Ensuring that your company is aligned in terms of values begins with your talent acquisition strategy. It’s not enough to simply agree on values, though. You have to live and breathe them.
Values are the lifeblood of your business. You need to identify your values before they can impact anything. But some backroom meeting with ten executives isn’t going to do that, not with any authenticity anyway.
Your employees MUST buy-in to your values and in some cases, they might even have to help you identify them first. However, you can’t reassess your values every time a new employee walks through the door. That’s why gaining employee buy-in to your values is a process
The neverending story
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…that’s how many of you might see your values. If you’re in a large enterprise company or even a company that’s been around for a minute or two, the values were likely set before you came onboard. Infusing them throughout the organization may have happened then, but it ain’t happening now…or you wouldn’t be reading this article right?
For others, you may feel like the last man standing. You’ve done it! You’ve finally built out your employee value proposition (EVP), solidified those mission/vision/value (MVV) statements and established the kind of company culture you want to have.
But there’s still one question that needs answering: How do I get my employees to buy into our values?
Let’s Hit It.
Step 1. Identification and cohesion
Your values must be identified and to do this you’ll need to be a little Sherlock Holmes about it. In one case, we had a client with different values for each “type” of worker: blue-collar, white-collar, campus recruitment…it was a mess. In our own house things weren’t much better, we had seven values in the employee handbook, nine on the website, and eleven in our internal steering committee documents.
Here’s how we broke it down at Red Branch Media: First, we wrote out all the values (from all the disparate sources) on a whiteboard.
Step 2. Definition and application
Second, we defined each value and wrote an example of how that played out in our daily business. For example, “Resilience: We get knocked down and always get back up again.”
We saw this in our colleague Eric as he consistently worked on a troublesome account and couldn’t make the progress he or the clients wanted. However, once the numbers did start going up, it happened with an almost compound and startling trajectory.
Step 3: Combination and streamlining
Third, we drew lines between the values that were quite similar in both definition and application Brutal Honesty and Transparency, for example.
We combined those that were very similar to one value that encompassed both ideas. In the aforementioned case, it was altered to Brutal Transparency. Now, that is actually one of our most controversial values as most people think it sounds mean. Actually, Naked Ambition is also one that raises eyebrows…however, we’ll talk about authenticity in a moment.
In the case of Credit Where It’s Due, that came from both our values of promoting one another/ there is no “I” at RBM and our value of Accountability, meaning we take accountability when we f*ck up, to identify it and to fix it.
Step 4: Pare down!
You understand the concept. When you have lots of values, it can be tough for even the person who identified the value to remember them all. For your own sake, and for the sake of your employees, pare your values down so anyone in the company can recite them. If you have more than 10, pare down further.
Coco Chanel, was said to have advised the following when dressing with accessories: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”
The same should hold true for your values.
While you can include most members of the team or workforce if it’s a small one, for many you’ll need to do the first part with a smaller team to avoid having “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Step 5: Survey for value-focused statements
To ensure you have a finger on the pulse of the organization, select an employee advocate from each area of the business. While some of these advocates can be in management, try to select those at varying levels of seniority.
- Select a diverse pool of employees
- Have managers, executives, and front-line workers
- Select white-, grey-, and blue-collar employees
- Add people who have been with the company for 5+ years
- Ensure anonymity and respect for their time
- Have someone from each department or team
- Include every region if you are global/national
- Ask trusted clients, partners, or customers when appropriate
- Make all surveys mobile
- Select employees for the sake of being diverse
- Only include HR and Execs in the process
- Have more than 2-3 people with <6 months of experience in the company
- Request more than 15 minutes of their time each week
- Only survey “skilled workers”
- Focus only on one area/region/department
- Share controversial opinions with anyone but your HR team
With this group, you can create a quick survey to get a sense of whether your values are on the mark (as well as your definitions and applications of each). Survey this group using a service like SuvreyMonkey or something similar on a weekly cadence to help refine this list— a simple structure is as follows:
- Rate/rank the values in order of importance in general.
- For each value, ask if they agree with the definition and application (I do not recommend separating these) use the strongly agree/strongly disagree scale. Do not use N/A as an option or neutral.
- Ask if they believe (given the definition provided) that each value reflects the company at large. Use yes/no option.
- Ask if they believe that each value reflects the team or person they work with every day. Use the strongly agree/strongly disagree scale. Do not use N/A as an option or neutral.
- Ask which person at the company represents each value. Include the option “I can’t think of one/identify one.” Use open text and an additional optional box with the question “Why?”
