Lots of companies have core values statements. But it’s one thing to write some copy that sounds good, and it’s another to use that statement as a guide for building a stronger, more meaningful business.
When we think about coherence, values have to play a key part—your brand’s values should guide every activity you do. To thrive, your brand will ideally live in coherence with what you sell, how you market, and the way you conduct business overall. Otherwise a dissonance occurs that your customers will be able to feel, with long-term negative consequences for your brand.
If you look at Facebook’s core values, you may feel this dissonance in the context of years of news about how it runs its business. It certainly lives up to its value to “Be Bold” in many of its actions, but it is harder to argue that it truly lives up to its values to “Be Open” and “Build Social Value” in the face of revelations about undisclosed internal research linking its platforms to harming teenage girls and its willingness to “use hateful content on its site to keep users coming back”. While Facebook has managed to weather controversy in the past, its inability to build coherence with its values signals ongoing difficulty for the company in the long run.
In contrast, Zappos is a great example of a company built on a foundation of solid core values. It’s leading value is, “Deliver WOW Through Service”, which makes perfect sense as Zappos famously built its business on its exceptional customer experience. The company instills this commitment to service through training and repetition, but also by empowering team members with the autonomy to go the extra mile for customers. More than a poster in the breakroom, Zappos aims to deliver WOW as part of its fundamental differentiation.
At Room 214, we’ve thought a lot about our core values, and continue to refine them periodically. Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig into our three core values in detail, explaining their origin, purpose, and application as we ourselves aim to achieve coherence. But first, let’s go through a quick overview on defining core values.
It’s always a good idea to revisit your company’s core values to ensure they are precise, relevant, and honest. Here are some ideas to think about in reviewing your values or crafting them for the first time:
Who - Think about the people on your team. What characteristics bond them? What values do they share with your customers? What values do you expect them to uphold in their day-to-day work?
What - What do you deliver to customers? How do you define quality in your work? (It’s no longer enough to value “quality”—this overused term needs more concrete explanation to resonate with employees and customers. Think about your Value Proposition—describe what drives the delivery of that concept.
How - How do you conduct business to achieve the best results for your customers?
Why - Above all, why does this business exist? A clear understanding of your company’s purpose goes a long way toward helping to hone in on your values.
With values, we’ve found fewer is better. Each team member should be able to learn and live them easily. Think about short phrases that describe each value, a statement explaining them in detail, and perhaps a real-world example of how they come to life in your work.
A great way to ensure the team understands and lives up to your values is through repetition. Highlight them in team meetings, and give examples of how employees have demonstrated them in their work.
During reviews, consider evaluating team members in part on how they uphold your core values—provide specific examples of how they’ve done so and demonstrate ways they can better uphold them.
Share your values with your customers on your website and in marketing. They’ll be the first ones to let you know when you’ve failed to live up to them—those can be great moments to address and learn from shortcomings while further solidifying your values as a key pillar in building coherence. We can’t be perfect all the time, but we can always strive to be better today than we were yesterday.