Recently, I was in line at a coffee shop, when I heard the couple in front of me discussing a “cool office building” where the employees do sticky-note art in the windows. They were talking about their favorite art installations—it turns out that Snoopy was at the top of the list. The couple kept talking about how impressive it was that the company allowed its employees to do those types of projects and speculated it must be a fun place to work.
Well, I smiled and thought, it is. But it’s also more than just fun. Walking by our office, people see the sticky-note art and get the sense that our culture is different, a bit more fun, open and collaborative than most other companies. But they have no idea why. And the “why” is the important part. The answer to that question lies in our core values.
I frequently hear people talk about work culture: what it means, how to build it, how to maintain it, etc. It’s something that’s on the minds of executives, HR departments and employees alike. As it should be. Yet, too few people talk about the role core values play in the creation of culture. I mean, without values, what does a company stand for? Think of it this way; a set of core values is the foundation upon which company culture is built. Your core values provide a set of beliefs that help people bond, which then leads to the creation of culture. So, if you want to create a better culture, start with defining your company’s core values. Then find ways to socialize those values.
For years, our company Four Winds Interactive has been growing. And growing quickly. As we neared the 200-employee mark a few years ago, we decided it was time to revisit, revamp and reenergize our core values. We weren’t really a little startup anymore. We needed a way to connect new employees with our company’s roots—the ideals that drove our success since day one. And we needed to do that in an authentic way. So, we sat down, put pen to paper and defined the things that made our company what it was.
Our first core value is “Bring Your Best Self.” We want our employees to bring their whole selves, including their non-work passions because it enriches the workplace. Then we have four other core values that relate directly to how we approach our business—“See it, Own it, Crush it,” and “Be Gracious.”
With values in hand, we needed a way to amplify them. We had to ensure every employee could connect with our core values—that’s the key to building culture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen or read about a company that rolls out its core values in a meeting or a booklet and then six months later everyone forgets them. If you aren’t constantly reinforcing them, values just become words on a page. That’s where technology comes in. Most organizations rely on multiple technology platforms to streamline various aspects of their daily operations—from digital signage platforms like ours and collaboration tools like Slack, Sharepoint, Salesforce and the list keeps growing. And more often than not, those platforms can be used for more than the one thing you bought them for.
When we rolled out our core values, we decided to leverage Salesforce, as it has a feature that allows any employee to award a coworker with a badge if they do something noteworthy. But the badges were a bit random. For example, you could give someone a breakfast burrito badge. We loved the burrito badge. But it didn’t help us promote our values, and the culture those values contribute to.
So, we changed the badge system. Now there are only five badges and, yes, they represent our five core values. Any employee can give a coworker a badge when they see them “owning” a task. However, my one issue with the Salesforce badging system was that it only generated a daily email, and emails are easy to overlook. That’s why we integrated the badging application into our digital signage network, so when an employee badged someone, it would show up on our office screens for everyone to see. Way more impactful than an email.
But Salesforce is just one of the platforms we use to promote and reinforce our values. We also use—and love—Slack. To ensure everyone is empowered to bring their best selves, we encourage employees to join Slack channels based on common interests like skiing, running, and, yes, you guessed it, sticky-note-art. Today, we’ve got 30+ channels dedicated to various interests, and we can always add more whenever we need to. It’s amazing how many vibrant sub-communities we have, and how active these channels are.
Today, our core values are so inextricably linked to our culture that you really can’t talk about one without talking about the other. Our values are woven into everything we do. They’re what drive us. They’re what empower us to do our best work. And they’re what created a culture that encourages our employees to find ways to express themselves—sticky-note art included.
Driven by the personalities of their leadership teams and employees alike, every company has a set of values, even if they’re not written down. So, define those core values. Be intentional about the culture you want to create. And use the technology platforms you already have to amplify your values and reinforce your culture.