Does writing down your values matter?

Creating values and putting them on posters around the company must be in an HR manual somewhere because its de rigeur for startups and large companies alike – and it was well written up in Built to Last – a terrific handbook for building a principled company. I’ve been through the exercise a couple of times now and I confess, when I was young and stupid, I thought it was a complete waste of time.

How the world turns. Now I am a zealot for defining our values and using every opportunity I can to reinforce them, because I know they can shape behavior and act as an spine for tough decision making.

At FirstRain we chose 5 core values – and we’ve kept them simple. More than 5 and we couldn’t remember them all – more complex than this and we’d lose the essential principles at work.

Our values are:

Delight Customers
Act with Integrity at all times
Take Ownership for the company’s success
Demand uncompromising Quality in our people
Create ground-breaking Innovation

The stress is on the active, demanding words – delight; act; take; demand; create and how they apply to our core values – customers; integrity; ownership; quality and innovation.

So, easy to say and so hard to do….

My job is not only to chose them but to keep them alive. To not only walk the talk but when there is a hard decision to be made to actively (i.e. verbally) use the values to frame the decision. To talk openly about integrity, to be passionate about our customer delight at all times, to proactively recognize and reward innovation – to give just a few examples. I do this not only in the moment interacting with my team but also every quarter with values awards which we give out at our quarterly all hands meetings.

Sometimes, when I am using the values with my younger employees I do wonder if they are tuning them out the way I did in my 20s. But, if so, I am confident the value (no pun intended) will sink in over time. What I need to do is ensure we live by them and they are more alive every day than just words on a poster (in every conference room) or on a mug.