- Ask them to select the three values, in order, that best reflect them.
- Finally, ask if they can think of an example of how THEY themselves exemplify their top 3 values. Use an open text response.
By the end of seven weeks, you should have a pretty comprehensive view of how your company as a whole views the values, if they are lived out throughout the enterprise, and finally if they have been individually internalized. You may also have some values that you THOUGHT were accurate but your survey shows are not at all.
This does not mean you have to throw them away! However, you should put those identified as least representative toward the bottom, while moving those that were rated “strongly agree” and had numerous examples to the top. Keep these rankings in mind and moving forward, rank your values in this order FOR NOW. If some were “right out” then discuss internally if they should be dropped from the list.
You also may have some great employee-sourced value statements sourced. Hold onto these. You’ll need them later.
Step 6: Infuse company communications and events with values to reinforce their importance
Now, hopefully, your employee advocates are willing to start spreading the word. Even if they aren’t, it’s time to whip out that old marketing hat and start getting people excited about the values. Why?
- If you don’t tell them (consistently), they won’t know them.
- If they don’t know them, they can’t share them.
- If they can’t share them, they won’t LIVE them.
- If they don’t live them, they’re not your values.
Your first step before any of this is to create a company-wide email workflow with your refined values. You may add your anonymous survey to the end of each email but do not require a response.
Don’t have TIME to write seven emails? I DO! Here is a sample workflow you can download at https://info.redbranchmedia.com/employee-based-value-buy-in-workflow
After seven emails and seven surveys, your employees should have internalized at least the definitions. You and I both know that many employees will be too busy or not care enough to fill these out. But the ones who DO are the ones you want to internalize those values anyway.
Again, you will have loads of stories and input on your values, which you need to catalog and save for later. Right now, it’s time to do some infusing. Preferably since you’re implementing another seven week survey/workflow
Here are some ways we and our clients have pressed their values into the workforce.
- T-shirts…Yes, I totally sold this as “beyond t-shirts” but you guys, t-shirts are fun. Plus values are usually 1-2 words and inspiring and it’s better than ANOTHER logo polo
- Mugs. Coffee mugs are the lifeblood of a lot of offices. For the rest of you…water bottles.
- Posters. Ask a designer if they’d create a simple series of posters with your values.
- Flipbooks. Create a flipbook with all the values and have EEs flip to their “value mood” for the day. For example, if my flipbook says “Pursuit of Excellence” you’re gonna want to make sure your design or article or campaign is pristine before showing it to me.
- Have EEs put their Top 3 in their email signature.
- Create awards that represent each value and have employees give them to one another monthly.
- Have an internal comms platform? Have each person put the value they are feeling the most as their status or in their username.
- Do you have a recognition and rewards program? Insert values as a lever to press. “You are the grittiest Brancher” has been said in our office.
- Put values into performance conversations, management systems, and reviews.
- Put values into all job descriptions, career site copy, FAQs, email communiques and advertisements
- Have a values section on your intranet
- Put your values on your website (if you can)
- Create events around your values. Inter-departmental meetings around a value
- Create notepads with the values on them
- Have employees write a blurb on what each value means to them, then use them in blog posts.
- Have managers center their continuous feedback or meetings around a value
- Create a spotify playlist around each value. Ask for song submissions.
- Do a mini video series on each value. Ask an employee what they think each value means and why.
- Regularly use values on social media posts, with pictures if possible.
- Use values in events like company picnics, awards dinners, team meetings (not as a focus but in simpler ways).
Step 7: Create a value-based hiring and performance process
Managing and hiring to your values go hand in hand. While not every employee will identify strongly with each value (for example, I am the WORST at Balance) they will all know they had a hand in selecting, defining and refining them. They have also been challenged to go through each value and see how it plays out in the people and culture around them.
I am going to walk through managing to values FIRST because I am a strong believer in getting your house in order (as well as you can) before tackling something onto the EB or your hiring process.
Firstly, your values and their definitions have to be part of the company vernacular. Chances are you’ve spent some serious coin on developing an EVP and employer brand, and if not, I am sure you poured blood, sweat, and tears into the damn thing. So leverage that spend and effort into getting your values INTO performance conversations.
If you can, get the values into your performance management system. If not, then recognition/rewards and/or culture and engagement. All three? Awesome! If employees can self-rate their use and implementation of the value, and managers/supervisors/colleagues can as well, they are more likely to spot instances where it’s being used properly and able to start conversations more easily when someone is violating a core value.
