By Protima Sharma

Values of an organization can only be discovered, analyzed and articulated. They are not created or set. More often than not, the personal values of the founder and key stakeholders metamorphosize and percolate through the ranks to become organizational values.

Core values are what sustain the vision, sculpt the culture and reflect what the company holds in the highest regard.  They are the essence of the company’s identity and way of working.

These steps will help you find your organizational values.

Step 1 – Capture personal values of the founding team

Interview the founder and key stakeholders on what do they find as the differentiating characteristics of the company’s work environment. Have an open and free flowing discussion. Remember that you are looking to discover their personal values.

Here are a few questions to get you started

  • Think of last week, can you narrate the one thing that you did that you enjoyed the most at work? Why?
  • What inspires you at work?
  • What is the work philosophy or principle at the company that you can identify the most with?
  • In your opinion, what are the top 3 things that the company should always retain as a way of working even when the business grows and diversifies?

Ask questions that get you an honest reply, not “right” reply.

Step 2 – Seek inspiration from your business model

Are you in the business of creating cutting edge products or providing an exceptional user experience? Which employee behaviors will best serve your business purpose? Which behaviors can result in a product or service differentiation?

Answer to these questions is a good starting point to create a long list of values and behaviors. For example, if user experience is what matters the most for your company, then you need an empowered frontline workforce that can take decisions in the best interest of the user. A crucial value in such a case is customer centricity. However, if its product quality that is at the core of your business, you need people and mechanisms that will eliminate inferior quality products before they reach your customer. Core value in such a scenario is Quality consciousness.

Step 3 – Analyze and create themes

Step 1 and 2 will produce wealth of data. Using the basic principles of Content Analysis, look for common themes.

Remember that people at different levels use different examples to convey the same idea. For example, being allowed to make mistakes and being able take risks both point towards a company that values Growth and Learning.

Once you have clearly identified 4- 5 themes with a suitable description, you are ready for the very crucial next step- socializing the themes with the team and building consensus.

Step 4 – Build consensus

It is important that the key stakeholders find resonance of their personal values in the organizational values. A simple group exercise can achieve this.

Value Auction exercise is one such way. Get everyone in a room and share the themes and long list of values. Provide them with some fake money and have an auction of the values. At the end of the auction, you will be able to see which values were sold at the highest price. These values are most highly regarded by the team.

This is a fun and interesting way of building consensus and getting reliable data. You can try other exercises like Mountain & Valley or Mars Group Exercise as long as the result is that everyone gets a chance to discuss, debate and converge different views.

Step 5 – Find your voice, refine

It is important to find your unique voice and words when you draft your value statement. Do you want the statements to sound sporty (Zappos) or classy (Accenture)? Describe the values in terms of behaviors to make it easy for your team to imbibe them in their day-to-day work.

For example Customer orientation value can be described, as “We will always be accessible to the clients, responsive to their needs, empathetic to their concerns, cohesive in our solutions and nimble enough to act on their feedback.”

Step 6 – Institutionalize

After you have got found the right words to explain the values, publish and publicize them. Use them in your HR manuals or company handbook and build your rewards policy and mechanisms around them. Communicate and reinforce them at every chance that you get.

Following the above will set you at the right path for discovering values, crossing the path successfully will be determined by your drive to create necessary mechanisms that sustain the values. Values are the soul of the organization. It’s always present. Getting to know it is only the first part of a rewarding organization building process.

About the Author

Protima Sharma is Managing Partner at PeopleWiz Consulting. She has notched up over 12 years of valuable industry experience in Thermax, Citigroup, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) as OD & Change Management consultant. She writes on various aspects of People Management and Organization Development for Entrepreneurs as well as the HR community.