We all know that company values are critical to any organisation committed to team alignment and engagement. They are put in place to guide internal behaviour and drive a successful culture.

Over the last few years we have seen company values move from the traditional and predictable choices of honesty, integrity and customer service to a more trendy, casual feel like hustle, think big or fun. Not forgetting the regular use of swear words to really funk them up! These company values are spreading the walls of ‘cool’ office spaces around the world. I’ve seen them displayed in lights, hanging from ceilings and carved in to walls. Company values are well and truly ‘in’.

As a big believer in the importance and power of company values I’m all for this, however the coolness of the word and the way it is displayed is ultimately just aesthetics. They often don’t really do anything other than wow visitors and new employees.

The real power of company values comes from how they are used on a daily basis. Just like our vision and mission, the values are not just fancy words on a wall, they are a tool in our business toolkits. If we can’t pull them out to use them when we are stuck what’s the point? Let me explain!

At wattsnext, we spend a lot of time helping clients create their company values. In fact it’s probably one of our most sought-after services and the reason is because we are not a marketing department. Company values are not about marketing to our customers or employees, or presenting a brand. They are about guiding an employee when they don’t know how to behave or what to do – which means it may not come naturally! They also must be a behaviour critical to achieving the company vision and mission.

Time and time again we are guiding companies away from words that sound cool but actually have no connection to what their company is trying to achieve. This means even if they lived that value day in and day out, it would have no impact on achieving their vision.

Companies seem to want values they are already skilled at living or expected of them. What use is it having values that are natural behaviours (or at least should be to stay in business) like honesty and customer service? It’s a waste of wall space.

When choosing values, we should be looking for behaviours we find challenging in times of stress but are absolutely critical to the company’s success. This is when they really become a tool that guides behaviour to get results.

For example, we implemented a value at wattsnext very early on because I noticed it was a weak spot for us. The value is ‘we have the confidence to tell it as it is’!

I found that, being extroverted consultants, we wanted our clients to be happy and to like us more than anything. Fair enough! Unfortunately, this was leading us to sometimes tell our clients what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear. This was not only making it very hard for us to get results for our clients but was also doing them a disservice. Whilst at the time they may like us more and we can all be friends, in the long run their business would suffer and we wouldn’t achieve the results they actually need. So now as we work with our clients and deliver advice or news they don’t want to hear, we know we must have the confidence to tell it as it is because that is actually what they are paying us for.

I have called upon this value many times for myself and my team when naturally we want to shy away from the difficult conversation. We are committed to living our values, and this one, like the rest, is there for a reason and it absolutely makes sure we deliver upon our mission and vision.

What are the critical behaviours in your business that must be lived to achieve your company vision?

With any company I run, I expect people to be honest, have integrity, and give excellent customer service. But courage to get on the skinny branches, which is a critical wattsnext value, is not as important in my kids tech platform business. Being playful and silly in our thinking is more important so we can put ourselves in kids shoes! Values should be as individual as your business is.

Before you start brainstorming funky words and wall designs, do these three things. Then you are ready to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. Take the marketing department off the values creation team
  2. List the behaviours you currently live and breathe perfectly, give yourself a pat on the back and then cross them off the list of possible company values
  3. List what attributes you must display to achieve your company vision and mission, and put them on the ‘our potential values list’. If you aren’t living any of these now put a big red star next to them as they should be shortlisted!

Now you can start!


This article first appeared in Smart Company. To view the article click here

Author: Sel Watts
Sel, the Founder of wattsnext Group, is a visionary and inspiring business leader. With a deep passion for small to medium business (SMB), Sel brings gutsy honesty and commercial realism to the table. A true entrepreneur, Sel is committed to disrupting the way business owners utilise HR and increase performance and engagement. She is also curious about technology and the future of work, using her business as an experimental lab of forward-thinking methodologies to help her clients achieve peak performance. Sel is also the Co-Founder of multiple businesses and spends time coaching other business owners, keeping it real with her vast tactical experience of growing businesses. She also has a pretty interesting life story which you can check out at her personal website sue-ellenwatts.com.