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The Value in Values

‘Corporate values’ has become quite a boardroom buzzword these days.  But what does it really mean?

We take our values very seriously at Tariffic, a technology startup which helps people find the perfect cellphone contract for them based on their usage.  A few months ago, we couldn’t exactly articulate these values, but we knew what they are and how important they are to us.  And so we began our journey of exploring these values, understanding what they mean to us and how they affect what we do, and putting them in writing.  This post is about our voyage to find our values..

What are values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy Disney

Values form the building blocks of a company’s culture and so we found it important to formalise these to ensure that we’re developing the kind of culture that we all want from the company.

We understand that a core value must meet the following criteria:

  • Are you obsessed with it?
  • Will it outlive you?
  • Can you actually “live” it every day?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice profit to protect it?
  • Will you hire/fire based on it?

Values are also just as applicable to us as individuals and to our families as they are to a company, and so we spent some time introspecting and thinking about what our personal values are, what our family’s values are, what these mean to us, and what we will do to strengthen, enforce, and live by them.

Values act as a compass, guiding the company and its employees in the right direction and enforcing to us all how we should be acting and making decisions.  We also wanted to make sure that our employees are rewarded, measured, and motivated based on these values.

Forging our values from the ground up

Building the foundation

After contemplating the above background, we discussed the following questions with our team in order for us to concretise what everyone thought our company’s values are:

  • What do you love most about working at Tariffic?
  • Who are the kind of people we should hire?
  • What ‘values’ can we attribute to our product?

It was easy to begin picking up common themes from the conversations that these questions triggered – after all, everyone already knew the answers to these questions and had considered them before.  Once the common threads had been weaved between the answers, we come up with the broad themes for our values. We knew we still had to fix the wording and unpack what these really meant but the foundation had been built.

We then had some fun presenting these themes to the rest of the team, using a combination of art, charades, pictionary, and others.

Construction of the values begins

Our team then spent the next few weeks looking at each of these themes and really unpacking each of these values.  We did this by asking the following questions:

  • What does the value mean to us?
  • How will we live it every day?
  • How will we hire to find employees who live these values?

Over the course of those weeks, detailed construction of these values began and brick-by-brick, we built up an image of what they really mean.

The corporate values for Tariffic where thus identified as:

  1. We are Innovative & Disruptive
  2. We do the Right Thing
  3. We Never Stop Learning, Developing and Contributing
  4. We are Family
  5. We Work Hard but Don’t Take Ourselves too Seriously
  6. We Empower Consumers & Deliver Savings with a Smile

Time for some decorating

Now that the wording of the values had been put down on paper, it was time to liven this up a bit.  We wanted the values to be memorable and alive and so we developed a very cool looking poster to encapsulate the values along with an icon for each value.  This is an idea I got from a book called The Story of Purpose by Joey Reiman and really helps make the values vivid and come alive.

You can take a look at our final values poster here.

Living in the values every day

But values should not just live on a poster.  In fact, by reducing values to a piece of paper and just sticking them up a wall they are at risk of blending into the wallpaper and not being seen.  And so the poster is just step one!  Next we wanted to find ‘totem poles’ for each value – some physical reminder we see every day that represents what the value really means.  That way our values will stay top of mind whenever we look around the office.

Some examples of ‘totem poles’ that we identified were:

  1. Putting stickers of the logo for “We Empower Consumers & Deliver Savings with a Smile” on everyone’s telephones so they can remember the customer when speaking on the phone.
  2. Putting the logo for “We are Family” above our photo wall which captures all the fun we have in the office.
  3. Putting the logo for “We Never Stop Learning, Developing and Contributing” above our Tariffic library which houses a whole bunch of business, startup, and technology books for our staff to read.

So what is the value in values?

The exercise of capturing our corporate values was really enjoyable and extremely beneficial to the company as a whole.  Some outcomes that I have identified from this process:

  1. We now have a clear set of rules that dictates how we behave.
  2. We have aligned all our staff to these values and to the expectations that these values set for staff.
  3. We have ensured that the culture of our workplace is reflective of the people who work in it.
  4. We have a medium to communicate this culture to all our stakeholders.
  5. We have created guidelines which assist with identifying the type of people we want to hire.
  6. We had a lot of fun while learning more about each other, the company, and each others’ views of the company.
  7. By having our whole team integrally involved in the whole process, we ensured that the values are truly reflective of everyone’s views and that we received “buy in” from everyone.
  8. The timing of formalising a company’s values is incredibly important.  The company needs enough employees to ensure that it is a living entity and not just two people around a laptop. But it also needs to be done before the company gets too big, as these values help form the company’s culture and act as guidelines to use when hiring staff.

If you have any comments or ideas on the topic, please feel free to post them in the comments below.  I look forward to hearing about what else has worked for others and what suggestions you may have.

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