The Power of Core Values: Use these 3 Steps to Integrate Core Values into Your Company’s CultureFeatured

Merriam Webster defines culture as, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” For this piece, let’s focus on a particular aspect of culture: shared “core” values. As an HR professional, you may look at your company's priorities and realize that culture hasn't been one. However, by prioritizing culture and specifically by defining core values, you can make a tremendous impact on your organization internally and externally. Externally, core values clarify the identity of the company, leading to a competitive advantage with both talent and customers. A study by Gallup showed that companies “...could see 33% higher revenue by creating a culture that attracts star talent.” Internally, the benefits are endless. Companies with strong core values tend to have happier employees, higher productivity, and more significant profits. Most importantly for HR professionals, supporting a positive company culture can lead to a more engaged team with lower turnover. 47% percent of people seeking a new job cite company culture as the main reason for doing so.At Cockroach Labs, we take culture very seriously. We believe that our core values provide a framework for how we get things done and navigate our day-to-day. We know that how we accomplish our company goals and how we interact with one another should reflect the behaviors that support our core values.When I started at Cockroach Labs in December 2015, we had five founder-defined core values. We put the engagement platform, CultureAmp, in place to ensure we were listening to whether they continued to resonate with employees as we scaled. In May 2017, at around 40 employees, we wanted to do a deeper dive to understand if our core values still represented our team. Our company organization had diversified, and since we prioritize culture, it was essential to see if our values still represented our culture.

Steps to Evolve Your Company’s Core Values

Step 1: Listen

HR professionals shouldn’t define core values in a vacuum. They should provide a framework to guide the discussion about values with the employees who are meant to embody them. Once you have everyone in the room, your job is to listen. Since we had grown from three founders to 40 employees, we knew it was the right time to re-evaluate our values. We also decided to set a few goals for our values as they were being redefined:Goals for our values- Be actionable- Be memorable- Apply to everyone at Cockroach LabsTo facilitate the discussion, we designed a workshop that leveraged employees' results from a behavioral test, Insights Discovery, to talk about cognitive and behavioral diversity while thinking constructively about our values. Insights Discovery organizes people into a color wheel, so we had employees organize by their leading color and discuss what the values meant to them. We chose to organize the workshop in this way so that we could better ensure that we were hearing from different parts of the organization and not just one person or team. From there, we came together and explored which values bubbled to the top and where there was overlap. It was easy to identify who felt strongly about the values during the workshop, and I continued the discussions in smaller groups until we got to a point where we felt our values reflected who we are a business. 2015 Cockroach Labs Values1. Do it Right2. Reach High3. Balance4. Transparency5. Respect2017 Cockroach Labs Values1. Aim High and Build to Last2. Establish Balance3. Be Transparent about Both Highs and Lows4. RespectThe adjustments to the values were not dramatic, but they evolved into ones that truly resonated with the team. By spending time listening to your employees, you can ensure that your core values are ones that everyone can adopt and apply.

Step 2: Practice

It’s essential to find ways you can integrate your company’s core values into daily processes or programs. HR Professionals alone cannot be responsible for this work. Everyone must be active participants and bring your values to life. Here is the question that we ask when looking at opportunities to bring our values to life:Where do we practice our values and which initiatives support them?1. Communication- Internal- External- Platforms/Tools2. Organizationally- Processes (e.g. decision making)- Programs- Platforms/ToolsHere is an example of Establish Balance:1. Communication- Internal: How to work with me2. Organizationally- Employee Programs:- Flex Fridays- Flexible Work Hours- Flexible Time Off- Parental Leave Program (includes Family Fridays, which is 80% work for 3 months after returning from 3 months parental leave)

