Core values are a subject widely written about, podcasted, eBooked and even taught in traditional business schools. It has become commonplace for any sort of "evolved" company to spend time actually coming up with core values, but so many companies establish core values, print them on glossy posters, hang them on the wall and forget about them.
When Bryce and I came up with our Core Values early on we wanted them to be meaningful and we wanted them to last. We were trying to figure out a way to scale our culture as our business grew and we opened offices internationally, and we wanted core values that really mattered and were relatable. To this day, the core values we created serve as guiding principles that we, or anyone at our company, can use for decision making.
Choosing the right core values that are authentic, specific and effective is another subject for a future post, but let's assume you already have your core values and they've been painted in your company colors on a big wall in the office. Then what? Do they really work? How are they reinforced and lived?
Our core values on their own are literally words on a wall, but creating practices and rituals to reinforce our core values has been key to scaling culture. Here are some examples that have worked for us:
1. Core Value Nominations - During every meeting, whether it's an all-hands, executive planning or weekly department meeting, we tell core value stories. Depending on the size of the group, either everyone shares, or a select few volunteers share a core value story. In this practice, someone will nominate a teammate for a specific action in the past week (or month/quarter depending on the cadence of the meeting) that exemplified a core value.
For example, "I'd like to nominate Christine for Inspire Others by Believing in Yourself (one of our core values). Last week, she took on a new project to create performance dashboards for one of her clients, and without any help just figured out how to create the most amazing dashboards I've ever seen!"
These stories allow the team to recognize good behavior while reinforcing actions and the correlating values. Practicing gratitude also sets a positive tone for the meeting, or leaves the meeting in a positive place.
Recently, we've taken core values stories to a new level. In our Santa Monica office, we created a new practice called "Caught Doing A Core Value." We have a plexiglass box in the office, and at any time of the day, teammates can come up to the box and write a core value nomination on a post it note and drop it in the box. The person is encouraged to tell the person they've nominated, or announce it on a slack channel we've dedicated for this. During our weekly all hands meeting, we will pick random post it notes, read the core value and the person who was nominated gets to spin Mr. Carter's Wheel of Ridiculousness. These rituals might be a bit corny, but we thrive on the peculiarities of our culture.
2. Employee Feedback - Whether it's in real time, part of their weekly one-to-one meetings or more formal quarterly or annual appraisals, we train all of our managers to correlate feedback, positive and constructive, with our core values.
For example, rather than telling someone their Sales Proposal was sloppy and had lots of typos, we would say, "I read through your proposal. I noticed a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. I see that as a violation of our core value, Always Strive for Excellence." Receiving feedback, especially when constructive, are memorable teaching moments, and when related to core values can reinforce recall and meaning of the core values.
3. Hiring - "Hire for culture fit!" We hear this all the time, but what does it mean? How do you do it? We believe in hiring for "values fit" or how well someone aligns with our core values. We teach all hiring managers how to do this, which reinforces their own understanding of our core values, and gives candidates a sneak peak into what they can expect about our obsession with values. We ask candidates specific questions as it relates to each core value. To remove as much subjectivity as possible, the interviewer is given not only the questions, but also the examples of the types of answers that show value alignment vs. those that do not.
For example, a question for us might be, "Continuous Self Improvement is one of our core values, what's one thing you're working on improving?" In the answer key, we give guidance as to what qualities we are looking for, i.e. self awareness, authenticity and propensity for learning. We also look out for bad answers like canned responses, my personal favorite being, "I'm a perfectionist…" or the inability to identify areas for improvement at all. We include example answers for each. This process provides structure and framework around a concept that is usually soft and hard to scale.
These are just a few of the rituals and practices we have found to be successful. Sometimes, things like core value nominations can be a culture shock to those that aren't used to it. It might come off a bit hippie and new age, but we find even our hires from the most corporate and stiff backgrounds come around to to it pretty quickly. These practices may or may not work for your company, as they need to be in line with your culture, but hopefully this stimulates some thinking.
I'd love to hear in the comments from you what other rituals and habits you have to reinforce core values in your company.