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Give Your Corporate Values Some Life

By Nicole Stephens


Ahem! Your attention, please. Raise your hand if you can recite your company’s values – all of them. If we were in a room of 100, I’d bet ~8 people would raise their hands, and most of them work in HR. Well, truth be told, I work in HR, and there’s no way I can remember every value of my former employers.


But it’s time to change that because, according to the latest CandE Benchmark Research, company values are the top content consumed by Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X. It’s not the lengthy report about your company’s CSR efforts or the quote next to an employee’s headshot on a social media post supporting (insert whatever national) X Day or Month. Honestly, applicants want to know what your company stands for, how it aligns with them, and what their contributions would be if they chose to work there.


It’s 2024, and it’s past time to have values that matter. Why? Values are like The Constitution, the guiding principles, and the North Star, or whatever you want to call them. They guide decisions and behaviors, both big and small, at your organization.


Let’s take a closer look at this for a moment. Did you know Fortune 20 company values have more commonalities than differences? Integrity tops the list, used by 10 of 20 companies, followed by respect (6), accountability (5), and innovation (5). But let me ask you this: how are those lived or even shown?


Considering that the average age of Fortune 20 companies is 67, let’s look at Forbes’ list of Top 20 Startups 2024 to introduce some “younger” organizational viewpoints. What’s interesting is that not only is the terminology different (i.e., create raving fans vs. customer-first), but they also offer a wider variety of values. Humility, impact, and speed lead with 3 uses each, followed by authenticity and efficiency at 2 each.


Let’s bring those values to life!

People must know these values, but we must also bring them to life. Burying a list of integrity, respect, and accountability somewhere on your career website isn’t going to cut it, and splashing them on a wall in bright neon colors isn’t enough, either. Kevin Grossman, VP of Research at ERE, recently explored what Gen Z reports as top content during the consideration phase: D&I, having a career site in multiple languages and understanding why people want to work there are 2, 3, and 4, respectively. Therefore, it’s essential to weave values into these phases and aspects.


Okay, let’s look at some ways organizations can elevate their company values:

1.) Assess your values to ensure they’re still where you want to stake your flag. Remember, these must be relevant across the org, so choose wisely. So, how many values should your company have? The ideal number is around five, as seen in Fortune 20 and Top 20 Startups. The fewest was only one (bold), and the most was 11, which is way too many. I mean, can you even remember your own grocery list if it has 11 items? Having too many values can be overwhelming, making it difficult for employees to remember and integrate them.


2.) Infuse these values into communications channels:

  • For employees, it’s the 1:1s, town halls, and leadership emails.

  • For candidates, this includes a career site page, recruiting materials, social posts, and even product pages.

Note: Use specific examples to demonstrate how values are applied in practice. It’s important to show AND tell. For example, One of our corporate values is innovation, which led to this incredible new feature for you that’s going to XYZ.


3.) If you have a recognition program, create value recognition templates so employees can select the right template for their coworkers, ensuring that the recognition given aligns with the specific values or achievements deserving of acknowledgment.


4.) Update interview questions. For instance, one of our five corporate values is to act confidently and stay humble. How would you…”


5.) Check in occasionally and gauge how they are landing. This is where you want to include a question on your employee engagement survey and ask how people feel about the values in 1:1s or on team calls. Can they name them? Do they resonate? Are there other ways to effectively incorporate them? Maybe one is shared TOO often (I recall someone stated at a previous company: “We’re hit over the head with [one value only] and sick of it”). Follow up and ask in the 60-day survey to new employees if they feel the values accurately reflect the culture.


6.) Let’s take this a step further by incorporating values into hackathons or Values Days. Adapt Google’s famous 20% innovation management policy to work for you. Try having a pilot group of employees allocate 10% of their time to projects that ladder up to a value of their choice.


By following these steps, you can ensure your organization’s values are more than just a list on a website – they become an integral part of your culture and identity. Of course, there are a variety of tactics to consider and evaluate, but the first step is ensuring candidates and employees know your values. Do they? Do you?


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