How to uncover your real company values
How to uncover your real company values

Teamwork. Integrity. Creativity. Yawn.

Another lifeless set of company "values".

Most company values are predictable and formulaic. But with reflection, you can create something better. You can design values that are unique, powerful, and intriguing.

Here's how...

4 types of values

In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni defines 4 types of company values:

  • Aspirational values: These are values you think your company needs to have — but does not yet have.
  • Permission-to-play values: These are minimum standards in your company — but they don't clearly differentiate you.

  • Accidental values: These traits are evident at your company — but they came about unintentionally, and do not always serve a purpose.

  • Core values: These are 2 or 3 inherent traits that guide everything your company does — from hiring to strategy to goal-setting.

The most important are core values.

Why? Because you will uphold these even when it hurts your company.

It is therefore critical that you know them, hire for them, and reinforce them.

How to find your core values

To uncover our core values, we used Lencioni's framework. We gathered our leadership team, and went through these 5 steps:

1. Identify past or present team members who embody what's best about the company

Once you have names, dig deeper: what makes them so admired? These qualities are starting points for your list of potential core values.

Here's what we came up with at Superhuman:

2. Identify past team members who weren't a good fit

Once you have some names, ask tough questions: what exactly made them difficult to work with? Identify problematic traits, and then list their opposites. Add these to your list of potential core values:

3. Discuss whether the leadership team embodies these values

Now for some honest self-reflection!

Go through each value, and ask everyone on the leadership team to share whether or not they embody the value.

  • If leadership does embody a value, it's a potential core value.

    Team members are more likely to uphold a value they see expressed by the leadership team. And when leadership communicates clear values, anxiety drops and motivation rises.

  • If leadership does not embody a value, it's not a potential core value.

    Team members are less likely to uphold a value they don't see in the leadership team.

4. Isolate your core values

For each remaining value on the list, ask these questions:

  • Does this value come naturally to us?

  • Has this value existed in our company right from the start?

  • Can we credibly say we uphold this value better than 99% of all other companies?

If you say 'yes' to all 3 questions, congratulations — you've found a core value!

5. Wordsmith your core values

Did your eyes glaze over when I wrote: teamwork, integrity, creativity? 🙃

That's because impactful values need unique descriptions. Workshop different ways to express your values in words: make them inventive, untraditional, and highly memorable.

We needed several sessions to get it right. There was lively debate, trial and error, and a litany of synonyms!

Does joy sound trite? What about surprising joy? Is enchantment a step too far?

And with this, we found Superhuman’s core values:

These values guide everything we do, and are key to how we attract and retain amazing people.