How to write your values

12th September 2019


Whether you’re aware of it or not, every workplace has a ‘culture’.  The culture is formed by the attitudes and behaviours of everyone who works there.  If you want a healthy and productive culture in your workplace, the best way to start is by defining your values (or at least the values you want people in your workplace to uphold).

But what should your ‘values’ be?  How many should you have?  How should you explain them?

As with most business problems there are many many ways to tackle this one, but I’m going to give you my opinion based on what I’ve seen work and fail over the years.

First, let’s start with fail..

In the coal mining boom of the 2000’s I worked in the Bowen Basin and ran many training courses designed to ‘induct’ new people onto coal mining sites.  As part of this induction we would cover the ‘Company Values’.  This particular company (remaining nameless) had selected the following values:

“Hard Work”

There were a few problems with these values in my opinion:

  1. One word values are not very memorable
  2. Honesty is part of integrity, so it’s kind of repetitive.
  3. These are values that I think everyone would say that they hold and aspire to, they’re not very unique and therefore not likely to have much meaning.  i.e they feel like ‘throw away’ aspirations.
  4. Because of everything above people’s eyes would glaze over when discussing these and I never saw anyone actually discuss them (or try to live up to them!) outside the induction.
  5. And finally, having a workplace that is just full of honest people who ‘work hard’ is not really very exciting is it?  I mean, wouldn’t you rather work for a company that values ‘innovation’ or ‘challenging the status quo?”

On the flip side, when I worked for another mining company Illawarra Coal their values, were still only single words but had been turned into a catchphrase “Pride, passion, performance”.

Why are these better values?

  1. The alliteration makes them more memorable i.e they all start with p
  2. Each word encompasses more than just a single trait.  For example you demonstrate pride by being honest and showing integrity, it’s hard to be proud of what you do if you’'re not acting this way.  You demonstrate ‘passion’ by working hard, but it also means you love what you do.  And having the value of ‘performance’ means that you push yourself to change, grow, learn and be better every day.  These values are more encompassing of positive traits and behaviours than the other ‘single word’ values.
  3. Finally, by turning them into a catchphrase people could easily throw it out in conversation - usually in a joking way - but it actually worked to reinforce the values in the workplace.  

But I think there is a better way to write your values.

I believe your values should have the following characteristics:

  1. They should be unique and memorable - like your mission, they should really represent you.
  2. They should be short sentences that describe the attitude or behaviour, rather than ‘traits’
  3. They should be backed up with ‘supporting and non-supporting behaviours’ so it’s clear what it looks like to live the value

Here’s a couple of examples of our Funscape values:

Problems are Gifts that encourage us to Grow - This is accompanied by a picture of a present that’s on fire!   Yes, it’s a bit corny/silly/funny, but that makes it stick in peoples head.  This value represents my attitude to problems.  I kind of love solving them…. If everything is going smoothly, I get a little bored.  When faced with problems I like to say ‘good, here’s a chance to learn how to overcome this’.  It’s amazing the effect this has on your team.  I breeds a real ‘can do’ attitude.

Another one of our values owes thanks to Seth Godin:

We deliver Purple Cow Products & Services -  As you can imagine, there’s a picture of a purple cow too.  This one definitely sticks in people’s heads, and that’s the whole point - it’s remarkable - just like I want our products and services to be.

Here’s how we explain what ‘purple cow’ means.  

If you were driving down a road and there was a purple cow in the field next to the road what would you do?

Of course, most people answer, “Stop and take a photo”

We say, “Then what would you do?”

“Post it on social media” is invariably the response.

The reason for this is that the purple cow is so unique, so different, so special and ‘remarkable’ that people have to share it.  So if our products are purple cow, people have to talk about them.  If our customer service is purple cow, they tell their friends and give great reviews.

The value could be ‘We deliver remarkable products & services’…. but that wouldn’t inspire my team.  Instead they say things to me like, “I don’t know Brett, I don’t think it’s purple cow enough….”  That’s literally how we talk!

So there’s my two cents.  I believe three to six clear, interesting, well defined values written down and well explained will help you build the culture you want in your workplace.

Remember, you’re building this culture all the time anyway, it might as well be by design.

Brett Baker :)

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