How to discover your company values

Company values can be a powerful force in driving your business success. When we are clear about our values, that’s one thing. When we hire a team who shares those values, that’s another. But when take all of this one step further and we actually reflect those values in our business practices, we create an offering that’s uniquely attractive to customers who share those values — creating a loyalty that can’t be beat.

company values

But how do I discover my company values? How do I know what values I want to build into my business and hiring practices?

You don’t “decide”, you discover

Values are something you have. Whether you’ve identified them or not, they are already there. You don’t choose your values–they are inside you (and your company) waiting to be discovered. You can’t choose to have company values that are at odds with your personal values–that would mean you wouldn’t be a good fit at that company! So the first step is to discover what your personal values are.

We have a tool that we use with clients to help them discover their core values. First, it helps you to identify values you have by looking at a list of value words. Then, it then helps you to find the ones that are truly core values (really deep, significant values that aren’t easily changed) by asking you some questions about them, like:

  1. If the circumstances changed so that we were penalized for doing X, would we still do it?
  2. Is this a hill that we would die on? Would we rather cease to exist, than change this value?
  3. If we met a highly desirable prospective (employee, customer, vendor, partner) that didn’t hold this value, would we turn them down?
  4. Is this value reflected in our practice already? Can we tell stories about how we have already acted in accordance with this value?

You can have values that aren’t really core values. Your core values are those you would go to the mat for; those that would make you quit if you were asked to give them up. Most people only have a few core values; 4 – 6 maybe. Narrow your list to make sure it is made up of those values that you are really committed to.

Tell some stories

The last question in the list above is really important; if something is a core value, you can be sure that you are already acting in accordance with it. If you say, “Our customers come first” is a core value, then you should have lots of examples about how you’ve put your customers first–times when you put your own work and needs aside to serve your customers better. If you don’t have those stories, though you may want that to be a core value, it’s not.

It’s important to realize that your core values aren’t fodder for your website, or something you are going to put in a frame on the wall. They are values you are going to live with and by. If we choose values that we don’t live by, then our employees and customers notice. They pick up on the inconsistency, and they don’t trust us.

These stories are also important, not because they help identify your values, but because they will also help you to communicate your values. Saying to your team, “We are a company that values ‘trust’.” is good, but a little vague. What do you mean when you say you value “trust”? When you tell a story about the company founder walking into a lab with a bolt cutter and cutting locks off of the equipment cabinets because he wasn’t going to put up with a culture of mis-trust, that story is what will spell it out for them.

Once you have uncovered your own values, see how they match those of your organization. If you took 4 – 8 of your best, most ideal employees and asked them about these values, what would they say? Would your team identify the company values as similar to yours, or different? What values might they identify that you haven’t? What’s on your list that wouldn’t appear on their list? You need to reconcile those differences in a way that is still true to who you are, and what your values are. This isn’t a theoretical exercise–you really can get your team together and do it.

Once you have a final set of values–values that you feel like you can live with for the next 100 years (values don’t change, they are part of your company’s DNA)–then start talking about them by telling those stories you identified earlier. Look for places where your people are behaving according to those values–and tell those stories too! Before you know it, the whole team will be reinforcing those values to each other, even when you are not around!

That’s the power of values. They govern people’s behavior without you needing to police it. If you find people who share your values, then they don’t need policing; they will reinforce those values because they share them! This alignment creates a powerful resonance that drives your business forward without you needing to push it or drive it. Now that’s worth the effort it takes to identify and reinforce your company values, isn’t it?

What are your company values? If you’re not sure, aren’t you excited to find out? Check out the tool below to help you get started:

core values list

Photo credit: chase_elliottdenise carbonell

Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. T60 Productions says:

    Love it Brad… I often encourage our clients to produce videos featuring their values.
    –Tony Gnau

  2. I really like Google “Don’t be evil” principle. It’s vague and can mean everything and nothing but in one way I think they are following it.

    Values are important but what I think most businesses fail to understand is that they shouldn’t be designed to please everyone because then they wouldn’t be values. Some companies, customers will no identify with your values. I really like this questions in your article “If we met a highly desirable prospective (employee, customer, vendor, partner) that didn’t hold this value, would we turn them down?” It sums it up perfectly!

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