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