Many organizations have a set of core values defined, but how many can actually say that their employees understand, know by memory, and adhere to those values? How many can say that those values are the behavioral norms, truly representing their culture?
Here are four steps to build a values-aligned culture:
1. Ratify your core values through consensus
There’s no better way to gain buy-in than to co-create the future together. Speak with your employees about what they believe makes your organization strong and who you aspire to be. Too often we spend time focusing on what we do wrong, but by shifting the focus to what we do right, we can inspire hope for a brighter future. Once you define those core common values, create a safe space to hear objections and ideas for improvements, and then ratify the values through consensus.
For example, in December 2020, after morale was impacted by months of ongoing change and challenge, Software Developer Consultant Madelyn Freed led an initiative to redefine Stride Consulting’s values. Madelyn spoke with Striders individually. Through appreciative inquiry, she sought to understand how Striders were feeling about the current state and solicited their thoughts and ideas about how we could use our strengths to create a better future at Stride. She then paired with another Strider, Brian Lam, to analyze the feedback, draft new values, and gain buy-in from all Striders.
To gain consensus, she gave Striders the opportunity to review the values, discuss them in small groups, and share their questions, concerns, and suggestions for improvements. After incorporating the feedback, she shared the updated values with the entire company at one meeting, and called on each Strider one at a time to give their consent or objection. One objection led to our making an important change to a word that Striders felt better explained who we are as a company. Ultimately, every employee at the company had a say in shaping the values. Together we created something we all believed in.
2. Share examples of how colleagues exemplify these values
Defining the values is important, but they stick only when you can associate them with real-life examples and make them the topic of conversation. This means taking the time to notice when someone is embodying the values, and then sharing those examples with others. It not only feels good to praise others for their contributions, but it also has the intended impact to reinforce what the values really mean in action.
At Stride, we set up a process to enable all Striders to praise teammates who are modeling the values. We even have emojis for each of our values. When praise is given, it is shared with our Strider community through Slack and simultaneously recorded as feedback in Lattice, for future reference.
Just in case anyone doesn’t see the praise in Slack, a couple of Striders read the stories of praise (aka Values Calls-Out) during company town halls and invite Striders to share additional examples. This cadence of call-outs and praise helps us gain a common understanding of what the values mean, why they are important, and how they connect us. It also brings smiles to everyone’s faces as we appreciate not only our colleagues who are praised but also the colleagues who speak out to praise them.
3. Reward employees who’ve been recognized for embodying your core values
Put your money where your mouth is. If you say your values are important to your company, reward people who are exemplifying those values. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a monetary reward, but the reward should be desirable enough to incentivize the recipient, and potentially others, to repeat the behavior.
For example, in June, we hosted the Stridees Awards Ceremony at a company town hall to recognize six employees who each embodied one of our six core values. Two Striders—Nathan Riemer and Tyler Hermmann—volunteered to host the awards ceremony with the objectives to (1) make it fun, (2) share stories that illustrate the values in action, and (3) celebrate our teammates who make a positive difference at Stride. They nailed it! They wrote the stories in haikus, and they engaged the audience by asking them to guess who the haiku was about. We saw smiles, emojis, and chats of cheer on Zoom! In addition to the heartfelt public praise, the award winners received a monetary bonus to remind them of their impact.
4. Hire people who care about and share your core values
Just as it’s important to gain internal buy-in for, build connections around, and celebrate values-aligned behavior, it’s equally important to make sure that the people you are bringing into the company align with those values. In his Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, leadership guru Simon Sinek says, “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and what you do simply proves what you believe.” Culture is about the why. It’s about building a community of people who share common values and beliefs. So, it’s important when inviting people into your community that they not only have technical strengths that make the community better, but also share common values that connect with why you exist as an organization.
If you’re interested in joining a company that values community and has an emphasis on culture check out our careers page. We’re hiring for multiple roles in Chicago and New York and we encourage you to apply if you’re interested!