Company Values: How Can We Make Them More Than Just Words?

Written by Catherine L.

A couple of weeks ago, INSHUR’s breakfast event in celebration of March’s Spring Forward Festival became an online webinar. While we didn’t get to enjoy croissants and coffee together, we were able to fulfil the true purpose of the event, which was to talk about company values: what they mean, how we define them and how we can bring them to life.

Now more than ever, brands should be stepping up to make good on what they say their values and culture are all about – especially in the ways we protect our team members and our customers.

Often, values can be no more than words put up on the wall with the best of intentions, but don’t run any deeper than that when real decisions are made. I joined INSHUR in December 2019 and was impressed immediately by how well the company’s newly defined values were being communicated and integrated into the business.

So, I brought together two members of the INSHUR team who have been instrumental in making that happen to talk about the process and share learnings: Tina Phillips – VP of People, Talent & Culture, and Paul Doran – VP of Sales & Marketing.

In this write up, I’ll share some of the key takeaways. Firstly, here are INSHUR’s values:

We are helpful and grounded 

We are brave and innovative 

We are always learning 

We enjoy the ride 

We deliver 

What are values and why are they important?

Values are anchors that inform everything we do as a business – how we behave, act, and make decisions.

“Values are what happen when no-one is looking.” – Tina

They are not too different to personal values in many ways and are often informally defined by those of the founders and early employees. But as a company grows, they should be codified.

Values can be used to not only reflect how things are, but also how we want things to be in the future. This includes how we decide who to hire. Values should be used as a specific criteria to measure in the interviewing process when screening for cultural fit.

“Increasingly, people don’t come to work only to make money.” – Paul

Going back to the industrial revolution, it was the common belief that people will only do things for money. In modern times, we know that often people don’t only work for that reason. Of course, remuneration is important, but we are increasingly looking for fulfilment and something deeper in our jobs and values can help us to steer our everyday interactions down that path.

How do you go about defining a company’s values?

At INSHUR, our values came to life at a two day offsite with the leadership team and, crucially, led by an external facilitator and trained coach.

“Work with an external facilitator to create your values. Someone who isn’t vested in the outcome and can take away the emotion is essential.” – Tina

Especially for founders, there’s a huge amount of emotional investment when it comes to values and culture, so having a facilitator there will guide the discussion and keep it productive.

The process to create INSHUR’s values went as follows:

  • Scribble down personal values and initial ideas on post-it notes. Display these on a board and group them into broad themes, then vote on those that resonate the most.
  • Work in pairs for 20 minutes to draw the meaning out more and prepare a canvas which maps out the message behind the value, the intention and how it can be interpreted internally and externally.
  • Finalise the name, present back to the group and share feedback. Healthy conflict and deep discussion is welcome here. Eventually, the ideas are whittled down to around 4 – 6 proposed values, which can then be taken away to wordsmith.

These should then be shared with the whole company in an open forum such as an All Hands meeting, followed up with a survey to ensure the defined values sit well with the whole team.

This approach is recommended over attempting to thrash out values over a couple of hours, which can often lead to a lack of overall buy-in.

How can values remain at the heart of the company, especially as it grows?

At INSHUR we’ve gone from 10 to 60 employees in a year, so recognise well the challenges fast growth can bring. Here are some of the ways we’ve integrated values into everyday life:

  • Define Values Champions: Values belong to everyone and are not just the People team’s responsibility. Invite individuals across the company to become Values Champions who take ownership over one value to ensure it’s being followed and called out. For example, I’m the Champion for our “We are always learning” value and during this time of quarantine, have been encouraging everyone to share the new skills they’ve turned their hand to.
  • Put values at the heart of how you celebrate success: Take your Slack #kudos channel to the next level by encouraging everyone to call out how a particular achievement relates specifically to a value. For example, the launch of a new product or feature is always celebrated in the context of our value “We deliver“. This also provides a way to measure engagement with values; at the end of each quarter the number of achievements that relate to each value can be counted.
  • Integrate values into your KPIs: Specifically measure how work and performance has met the expectations set by values within 360 reviews. This can be brought to life through personal objectives that sit alongside professional ones. For example, setting a personal challenge to run a Lunch & Learn session when public speaking is an area you want to improve in would relate to our value “We are brave and innovative“.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have found this write-up useful. I’d love to hear your ideas on how else values can be made more meaningful, or examples of other brands that are really getting it right. Please do share in the comments!