People & Values: Three Foundational Questions for Your Business

When my business partner Jerry McIntosh sketched out the first business plan for our company, we didn’t fixate on marketing channels, the SWOT analysis, or revenue projections. Instead, we started with people, and we knew that our values would be the building blocks for our people strategy. Putting values front and center is how you develop a great company that people want to work for—and work with.

If you’re also embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, asking the following questions will provide a solid foundation.

1. What kind of company do you want to build?

Put economics and business science aside for a second, and think of the values that you hold dear. The best companies don’t just generate astronomical profits; they stand for something. They exemplify the principles on which our very civilization thrives.

Integrity. Respect. Accountability. Innovation. Altruism. These are a few of Insperity’s values. Yours might be different. But they will guide every action you take and decision you make, especially personnel decisions, as you want your workforce to uphold these values too.

The values you choose will form the basis of your corporate culture, which will constitute the company’s identity. Its personality. Its very soul.

2. How can you live out your values each day?

Where most companies go wrong is treating its value statement like a discrete, one-and-done task—draw up a nice-sounding list, slap it on a pretty poster, and voila! Done.
It doesn’t work that way. Embedding your chosen values into the company means embodying those values day to day—implementing them over the long term, through a series of sustained, visible actions, both large and small.

For example, if “helping the community” is important to you, then support local charitable initiatives, and set up programs that allow your people to volunteer on company time. If integrity is a foundational value, then always do the right thing, even if it’s costly or difficult.

Practice what you preach until your values become part of the DNA of the organization, guiding the behavior of every single person in the building.

As an executive, you can keep your finger on the pulse by having employees take “culture surveys,” questionnaires that gauge whether the organization is actually adhering to its principles. Your people want to talk to you, and they also want to build something great. Listen to them.

3. Have you incentivized upholding the core values?

If you hire the right people, they’re generally going to uphold the values of the organization without being asked. Nevertheless, a little outside encouragement is also helpful. Strengthen your people strategy by rewarding the behaviors you seek to cultivate.

Your “compensation philosophy statement” (which every company should have) should formalize this practice by linking core values with compensation. But also recognize that non-monetary rewards also have vast motivational power. Employee awards and public recognition ceremonies encourage excellence by celebrating people who live out the core values of the firm.

  • Share this story: