Company values may appear to be static.
That’s because for long stretches of time, they are. At inflection moments in the life of your company, you gather your team together to assess the company’s reason for existing–the characteristics you want to embody and advance in the world. Until the next inflection point, these values remain the same.
But, if left unchanged for too long, a list of core values goes stale.
Markets evolve. Your company evolves. Your values should evolve, too.
At ThirdLove, we recently revamped our values. Partly, it was prompted by my re-read of Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand, about the importance of building a company around storytelling (a great read). But also, it was because the world since Covid looks dramatically different than it did before. Everyone needs to know why we do what we do every day in this historical moment; we revised our value articulation to reflect these changes.
Here’s the process we used to update our values
1. We split our leadership team into five groups (one for each value).
Any values exercise starts with expressing who you are and why you exist. Even if you’ve gone through this exercise before and feel confident in your messaging, massive changes (internal and external) should prompt you to repeat the exercise. Some sample questions include:
- What do we do? Not only what product or service you offer, but what impact does this have on your customers’ lives?
- Why would someone join our company? What is your mission and culture? Why would they lead someone to want to work for you? What growth opportunities do you provide?
- What are the characteristics of successful team members? Who are the people who’ve advanced most successfully through your organization? Do they have any common characteristics?
2. We split our leadership team into five groups (one for each value).
Working with a goal of perfecting five values, each team’s goal was to assess the existing wording and make adjustments as necessary.
3. Redrafted values’ sub-bullets.
Our finding from the first two stages of the values exercise was that while the values themselves didn’t need to change, the sub-bullets–imperative phrases we use to turn values into action statements–did.
For example, one of our values is “Every day is a new day.” The sub-bullet changed from “Approach new situations with a positive mindset” to “Be adaptable and resilient.” The latter wording is punchier, and “adaptability” and “resilience” are more precise expressions of the attitude it takes to treat every day as a new day.
4. Presented the revised value statements to the company.
The last step in a values exercise is to get everyone oriented around common goals. Having revised our value statements, the respective sub-teams within the leadership team presented their revisions to the company.
When these updated values will come in handy:
- Hiring. A culture is literally created by the people who constitute it. Core values give you a list of criteria when hiring–when identifying the people who will create your culture every day.
- Day-to-day operations and management. A word is only as meaningful as the action it provokes. The more clearly and accurately you articulate your values, the more your managers will exemplify them, and thus the more each team member will act with them in mind.
- KPIs and rewards. Saying you want to uphold values is one thing; identifying metrics that assess the extent to which you’ve upheld your values is quite another. Values give you a qualitative framework for determining your most important metrics–and rewarding those who help fulfill them.
Revised values will take a while to set in. That’s partly because values are embodied through actions, and especially if you make dramatic changes to your values, it will take some time for your team members’ actions to catch up. It’s also because it will take some time to make new hires–to bring people on under the banner of your revised values.
All of which is to say, don’t worry if a revised values exercise doesn’t produce immediate results. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to be an incremental steering adjustment that gets you to your long-term goal more efficiently.