Core company values are lived rather than chosen

Principles
People & Culture

After more than a decade of rapid growth, we knew the time was right to revisit our values to better reflect the culture we’ve created.

When you’re a young company, your values are like those of a young person: personal, idealistic, and sincere.

Like people, companies mature with time. They take on new responsibilities and learn to adapt to others’ needs. Naturally, their priorities also change as a result – which means so should their values.

The trick is to make them work for everyone while maintaining that connection with the ideals and sincerity you started out with.

This is way more difficult than it sounds.

If done right, values can be a powerful way of clarifying your company’s purpose, unifying teams by articulating positive beliefs they can connect with. They also help build deeper relationships with customers with similar principles.

As with anything worth doing, developing your values takes time. Lots of time. I can trace the beginnings of our own process way back to late 2017 (at least unofficially) when the BizOps team conducted its first employee engagement survey.

"Since values guide behaviors, and behaviors guide culture, we needed to make sure our core values would support our next stage of growth and allow our culture to scale with us." Click To Tweet

The results of that made one thing clear: as we transitioned from a start-up to a scale-up, we were dealing with the same growing pains any fast-moving tech company does. That’s pretty much par for the course, but as we sketched out initiatives for improvement, we identified how important it was to have a system of values that would help anchor them. After taking a good look at the values we had, we knew it was time for something new.

Let me just stress here that this wasn’t a decision taken lightly. Our original values served us brilliantly down the years. But since values guide behaviors, and behaviors guide culture, we needed to make sure our core values would support our next stage of growth and allow our culture to scale with us.

Values are lived, not invented

We knew that if our new values were to connect individuals, teams, offices, and customers successfully, they’d have to work harder than any other form of company communication.

When the stakes are this high, there’s a danger of overdoing it and crossing the line into hyperbole or playing it too safe and producing cookie-cutter blandness. 

Either approach is a recipe for disaster. If your values are empty, your people will quickly become disconnected, even dispirited – the very opposite of what you should be trying to achieve.

To crack on, we needed the full support of our co-founders Gav and Mark. The six values we’d lovingly used for over a decade were theirs, after all. But both of them understood how crucial it was to have values that belonged to the entire team. So to kick things off, they made a short video explaining what we were trying to do and inviting people to take part. The response was incredible, with close to a quarter of the entire company getting involved right away.

Because we wanted the values to represent teams in multiple countries and across time zones, we made a conscious effort to include as many people as possible, representing a cross-section of roles, levels, and tenure.

"If your values are empty, your people will quickly become disconnected, even dispirited – the very opposite of what you should be trying to achieve." Click To Tweet

Megan, our Senior Business Operations Specialist, organized face-to-face and online workshops so that participants were given the chance to have their say on what mattered most to them.

We spent hours in these sessions discussing what we felt company values should do and why they were important. We looked at how they connected people to the company’s overall mission. We even discussed what good and bad days in the office looked like.

The reason for all this was that we felt values are lived rather than chosen. They emerge through a company’s day-to-day behaviors.

[Random side note: it’s fascinating how values are shaped through behaviors, then help guide those behaviors. It’s like the child becoming the parent!]

Ultimately, they’re not something you simply invent on the spot just because you like how they sound. Nor are they to be defined solely by senior managers who then dictate them to the rest of the team. In truth, values are what the team themselves live and breathe each and every day.

Our role in BizOps was to perform a kind of archaeological dig to uncover our core values, polish them up, and proudly display them as an expression of what we stand for as a team.

Getting more from your values

After we’d gathered the raw material from these team sessions, the next step was to pass everything over to our copywriter to begin the process of making everything nice and succinct.

“Our role in BizOps was to perform a kind of archaeological dig to uncover our core values, polish them up, and proudly display them as an expression of what we stand for as a team.”

A week later, we had a working list of six new values. Daphne, our Manager of People and Culture, mapped these onto a “values in action” framework to check that they matched up with the behaviors that people told us they felt the company should support and embody in our focus groups.

But even though we knew we’d entered the business end of the process, we still couldn’t rest on our laurels.

A further series of sessions followed in which Gav and Mark worked with our marketing team to battle-test, stress-test, and torture-test every syllable of what we had. Things were chopped and changed around, overlapping points were merged, and every word was scrutinized until the six values we had were in the end fine-tuned into just four:

  • Live to learn
    We believe that learning opens minds and creates opportunities at all life stages. We embrace it and our technology enables it.

  • Do the right thing
    Fairness is the bedrock of our business. We’re always open, honest, and ready to take responsibility for our actions.

  • Aim higher
    To raise the bar we tackle the difficult problems. We think critically, act collaboratively, and respond creatively.

  • Success is better shared
    Great things happen when everyone pulls in the same direction. We win together by working together.

So there you have it. Four values and twelve short sentences that encapsulate who we are, how we act, and how we’ll shape the future.

As we wrapped up, it felt like this at first…

A little later, it was more like…

The final four then went back to Daphne to double-check that they tallied with the “values in action” framework. They did, and, with the possible exception of the gladiator’s arena, rarely has a thumbs up been so gladly received.

Authenticity is what gives your values continuity

By anyone’s reckoning, a year is a long time, but taking each step with such care was worth it. We know we did everything we could to hold onto that same idealistic “spirit” we started out with. And in staying true to ourselves, we’ve managed to tie together our past, present, and plans for the future with a sense of honesty.

In the end, whether it’s customers or employees, people are ultimately looking for the same thing from a company: a sense of authenticity; something they can believe and trust in without the fear of being hoodwinked.

"People are ultimately looking for the same thing from a company: something they can believe in and trust in without the fear of being hoodwinked." Click To Tweet

If you don’t know who you are and what you stand for as a company, you can’t possibly hope to offer this. Without core values, your ability to make the right business decisions, bring your teams together, and develop strong relationships with your customers isn’t going to be nearly as effective.

And that’s why we’re thrilled with how our updated values have turned out. They reflect our people, our company, and our vision. They put into words the principles we’ve lived through the years, and signpost what it is we’re striving to achieve every day.

Sound like a place you’d like to work? Visit our careers page for opportunities worth pursuing.

Kirsteen Eydmann

Director of Business Operations

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