The following statement is typical in any early stage company:
“Team, we should sit down and define the values we want to have in the company.”
All businesses come to this stage where the core values are established. Most companies do it wrong. We did too. Finally, we found our way, which you can read about at the end.
Building a strong company culture and values can influence the success of your business. We all get that. The greater question is how the culture and values are created, defined and communicated. We’ve all walked into numerous offices with big colorful words and statements on the walls. And we all know that with all likelyhood that the employees haven't given them a glance the last 12 months.
Here is my take on why many companies do it wrong and end up with empty company values:
In the hunt for culture, identity, and values, companies search for what they want to become, rather than identifying what they already are.
If you want to be “passionate,” it’s hard to live by those values if the team look at their job as a mean to make money and survive. It`s hard to aim for “simplicity,” if the organization already has multiple layers and processes established.
Trying to change behavior is way more challenging than introducing new behavior. But what is much easier and way more powerful focus on the current successful behaviors in the company. That’s what we did at Unacast.
After one failed attempt we waited 18 months until the team was close to 20 people to define our company values. We had launched products, strengthened our market-leading position and started making solid money. At that time, the team had worked closely together, gained a lot of traction, and we sat down and asked:
"What are the defining behaviors and values that have led us this far in such a short time? "
We didn’t look for what we wanted to become; we rather identified who we are and what we wanted to continue to be - every day. We decided to make our current strengths the core values of Unacast.
Below is the email I shared with the team when our core values were defined:
Thank you for all your feedback on the company values. We've made some minor adjustments, and I'm very pleased to see that we have arrived at values truly reflecting who we are and who we continuously strive to be. I honestly think we have unique values and you won't find all of these at other companies.
Be your own CEO
Everyone at Unacast can and is expected to take charge of their own situation, and make sure the company as a whole moves forward. Waiting for some feedback? Get it! Want something done? Do it!
Every day counts
1.01^365 = 37.78
1.02^365 = 1377
Every day can and should be meaningful, and something that pushes things forward. To give the little extra each day makes a huge difference - at the job, and also at home. Experience the moment.
Trust through transparency
Dare to be vulnerable and show yourself, your team, and our partners who you are. The trust we build through transparency will help to lift us all higher that we can rise alone.
Have fun. Seriously!
Create an unexpected moment that surprises and delights team members and partners. Everyone needs fun in their life, especially while doing something important.
Keep the wheels turning
The promises we give each other and the swift follow-ups that others are dependent on are the lifeblood in the veins of Unacast. We take responsibility and deliver what is agreed. Always.
And keep in mind this is just the start. As the teenager Unacast grows up, we might want to evolve our values.
Agreeing on values is just part 1 and the easiest one. Now comes the challenging part where we all are equally responsible - strengthen and live by the values.
Our five values will be a crucial part of the interview process and assessment when we hire more people. "Hire for attitude and learn for skills" is a good expression and I'm confident I speak for us all when I say we want to work with others believing in the same values as we do. Ken has done some great work here he will present soon.
But, most importantly - we strengthen our values by our daily work and how we interact with our team and partners. I encourage you all to be vocal and do high-fives when you see someone who lives by our values. We are all CEOs, and we all have to lead by example. At the same time, we owe it to our self to also keep each other accountable and let each other know when someone needs help to live by the values. It is not about calling each other out - it's about being honest and supporting each other.
I encourage everyone to re-examine everything that we do at Unacast and ask yourself what changes can be made to reflect our core values better. The improvements don't have to be dramatic; it can be as simple as making one decision more per week rather than waiting for others to make it, or surprise one of our potential or existing partners with something nice that makes their day better.
We are close 20 people at Unacast now. It´s very hard to set values when we are 10 and very hard when we are 40. It's the right timing, and I hope you all see this as an exciting experience where we all are equally important to keep the culture and values we want to have as Unacast grows.
Other ideas on how we can continue to strengthen our values are very much welcome and please reach out to me directly if you have suggestions.
CEO & Co-Founder
You don't have to create your values at day one. Create your values when you know who you are and why you are succeeding. And use a mirror rather than binoculars.