For us at Viant, the foundation of our business has always been our employees. Corporate values have been top-of-mind for us this year espeically: we recently completed a two-year process of determining what ours are, working with our employees from top to bottom to define what makes Viant, well, Viant.
A strong talented workforce helps create a culture organically, however, many organizaitons find it increasingly difficult to define what strong talent is without defining what each person’s most praised behaviors and key motivators are. Two years ago, it was the right time for Viant to formalize its core values. Every industry and company is different, but ad tech companies often start with small teams, founded by family members or friends who develop a natural culture organically.
Once the company evolves and grows though, it becomes harder to maintain a culture and mindset that reflects the entire organization, as new employees are hired, different products are developed, and technological improvements impact every move the industry makes. At that point in time, it became clear that our company’s growth required Viant to create a new approach to values that everyone in the company wanted to support.
This was not just an exercise, or a topic for a chest-thumping corporate press release. Articulating values impacts a business’ success by providing employees with more direction in how they contribute to the company’s achievements, propelling them to take the next steps in their own careers while giving everyone the opportunity to be recognized for their talent. Clearly stating corporate values that become part of a company’s common language helps with employee retention and recruitment and gives staff a sense of purpose. Having values means coming to work each morning knowing that you are doing your work for a reason—and not simply because other companies in your space are doing the same thing, too.
In our case, we came up with the values “Live,” Lead,” “Create” and a fourth, “Figure It Out”, which embodies our resourceful mentality. Read more to learn how we discovered our values and a process for defining your own.
First, What Is a Value?
A value is a guiding principle that leads to action; from an organization’s standpoint, it drives how the company functions in the market and as an employer.
Just as important as that definition is how values live in the day-to-day. They should stay static over time and if they change, they’re not values, but more akin to a corporate vision or mission statement. In fact, values should stay consistent with who you are regardless of what the company is going through—changes in leadership, acquisitions—the whole gamut of transformation that companies typically experience.
For instance, if you take a value like “Lead” – which can be defined as what you do to go above and beyond in taking initiative and responsibility mentoring others—that shouldn’t change no matter what new circumstances are introduced to the company or no matter what role you are in. You should always be striving to be an impact player.
That said, even though values don’t change, they are also forward-looking, aspirational. To take the value of “Create” as an example, which denotes creating opportunities for yourself and being accountable for your own career growth, you always have to be contemplating your professional goals and taking the necessary measures to achieve them. Continuously come up with new ideas and present them to your manager for feedback and advice on how to move forward.
Values Are Grounded — Not Made of Thin Air
It is likely clear by now that values should not be—and really cannot be—created out of thin air. In fact, even if unarticulated, they may already be embedded within your organization. The key is to build a team that is committed to finding out what is important to the organization’s employees as well as determining how these aspects of company culture can be implanted in everything the company currently does and aspires to do.
Therefore, it’s important to start your process as more bottom-up than top-down, guided by a small group of stakeholders that are reflective of key departments in your organization. However, it is critical to articulate the benefits of encapsulating your values to company leadership and gain their full support. When the CEO embraces the benefits of developing values that can be incorporated into everything both employees and company commit to, you can begin the process knowing you have support on all sides.
The first step to unearth these values is to conduct a company-wide survey, asking employees how they view the organization. Then tally up the commonalities to examine the data. By going broad at this stage of the process, you can see patterns emerge that will inform the rest of the journey.
While the survey results are informative, it’s important to corroborate the quantitative data with deeper insights from your employees. After the survey, conduct focus groups to get at more of the qualitative data, providing context for what you are hearing quantitatively. Through this holistic approach, you’re able to separate any perceived values from actual values and dig into what truly matters for your employees.
Once all of this information is collected and examined, it should be presented to a broader leadership team for discussion. If you’re hiring the right people and retaining the right talent, the mindsets and opinions gathered from your research should be in line with what the leadership team wants to put into play. Gathering insightful feedback like this is a long-term process though and should not be rushed or done without forethought.
Planting Values That Are Perennials
So you’ve unearthed what your corporate values are! Great. But now what?
First, you need buy-in from the leadership team. This means not just presenting it once and getting a positive reaction, but garnering full-fledged support. They need to both embody the values and ensure that they are integrated and implemented throughout the organization. They are the people everyone, from the entry-level on up, looks to. As I referenced earlier, one critical component is to make them a part of your company’s everyday language. And I do mean language. Your values should be incorporated into work assignments, performance reviews, interviewing processes, hiring strategies, performance management and so on. All of those elements need to be consistent with the verbiage of your values. For example, f one of your company values is integrity, an employee’s annual review should address whether or not they have demonstrated honesty, ethics and fairness to colleagues and clients.
Having constant reminders of your values makes them easier to follow, but just as importantly, it also allows the values to blossom, year after year, rooting your company in values that truly reflect who you really are and who you want to be moving forward. A company’s values may simply represent who they’ve always been, but at some point in time, it’s important to define them and showcase how your employees live the values each day.