Introduce values into both constructive and corrective feedback, as well as praise statements. Train your executives first, directors next, managers, and then all employees. It’s a lot easier to say: “Hey the way you just responded to your coworker in that meeting didn’t exactly promote harmony on the team. Is something going on? I think it made Karen feel dejected.”
It’s also great to hear things like, “Hey Josh you really lived out our pursuit of excellence value with that client. Way to go.” It’s specific and in a language we’ve all agreed upon.
While there is much more to say, we wanna talk about recruitment marketing and hiring to values so let’s get to it.
Step 8: Hiring to your values
Adding your values to your hiring process starts at the very beginning. Your recruiters and talent teams need to use your values when they assess people.
Did you know that 90% of candidates won’t work for a company that doesn’t align with their values?
This can be as simple as looking for a word match or as complex as having a version of your values in your interviewing process.
Link your values to behaviors
What do these behaviors look like? This can really help you narrow down how many of your values fit into what’s real and what is idealistic. Make a list of five to ten behaviors, actions, or achievements that embody each core value.
Your values should be in your job descriptions
This really isn’t optional. Because job descriptions are usually internal, I encourage you to select examples from your survey as “values in action.” Having Balance as a value is great but in speaking with my employees and viewing some of their submissions to our blog or video ideas, I realized it means different things to different people in different roles.
Your values should be in your job advertisements
If you are constricted by space, direct people to the overall values section or have a career site page dedicated to it.
TIP: If you can interlink these in your career site, your MVV statements, or your employee referral platform, do it!
For example, if you establish respect and positivity as two of your core values, these should appear in all of your job adverts––regardless of job title or department.
Your values should be reflected in your assessments and screening process
If you use any screening methods, including phone screens, see how many value-based questions you can add in. It could be as simple as having the screening service or person list the values and let the candidate know they’ll be important for the interview. If you use assessments in your hiring process, these are super great places to start discussing values. There are many science-based assessments and quiz apps on the market that can help you determine if a candidate and your values-based culture are a match.
Your values should be in your interviewing and candidate scoring process
Asking a candidate directly about their values is the obvious choice but they could be telling you what you want to hear.
Instead, ask values-focused behavioral interview questions. You already know your values and have your values in action, you even have examples of your values in people who work there. So ask questions based on these. You can also identify the opposite of your values and ask questions or seek insights about those. You can also ask follow up questions to get more insight into their real values:
- What did you learn from this experience?
- Would you have done anything differently and if so, what?
- What did you learn about problem-solving from this experience?
- What were the consequences of this decision?
- What was the impact of this decision?
When I work with companies to create a value-based hiring process, I help them create a scorecard that lists each value with an accompanying question to identify it. Most companies pepper these throughout the interview rather than drilling them all at once. Then each interviewer can rate the candidates (1-5 is good) on their alignment with that value. By tallying up the scores, you can get a holistic picture of whether the candidate is a good match.
Try revealing values by taking the interview out of the office
Traditionally, we implement these additional assessments when hiring an executive or anyone who is going to manage people. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and for the leader of the company to lack alignment with values, well that could cause a serious trickle-down effect.
The social test: The social test involves putting job candidates in a more relaxed, social setting with some of their potential colleagues and giving them a chance to engage informally. With the spotlight off them, this is an excellent chance to watch how someone handles themselves. Do they jump into new situations? Are they friendly? Do they take the time to really listen and learn about others?
Nice-guy test: The “nice guy test” takes it a step further, as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explained to the Wall Street Journal:
“A lot of our job candidates are from out of town, and we’ll pick them up from the airport in a Zappos shuttle, give them a tour, and then they’ll spend the rest of the day interviewing. At the end of the day of interviews, the recruiter will circle back to the shuttle driver and ask how he or she was treated. It doesn’t matter how well the day of interviews went, if our shuttle driver wasn’t treated well, then we won’t hire that person.”
Once you’ve imprinted your values all over your performance management, hiring, employee engagement, it should be a natural extension to include these in your onboarding process. This shows the employee your commitment to your values and aligning with them before they’ve started.
- Include values in their welcome letter
- Have their new team list their favorite three values
- Share what you think is their favorite value
- List out how the values you have impact their team/dept/role
- Give an example of a value in action
- Send new employees some of your value-branded swag
There you have it, a completely soup to nuts guide to identifying, vetting, dispersing, internalizing, marketing and using your values to source, recruit, hire, manage and build your company. Are there any tactics you’ve used that aren’t listed in this article? Share them in the comments section below and let’s keep this convo going!