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The Ultimate Checklist for Operationalizing Your Company Values

Are your values not as embedded or utilized as you’d like them? Whether you want to generate, refresh, or operationalize your company values, use this checklist to assess gaps between the words on a wall and your working methods.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Jul 17, 2023

Did you roll out new values with an announcement only to find people forgot about them a few weeks later? Are your values not as embedded or utilized as you’d like them? Have you achieved growth and wondered how to bring new employees up to speed on values created before their time?

Successfully engaging and bringing employees together around a new or existing set of values requires more than a set of words or an announcement. 

Lasting success and differentiation come from the “how.” It combines change management skills, effective communication and marketing, and education.

Whether you want to generate, refresh, or operationalize your company values, use this checklist to assess gaps between the words on a wall and your working methods.

Values Definition: what are our values

Step 1, Values Definition, is often the part we spend the most time on. And then, it’s all too easy to rush or forget the rest.

  • We have values
  • Each value has a clear why
  • Each value has a set of 2-4 behaviors
  • The behaviors are observable, measurable, and something every employee can do

Values come from our business strategy. How do we act or make decisions to achieve our mission and purpose? 

While many organizations seek to make values definition a democratic process and survey all employees for help,  this process doesn’t scale above a certain company size of ~150. Furthermore, values are most importantly upheld by leadership. Therefore I always advise that the CEO and executive team lead the definition of the values versus it being entirely employee-led.

Unsure of where to start? Here are 5 of my favorite values prompts to get your leadership team thinking.

1) Tell me a story of a tough business decision

2) What’s an example of a project at your company that worked well? Why?

3) Imagine you’re telling a story to a loved one about a good day you had at your company or a day you were energized - what would that story be?

4) If you had a new hire on your team, what story of your time at X company would set the example of how you’d want a new hire to behave?

5) What is sacred and taboo at your organization?

Our values help us make decisions. This is also where they're tested most. Work backward to determine how you made a decision and what that may tell you about what your organization values. How did the way in which you worked (aka your values) help you achieve success?

It's uncommon for us to know what we value immediately. The concept itself can be so abstract. Instead, start with business examples and stories like these to start the process.

Values Awareness: education and clear communication

  • We know what values are for
  • We know what our values are
  • We know what good looks like in each value
  • We know the edge cases of each value

Before you educate employees on your values, ensure they understand what values as a construct even mean, perhaps starting with personal values and how they are useful. Values thrive on specificity and clarity. 

Confusion and its associated negative effects come from not clearly articulating what good looks like or what too much (and edge case) of a value is, for example, “What is good ownership in a meeting versus too much ownership?”.

Values clarity: specificity and meaning to drive personal connection

  • We know why we chose these values and not others
  • Our values help new hires navigate how things are done here
  • We can clearly identify when someone is not living up to these values
  • Our values help employees make decisions in a consistent way. 

Make your values mean something. Consider this section your values litmus test. The harsher, the better. Create more specificity by crafting or recalling a story to tell all new hires about your company and how you work. 

Stories help us learn and retain information and act as change management secret weapons so that others can share your story to increase its shelf life. 

Values activation: a strategy to bring people together around the change and reduce resistance

Do you have a script for your CEO to introduce your new values?

It is said humans don’t resist change. They resist being changed. 

How we communicate change affects our employees’ motivation to join us in the change we seek. Ensure you have these elements of your values activation plan, including a script and talk tracks for company leadership.

  • Change management and comms plan
  • 1-3 rituals to embed values in (ex: recognition at company All-Hands)
  • We have real-life examples and data to introduce the values from
  • We have values artifacts and assets for visual reinforcement (ex: swag, badges, virtual backgrounds, values icons, Slack emojis)
  • We have pre-communicated values to people managers

Values reinforcement: Embedded in our every day to make it easier to keep the values alive

  • Values are embedded into our hiring practices
  • Values are embedded into onboarding 
  • Values are embedded into feedback, promotions, and performance
  • Values are embedded into leadership and management training
  • Values are embedded into communication practices ex) Town Hall
  • Values are embedded into external communication, ex: ESG
  • Values are embedded into leadership behavior 

Plants need soil, water, air, and nutrients to stay alive. Values, too, need certain conditions to keep them upheld and strong. If your values are not embedded and reinforced in every part of your business, people, and leadership practices, then your values are in danger of failure and sustaining.

In Summary

Both our challenge and our opportunity are to get values off our walls and into the organization - it’s only then that they can function as the tool to achieve what organizations want: to increase connection in hybrid or distributed workforces, manage through uncertainty, or rebuild culture.

When done well, values give us a compass to help us all move in the same direction. But if you’re getting lost or can’t find the lighthouse, use this checklist to assess your current values.

Read more practical and actionable insights on employee experience from Lindsey Caplan and The Gathering Effect 

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