How To Refresh Your Startup’s Values
How To Refresh Your Startup’s Values

How To Refresh Your Startup’s Values

Kosta Kolev
Kosta Kolev

February 23, 2024

Startups with clear values from the onset build more focused and motivated teams. Those values serve as guardrails for your team’s decisions, culture, and performance. As your business grows and changes, your values will need to evolve too. Fast-growing startups need to be open to considering when they should refresh their company’s values.

When to refresh your company values

Culture is not owned by a single person or team, it's the responsibility of everyone across the company, and it naturally evolves as the company grows. Companies need to be open to updating their values to better serve their team and customers. Venture-backed startups, that often quickly go from 5 to 25 employees or 10 to 10,000 customers, should consider the re-evaluation of values at least annually. To decide when is the right time, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do our values reflect the culture of our team as it is today?
    Every new hire brings new perspectives, experiences, and personality traits to your company. It’s natural for the ‘feel’ of your team to transform so it’s important to take a pulse on how your values align with your current team.

    We had a previous value: Gather feedback, early and often. While we still believe this sentiment, as we grew our team remotely and with more diversity in communication styles, the behaviour we were trying to capture was updated to Create transparency, communicate consistently.
  • Do our values serve as a guide to the team as they make decisions and communicate?
    Asking if something serves your team is valuable when introducing any framework. Just because it’s worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it will add value to the unique makeup of your current team, company, or product. This is the same for values. Many teams end up with empty values, ones that don’t serve their team’s present decision-making or team-building. Having empty values means you’re missing out on the cohesive motivation and shared vision that comes with values-back culture.

    It’s important to recognise the difference between aspirational values and practical values. Generally, most values fall to the aspirational side as in they’re focused on the future-state of their company or decisions. For values to be impactful for your team, they need to be practically tied to the work and decisions before them today. These practical values will feel natural and empower your team to drive business value.

    Example of one of our value evolutions from Aspirational to Practical:
    Aspirational–Be bold, delight the customer
    Practical–Choose simplicity, bring order to the chaos

    This year, we’re busy building the first iteration of our human-centric data analytics platform. Giving our team the guideline to prioritise simplicity is far more impactful to their work and the greater customer experience than our previous value.

If you’re answering no to either of these questions, consider that it might be time for your team to refresh your values. Make sure you weigh other factors like the stability of the company’s current work and the change fatigue of your team before moving forward.

How to refresh your company values

The process of updating your values should involve all members of the team, from leadership to individual contributors. Everyone’s involvement ensures that the new values reflect the company's true culture. While people will have varying degrees of influence towards the new values, capturing everyone’s perspective prevents the leadership from only being aware of part of the company’s culture.

We recently updated our values and put together a step-by-step guide on how we did it.

Step 1: Gather feedback from the team

To capture the team’s perspective, share a survey to give the decision group a view into the experiences of the rest of the team. Some ideas on what to include in the survey are:

  • How well do our values resonate with you? Why?
  • Rank our current values in the order of your personal priorities.
  • Is there an important value (or theme) to you that you believe is missing?
  • What’s the best company value you’ve experienced? Why?

Ultimately, make sure the team understands why you’re updating your values and how important their input is to the process.

Step 2: The decision team reflects on the team’s feedback

Next, dedicate a group of people to take charge of the values update. In our case, the decision team was our leadership team but if you’re a part of a larger startup, you should explore having people at every level in the decision group. As a decision group:

1. Create a values rubric to define what you want the outcome of the refreshed values to be.
Ours was:

  • Need to have clear counterpositions and tradeoffs
    We wanted our values to be unique in that they are a clear preference towards something and not just a generically good trait.i.e. We have a value to keep things simple. Other teams could value details and complexity over simplicity.
  • Need to work for our whole operation, having meaning both internally and externally
  • Need to be able to operationalise the values
  • We want to narrow down to 4 values

2. Review the feedback and pull out commonly occurring themes and gaps.
From the themes and the reflection of the state of your culture, what values can you start to narrow in on? Discuss and vote as a team.

3. Let the new values simmer.
Take a week or two to step away and sit with the draft of new values you’ve created. Return as a decision team to reflect on how representative they feel of your team. Make any edits or updates as needed. Remember, this process should create values that are clear, concise, and actionable to ensure that they are effectively implemented and upheld.

4. Add clear behaviours on how you’ll operationalise them.
To avoid empty values, you’ll need to have behaviours, rituals, and communication styles that reinforce the values in every part of your company. When introducing a set of new values, pick 2-3 meaningful ways you’ll get the team integrated with the new values immediately. This could be a values kudos channel in Slack where you hype a team member who’s displayed a value particularly well. Another example is weaving them into everyday work like adding the values as a part of the content review process.

Step 3: Share with the team

Along with the newly updated values, prepare to share your process and reasoning to ensure the team understands the work and ultimately, buys into the update. Values are important so sharing them should feel more like a discussion than a directive.

While the discussion shouldn’t change the new values, operationalising is the best place to get the entire team involved. Encourage the team to dive into the behaviours you prepared ahead of time as well as suggest additional ones. If your team is larger than 20 people, I’d suggest holding Values Office Hours for those with more feedback to meet with the decision team to talk through feedback and suggestions.

Ultimately, operationalising the values will help ensure that the team is on the same page and that the company can remain true to its values even as it continues to change and grow. If you’re part of a startup, consider whether your values still reflect the culture of your team. The culture of a business is always changing, so if you find that your core values no longer accurately reflect who you are as an organisation, it’s time to come up with new ones.

Need some inspiration? Check out Calliper’s Culture Deck V2 and see some other examples here.

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