Setting the Foundation: Defining Your Values

Typically, values come off as perfunctory statements that vaguely describe what the founders like about the team they have hired. This is wrong. All wrong. Here is what values are:

Values are a compendious set of strategic attributes, principles or expectations shared by all incoming employees and exemplified by top performing current employees.

Hmm? This is a unique definition for values. There are five things I'd like to highlight:

  1. Compendious: The Values Statement needs to be optimized to have the fewest number of values while ensuring that nothing important is left out.
  2. Strategic: Values should be defined with mission and objective in mind and not simply by looking at the current organization and divining the winning traits.
  3. Attributes, Principles or Expectations: Values can have several different orientations and these can be mixed and matched, but leadership should be clear whether you are hiring for an attribute, declaring an operating principle or setting a org-wide expectation.
  4. Incoming Employees: Why incoming employees? Values should be either forward looking (remaking a culture) or reifying (retaining and reinforcing the current culture) in either case the greatest impact you can have in either pursuit is in hiring.
  5. Top Performing Current Employees: "Top performing' is defined as forward looking and set by current goals or OKRs. Focus on the aligned employees given the current direction, rather than employees who excelled in prior time periods.

Lets dive a little deeper: Why do we have a values statement?

Organizations, whether they are corporate or tribal, rely on a group of people sharing common cause. Everyone in the organization need not be the same, just they share a few things in common with everyone. At Hired, we had a value of Ownership and that value was something everyone in the organization had, and was something others could rely on. That's your goal: Distilling the most important things to have in common so that your team can embrace a diversity of life experiences.

Values are not "people like me". In the worst case scenario, an organization without defined and understood values statements, becomes stale with the same people hiring the same types of people and denying unaffiliated parties from joining the organization. Values set the guidelines that define what culture is so that things like what gym you belong to or what school you attended doesn't become a decision factor in hiring or promoting folks.

Values are there to improve the internal synergy or the team while making sure nativism doesn't wreck your organization.

How do you set values statements? In the early days, values statements should be set early and iterated often. As an organization grows, they may become more persistent. Values should come from the top of the organization and are ultimately set by either the CEO or through consensus of the founding team. The decision maker should solicit input and should be thinking about values strategically, so an outside advisor is recommended if you are starting from scratch or looking to meaningfully update your values.

In tumultuous times (like a pivot or a new primary go to market) it may be wise to re-work the values statements from the ground up. Remember: Values are always, at least, forward looking (if not also reflective of the current organization). Some of your values can be aspirational: Not who we are (as an organization) today, but what we want to become. In that case, they are a great tool to use during times of transition as you are looking to remake the team to achieve a new objective.

You have statements? Great. Now use them. The most important place to use your Values Statements is in the hiring process. Every hire should be interviewed for every value. In shorter hiring processes, this is tough but it cannot be compromised. As you are looking to connect a team across function, making sure every candidate receives the same values interviews is critical. Some teams have a dedicated "values" interview, where they go through each value (typically conducted by a founder or senior executive). Some choose to work it into the existing structure.  Either way, there needs to be an interviewer that can testify to the ownership of each value by any prospective employee.

What if a candidate demonstrably does not have one of the values? You hard pass. It's the rare veto that is outside of the hiring manager's hands: If a candidate failed to provide an aligned answer during a values interview, you must move on and find another candidate. If you don't, you are building a different company than you intended.

Where else should values factor in? When you are defining yearly or quarterly goals, aligning the work to achieve those goals to a value is wise. When someone makes notable progress towards the goal, the manager or founder should comment on how the employee is demonstrating the value. Moreover, during all-hands touch points, values leaders should be celebrated and success stories should be told with a specific value as the theme.

Values are the most important and practical part of the Foundation of an organization.  The organizations that have scaled, have all had strong values that were strategically aligned and resonated with everyone at the organization. If left un- or mis-directed, success would be only happenstance.

I hope this as provided some good context on the importance of values. There are a lot of resources out there to help people set their values, in a follow up blog post Ill provide more details on how I conduct values setting processes and tools that are available for people who want to do this work in their organizations. Defining your Values is only the first step, and though it is pre-requisite, the harder and more important work is weaving your values into your organization.

This is the fourth post in a series covering the foundational statements of an organization, including the Mission, Vision, Core Work and Values. These posts are living documents and are expected to be edited, refined and expounded over time. You can bookmark the Foundation blog post to view the entire series.

Trent Krupp

Founded Threaded: The personal rolodex built from your existing data. Previously, Head of Product at Impact, a market network serving the entertainment industry as well as Head of Revenue at Triplebyte and Hired. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for VCs, growth and public companies. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups, Trusted Health, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.