What is Culture ?

Great companies are built on great culture, and great culture means living your values. Culture is not ping pong and foosball tables, laundry on-site, lavish parties or catered lunches but, simply, living your values daily in all aspects of the business. Culture is achieved by embedding your values through systems.

Culture = Values + Systems

Values is only the start

Values govern our personal and professional lives. They have always been part of our work, as employees need a common lens to interpret information, and make decisions. A strong sense of values inspires employees around the company mission. Sharing values alone, however, is an empty promise.

Enron, yes the firm whose leaders were jailed for fraud, had the following values plastered in their lobby. Integrity. Communication. Respect. It always reminds me of posters associated with corporate america in the late 20th century.

Corporate culture has evolved, spearheaded by the innovation of silicon valley. Values are still part of the company foundation, though motivational posters have been replaced by culture decks, and a concerted effort is made to systemize the values in the very nature of the work itself.


Using systems to live your values

Systems embed values into the company life, upholding them when decisions are made on all aspects of the organization whether its hiring, product development, marketing,  sales, and yes, even layoffs.

Here are some steps companies take to live their values:

State your values  

Stating your values at all hands, in meetings, booklets, and incorporating it into daily conversations, and office decor enforces its priority. However, this is just the start.

Hire for values

Your values are set with your first hire, thus, making it the most important way to live your values. Your interviewing process must both reflect, and test for your values. Your interview questions must be written to test people for those values. For instance, if openness is one of your values, test the candidate with new factual information and evaluate if they adjust their opinions.

Train on values  

Provide a curated, educational program to instill and train values. Companies invest in their employees professional training but value training must be another element of ongoing development.

You should look at every single one of your values and ask if you have a training program to foster learning and application of the value in the employee's everyday decisions. For, e.g., if candor is one of your values, do your employees know how to give and receive constructive feedback. Do you have processes and tools available to make it easier ?

Embed values

Once everyone is trained on the values, then rituals and processes must be made to systemize those values. For, e.g., to systemize transparency, share the financial position of the company, revenues, losses, so that people understand the full picture, share salary, the benefits and challenges of the role with prospective candidates, share your challenges with your customer to help them make the best decision. Companies like Buffer take transparency to whole another level by publicly sharing the salaries of all the individuals working within the organization.

Promote and let go based on values

The people that enter and leave your organization send a strong signal to everyone on what is truly valued by the company. If people are promoted based on how chummy they are with their managers, then employees will know that its friendship, kinship, and nepotism that are truly valued, not merit. Similarly, people should be let go if they consistently exhibit behaviour that contradicts your core values.


Value Audit:

Take a look at the values you espouse, and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do we live this value when we hire talent ?
  2. How do we live this value when we build our product ?
  3. How do we live this value when we sell our product ?
  4. How do we live this value when we market our product ?
  5. How do we live this value when we support our customers ?
  6. How do we live this value when someone leaves the team ?
  7. How do we live this value when we are making promotion or lay off decisions ?
  8. How do we live this value when we do our finances, build our office, communicate internally or externally ?

Every decision you make must pass your values. Systems make org. wide decision making process easier and repeatable.

How to build culture by living your values is a journey, not a blog post. We are embarking on this journey to explore the values of great organizations around the world, and the methods they use to systemize those values in everyday life, so that, together, we can learn to build more people-first organizations.