I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past meditating and writing about the development, the creation, and the utility of value statements within organizations and how they can positively and negatively impact an organization when done well and when done poorly.
And as an ever-evolving person, my attitude and perspective has changed as I have spent more time within a variety of different organizations from being a staff and team member as well as an executive leader and founder. And like you, I’ve seen it all in terms of how well values are displayed and lived-out within and without a business.
At the end of the day I still believe, at every level, that any organization of any size should, at some point, write down their values in an explicit way and that their values should be driven by real behavior.
In other words, the team should endeavor to capture and canonize values that are explicitly practiced instead of positing heady and pretentious statements that everyone agrees are “good” but that aren’t actually practiced day-to-day. It’s not that values such as “Honesty” and “Integrity” and “Transparency” are bad – no, they are very good, but, it always strikes me a bit silly because how else were you planning on building a company or a team or a product?
Values like those are “table stakes” and are assumed qualities that you hope everyone involved in your team and business have as fundamental. The hope is that you don’t have to intentionally or explicitly challenge someone to live up to these types of values because everyone should be relating to one another with honesty, with integrity, and with transparent communication in mind.
Instead, value statements that have high utility are ones that codify what is already happening and that everyone on the team can agree are already in play. And perhaps the more calculable or quantifiable the better (but not necessary). For instance, one of the values of my previous companies was simply this: Make Decisions Quickly.
As you can rightly assume, this didn’t mean that we were making decisions hastily or that without thought or measure; the exact opposite really. We were very data-driven but we knew that, as an early-stage startup, that our core advantage as a product company was our decision to make decisions quickly and decisively.
But most important is the fact that we had always showcased this value from the very beginning of the business and as new staff and employees joined they could not just sense this value but could see it from our actions, our decisions, how we managed meetings, and how we essentially operated as a business.
Another simple value from another previous venture was just as simple and just as powerful and important: Health. My co-founders and I spent time in and outside of work making sure that we were the healthiest that we could be, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. This meant that we encouraged taking time to get in the gym, head to CrossFit, bike a few miles (or walk), and we challenged each other to do so.
Mental health was also a big part of the natural conversations that we’d have and we wanted to support every effort to be the most mentally sound and fit people and leaders that we could be. If I had to take time outside of the normal business day to “clear my head” or to connect with a medical professional then that time away was fully supported by the team.
This was a value that we practiced, that the rest of the team could see us execute against, and it wasn’t ephemeral or too heady or excessive – it was just a value that everyone could see and that we all agreed was good and useful for others as the team grew and scaled.
In the end I believe the best value statements are ones that are real and tangible and are ones that are generally already happening in plain sight. And in early-stage companies and startups the values start with the founders, their behaviors, their beliefs, and the way that they live, work, and play.
You see, the values of a startup are married to the founders and the values that they are already living out – and if you’re looking at joining a startup then it is in your best interest to find alignment with not just what you read but what you actually see is being practiced.