remain the same.

If you, too, need your values relooked at, reach out to Ange or one of our team at Sprout People.

Written by Angela Waddell
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