Step 3: Evolve

If you look back at your 10-year-old self, you may retain some of the same behaviors, but overall, you have probably evolved. Your company’s values are expected to change as well! Earlier this year, we grew our Revenue organization significantly. We found that our value to Aim High and Build to Last no longer fully captured what we represented across our teams, and we needed to allow that value the chance to evolve.2017 Value: Aim High and Build to LastThe world is moving faster than ever. We strive to build technology that keeps pace by breaking boundaries and challenging the status quo. We value curiosity, creativity, and ambition in particular.2019 Value: Commit to ExcellenceWe commit to providing solutions that demonstrate a singular focus on excellence. We take pride in what we do – aim to reach high, break boundaries, and build to last – because striving to do our best work is its own reward.The above change is an example of a slight variation that we made with CEO input. We were able to include the ethos of what the old value represented while creating a more inclusive one for our future. Your company culture is a living, breathing entity, influenced by several moving parts. Just like your 10-year-old self, your core values are expected to change. Hopefully, this article has provided some encouragement on why values are critical and tools on how to start the conversation! Question for the Elpha community: How is culture prioritized at your company? Which value at your company would you change if you were offered that kind of input?--As the Chief People Officer at Cockroach Labs, Lindsay focuses on attracting, developing, and retaining the best possible talent for Cockroach Labs. She was first exposed to the world of startups at Google Ventures (GV), placing executives in engineering and product management at the 150+ portfolio companies. Most recently, she served on the management team at Yext as the Vice President of People Operations, where she was responsible for growing the company from 168 to over 440 employees across the United States, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. When she is not at work, you can find her exploring the culinary delights of New York and attempting to recreate them at home.
Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing! It’s so nice when companies make culture a top priority and regularly evaluate their core values and goals. Could you give us a specific example of how the CultureAmp platform has helped you engage employees??
I am forever grateful for CultureAmp. CultureAmp allowed us to run employee engagement surveys on a quarterly basis until we reached 50 employees. Now we run them bi-annually. I'm assuming you are familiar with CultureAmp but if you are not, there are several out of the box surveys you can use. This is a great starting point for a small team or to figure out what you want to focus on. We've customized ours (which I recommend doing) but always ensure the questions map to benchmarks – either internal based on past surveys or industry that CultureAmp provides. This is a great way to measure how we are progressing. Also, when I say we have customized, our surveys evolve. We've adjusted, clarified words (one word can be interpreted differently in so many ways!), removed, added, etc. However, the areas are always consistent and we always map to a benchmark. Employees want to know how to interpret feedback so it's important to measure. I know quarterly employee engagement surveys sound like a lot of work and they can be. I ensured before launching the surveys I was getting feedback from the exec team on what we were hoping to learn by listening to our employees. In receiving the feedback, we made the results transparent. I would run a post-survey workshop with employees where we came together to review the results, discussed the feedback, and (most importantly) had everyone be active participants in finding ways to address pain points. Make it a team sport!Now that we've scaled over 100, quarterly is no longer possible, nor effective. We've found that biannual allows for us to do a deeper-dive a at the end of the year, identify areas for our team to focus on, and then use the mid-year survey as a pulse-check on how things are going and if there are new areas that have popped up. Regardless if it's CultureAmp or another platform, giving space for your employees to be listened to is crucial in understanding what is going on.
I think it is so important that you pointed out how we need to evaluate current culture to ensure it is still applicable and appropriate for the employees. Trends and needs shift over time, and even more so, it gives you a chance to improve upon the existing framework.
Hi Lindsay - thanks for sharing your knowledge with Elpha. I appreciate how concrete your values are through practice (company initiatives). I think this can play a big role in creating culture and shows employees that the company truly believes in their core values. I work in a lab environment and as a graduate student there is no intentionally created culture which is unfortunate. Although we hold the values of the graduate school and the medical center we are associated with a culture within our lab is not created around these values. I think this is common among graduate school students which is unfortunate as we are also mid/early career and should have the opportunity to create a more formally developed culture.
