9.17.2014

How To Use Values To Build A World-Class Culture For Your Startup

By Bhavin Parikh, fastcompany.com
Looking deeper than superficial perks and hiring people with strong personal values makes your already-forming culture shine.
What do you think defines your company’s culture: The feel of the office? The perks? Maybe it’s the people who work there?

Now, what if I told you none of them define the culture? All those factors are merely products of an already existing culture, one that’s been there since day one.
That’s because founders impact the culture of their company before they even start building it. And leaders who want to facilitate a sustainable culture--one that continually inspires, engages, and motivates--need to proactively define the kind of culture they want to create. How? It all starts with identifying values.
If you fail to articulate your values in the early days of the company, prepare for frustration, arbitrary decision-making, and confusion galore. As a CEO, I’ve had my fair share of challenges establishing culture. But that ended once I identified our company’s values and started building a team around them. As a result, we have a team that’s been working together toward a shared goal for three years now with no turnover.
It’s never too late. Establish your own set of values. Write them down; stick them all over the walls; frame them in your house. Do whatever it takes to keep them at the forefront of your mind. Now you’re ready to create a world-class culture for your company. Here’s how:

1. When Hiring, Put Your Values Lens On

There are universal traits every CEO looks for in a potential hire: dedication, hard work, the ability to work in a team, etc. But even if an applicant fits the “quality bill,” they still might be a bad fit for your company.
At Magoosh, we use our values as a lens by substituting generalized questions like, “What are your biggest strengths?” with targeted questions that help us determine whether the applicant is a good fit.
For example, one of our core values is Wow > Profit, meaning we aim to deliver excellent customer service over solely making profit. To determine whether an applicant aligns with that specific value, we give them a scenario and ask how they’d address the issue. By asking, “How would you respond to a student who asks for an extension on his or her account access?” we can gauge the applicant’s values. We always know the answer we’re looking for and can easily sift the good candidates from the great ones--ones who will be continually inspired and motivated by their work.

2. Downplay The Perks

Sadly, yes. In order to guarantee your team will stick around, you need a culture that goes a bit deeper. Would your employees still be excited about your company if you didn’t have catered lunches and five Ping-Pong tables in the break room? If your answer is “I’m not sure,” you’re in trouble.
I’ve seen too many companies focus on perks to define their culture and lose employees as a result. Perks are great, but they come secondary to having a team that values being part of your mission.

3. Let The Values Guide Decisions

One of the most important parts of having clearly defined values is the elimination of arbitrary decision-making. They exist not only to build the team, but also to hold that team accountable. This includes the CEO.
Values, if created strategically, should guide your company in the right direction and trump subjective decisions by any member of the team. Whenever someone is facing a tough decision, he or she should be able to look to the company values for direction, therefore eliminating arbitrary judgment.

4. Give Your Team A Voice

Another core value at my company is Communication > Efficiency, which means we prefer our employees communicate too much rather than avoiding communication to save time. While you don’t have to adopt this value as your own, I recommend it. Give your employees a platform to provide feedback, throw out ideas, and even complain.
In our office, we use Asana, an online task and organization app, which publicly allows any employee to contribute ideas to any department. TINYPulse allows employees to rate their level of happiness or reveal internal problems anonymously. It also lets me converse with people providing feedback even though I don’t know who they are. And if I reach out, they’re usually willing to sit down and sort out the issue.
Employees rant and gossip when they feel powerless--when leadership doesn’t ask for feedback or refuses to address it. Empower employees by giving them a way to contribute. Then listen. Open communication and defined values are the makings of a fair and balanced decision-making platform in the office--one that will allow for collaboration, new ideas, and dynamic company growth.

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