Over the years we’ve had several clients ask for help with high-level corporate messaging — things like their corporate values. I’m excited every time the opportunity comes up because I’m a believer that corporate values can be more than pleasant sayings on a poster in a conference room: they can generate real business value. I also believe that many organizations miss out on that opportunity by misunderstanding the true purpose of corporate values.
Like any piece of internal or external messaging, crafting compelling, effective values depends upon understanding both the audience and the medium via which the content will be delivered. What’s fascinating about internal communications like values is that, sometimes, the audience and the medium are the same: yes, you want your employees to read your corporate values, but you also want them to ingest and evangelize them. Your employees—not a poster, internal email, or speech at an all-staff meeting—are the vehicle by which values are implemented at scale.
When you think of people as a medium, you realize that values written for them must have some unique characteristics. They must be compelling, memorable and, well, valuable. They must be of use to your employees. This is the moment where many organizations miss an opportunity.
Oftentimes corporate values are universally agreed upon principles like “hard work” or “trustworthiness.” Those kinds of principles are essential to any business. That’s exactly the problem: they don’t tell employees, clients or prospective hires anything about your organization. No company values laziness or deceit.
Effective values won’t speak to universal truths about being a good employee. Instead, they should help disseminate on-brand decision-making. They should help employees solve problems, and do so in a way that reflects what is unique about your organization.
There are lots of companies that leverage values in this manner. The most notable is Google. Values like “fast is better than slow” and “you don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer” have driven everything from their product development and go-to-market strategy to corporate culture and acquisition strategy. The sincerity with which they live their values has helped the company attract and retain top tier talent and contributed to the allure Googlers have throughout the technology community.
Another example of great corporate values is Percolate, a content marketing software company based in New York. It also happens to be where I used to work, and where I thought seriously about the importance of corporate values for the first time. Values like “led by product” and “success is measured in advocates” sound nothing like the trust and hard work-style values many of us are used to. Instead, they serve as a tool to help Percolators make the Percolate decision quickly and independently.
How do you know if your corporate values are going to have the desired effect? Unlike some communications, you don’t want to test and measure their effectiveness and create the impression your values are inauthentic or expendable. I’ve found there’s a simple, straightforward question that can help you come to a quick answer:
Would anyone disagree with this?
If the answer is yes, you’re on your way to crafting a value that’s going to help your employees more effectively make on-brand decisions.