December 19, 2012
5 Tips for Defining a System of Core Values

For many new companies, the first few months – and sometimes years – are just focused on getting things off the ground. Creating a solid business model, securing funding and ensuring that your product or service is actually viable will likely consume all of your focus. But what happens next? Your company has launched, it’s a success, and now you’re hiring new employees. In many cases, filling quite a few positions. What do you do with all of these new people and how can you ensure that they’re working productively and in sync with the foundation on which your company was built?

Define your core purpose and core values.

This is a process we recently undertook at WordStream. We took a step back and realized that having a guiding principal for how we operate is essential to our future success. Companies that have a defined sense of self work better. Team members are more aligned and feel that they’re working towards something, not just for someone. When they have a greater sense of purpose, employees are happier and work harder, which ultimately increases a business’ success and bottom line.

Our Core Purpose – to bring the power of search marketing to businesses of all sizes – aligns every member of our team and reminds our team what we are trying to accomplish together.

Creating core values is not a process that comes together overnight. We spent a substantial amount of time brainstorming, defining and refining our values into a single mantra that means something to our employees, partners and clients.

In the spirit of sharing what we learned from this journey, these are my tips to help your company define and distill your core values:

  1. Create a committee. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it wasn’t built by one person. Yes, core values should reflect a leader’s vision for the company but they’ll be less effective if they come straight from the top down. Your committee should be comprised of a diverse set of employees – new, old, and from every aspect of the organization. Try to keep the committee to fewer than 10 people and make sure each individual knows his or her voice will be heard and that it’s okay to disagree with the boss. Open and honest dialogue is key.
  2. Bring in an outsider. Sometimes it takes an external perspective to get a true sense of how things are really working on the inside. It can also be difficult to know where to start when your expertise lies in, say, engineering instead of corporate communications. For our committee’s kickoff meeting, we brought it Dr. Bob Radin, a Professor in the MBA program at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, to help catalyze a discussion and get us moving in the right direction.
  3. Tell stories. Have your committee members share their experiences with employees and ask why they think your company is special. Keep track of recurring themes. Rather than focusing on words, focus on the stories to help you root your values in real-life experiences, making them more likely to get buy-in from employees across your company.
  4. Write it out. Take all of your great stories, ideas and words and put pen to paper, documenting a list of core values. Spend some time with them. Toss them around the office and see what sticks. Having options gives you the opportunity to really think about what it is you do and how you do it. When you uncover the right one, you’ll know it.
  5. Get the buy-in. Defining your core values is one thing. Putting them into practice is another. Take a multi-pronged approach to both internal and external communications. Write a blog post explaining your methodology. Incorporate them into physical things like business cards, e-mail signatures, and other visible items. Finally, try something new like a monthly recognition program for the employee who best exemplifies your newly defined values. Weaving the values into the fabric of your company is essential.

Defining your company’s core values and implementing them is just the beginning of the journey. Once they truly become a mantra in your office, you’ll witness a different in your company culture – and your bottom line.  Here is the finished product.  Let me know what you think!

1.  We believe in fostering a culture of transparency.  We are committed to promoting open, two-way communication, so that every stakeholder knows where we stand and where we need to focus our energies to improve the company.  

2.  We bring it!  We have an unrelenting drive to be great. We reach for awesome results, take pride in high-quality work, and deliver amazing customer service.

3.  We are passionate about providing thought leadership to our customers and industry. As a go-to source for expertise in Internet marketing, we like to turn confusion into understanding and complexity into clear direction.

4.  We take action. We won't wait. “That's not my job” is never uttered. We jump on opportunities or challenges and are never afraid of unexpected outcomes.

5.  Our people have ambition for shared success.  Everyone contributes and everyone is valued.  Winning together transcends all aspects of WordStream.

6.  Our people are authentic and adhere to the highest level of ethics and integrity. We believe in doing what is right for our colleagues, customers and shareholders, and we have the courage to address any issue in an honest and open manner.

Ralph Folz is CEO of WordStream, a provider of search engine marketing software and servicesfor small and medium-sized businesses.  You can follow Ralph on Twitter (@ralphfolz) by clicking here.