Start your Organizational Culture with Clear Values

Great organizational cultures start with clear and meaningful values.

Ideally they are simple, so they can be easily understood and applied. At the same time, they need to transcend time, so that they can benefit your organization in the future and equally reflect guiding principles for small and large decisions alike. Defining those may sound daunting, but there are a few steps to simplify this process.

Organizational Culture

Diverse Input Matters

Bring your team together for this exercise. When you engage everyone in this effort, the team will feel a much deeper connection to the culture that is being shaped. If you can’t bring everyone together, you want to ensure that you bring a diverse group of people together, to reflect input from all areas of your organization. This is critical to ensure the success of your culture efforts. Don’t be tempted to make this a ‘leadership task’. Your culture needs to represent all of your human assets.

Gradually Zero In

With your diverse team assembled, let everyone brainstorm for a while what values are important to the success of your organization. As the list grows, begin grouping similar and related values. How many groups is enough or too many? Anything from 5-10 is reasonable. You want enough to cover the varied aspects that are of importance in your organization, but not too many to avoid confusion. Then begin to zero in on one overarching value in each group. Let the team debate this to ensure everyone is heard and eventually reaches consensus.

Add Some Substance

Once your list of 5-10 values is complete, take the next step and describe key aspects and principles for each value. The detail here will help teams understand what is expected of them in all interactions, process, decision making and anything that contributes to the ongoing success of the organization. A couple of sentences will suffice as you want to keep things simple. If needed, let the team walk away from this exercise and allow fine tuning with some perspective.

Make Them Your Mantra

Once everyone has agreed on the final list with added details, it’s time to apply the values. Share them broadly with everyone. Encourage teams to take an active role to use the values regularly. Make note of the values in conversations, no matter how small or large the issues at hand. To be successful everyone really needs to build the values into their daily interactions and tasks . Don’t let them be reduced to a poster and a checklist item claiming ‘we did that’. T-Shirts and themed cakes might be nice, but don’t force it. Let your team decide how to best express their culture and create reminders about what your organization holds dear.


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