I'm sorry to hear that! Something that we have noticed at Cockroach Labs is that although we have unified core values, the way individual teams practice them vary. For example, within my team, the following are the values that we own:CollaborationCollaboration on our team, as well as with other teams is crucial for our team’s ability to execute. We are honest about where we are with our work and eagerly engage to help those around us. By working together, we find solutions.EmpathyWe work with other teams as much as our own. We practice kindness and respect – being mindful of how diverse our employees are. We do right by people – this makes our team a stronger team and helps us work more effectively with those around us. Empathy is our strength, not our weakness.TransparencyWhen dealing with human-facing roles, your job can be unpredictable. We believe that by creating openness about the good and the bad it enables us to connect, learn, and find stronger outcomes for our people. We believe that transparency is the key to us being successful in collaborating. We ask the ‘why’ to understand the need.ProcessProcess is the structure that allows our teams’ values to breathe. Process is not there to bog us down, rather than guide success and innovation. Simply put, we can’t be creative if things are all over the place. Humans are messy and often times strive for structure because it gives humans confidence to create and innovate.InnovationIn our world, there are so many opportunities to take what has been done, make it better, and more human-oriented. We need to embrace mistakes and understand that it is not going to be done perfectly the first time (because we are dealing with unique humans).These all feed back up to and support our Cockroach Labs Core Values. I'm wondering if there is an opportunity for a group of you to create ones that support the Graduate School values, especially if you have a group you work with that feel it's important.
This is a great article! Thank you for sharing. I have run values processes at 3 differnt companies I have been at and never got it perfect. :) I love your concreat advice. Super helpful.
Hi Lindsay, thanks for this! Digging into the "respect" value, I'd love to get your perspective on best practices for training like sexual harassment and D&I related trainings-- what you've seen be effective, any challenges, and ways you've thought about measuring effectiveness. I ask because I launched a sexual harassment training company, and I love learning from experienced People Ops leaders.
Thanks, Roxanne! Regardless of the topic, effective training and workshops are live and interactive. I find that the most value of training exists in the dialogue that your employees engage in regarding the topic. Anti-harassment training, under the law, is essential. For this reason, I recommend bringing in a trained professional and investing time in making the training meaningful for your employees. Look at the way your employees engage and ask for the trainer to focus on applying the abstract concepts of anti-harassment training to actual situations that resonate with our employee group. Some best practices of live anti-harassment training:1. Customize to the audience (e.g., managers, staff, etc.)2. Make it interactive – I've been a part of training where the participants narrate the case studies. This is hard with larger groups. 3. Make space for questions. It's in the dialogue that employees learn the most.4. Ensure employees know where they can go next. Often, anti-harassment training can bubble up situations that have been brewing. Make sure managers and HR people are available immediately following the training.5. Follow-up. Communicate via email key-takeaways from the training and how employees can continue to engage with managers and HR. I customize one email for the general employee group (via our company-wide email group) and then a second for managers (via our manager email group). Anti-harassment training varies state by state. However, we ensure we are recording participants through our training log in our HRIS. If an employee is not available via the live training, we default to electronic training. For all presentations, training, and workshops at Cockroach Labs, we have recently started using QR codes on the last slide of the deck that links to a Google Form. This can act as a sign-in sheet but more importantly, a quick feedback loop from participants on if the engagement was effective. For most engagements, we ask the following:1. The content of this (presentation, training, workshop) was useful. [Scale 1-5]2. The content of this (presentation, training, workshop) was easy to understand. [Scale 1-5]3. The presenter spoke clearly and effectively. [Scale 1-5]4. The presenter was engaging. [Scale 1-5]5. Additional comments or questions. [Free text] ** The above questions change slightly based on the type of engagement. The QR code to Google Form offers a quick feedback loop. I always recommend that you engage with your employees through pulse surveys at least once a year to listen to employees and how they feel things are going. I hope this all helps!
Thanks for sharing, Lindsay, super interesting insights! Could you please elaborate more on what approach did you use in the very hiring process, trying to make sure that the candidates you hired were "the right ones" to align with your company's core values? Any specific advice you would offer in that respect?
TLDR; Culture is not a "beer test." At Cockroach Labs, we have a scorecard specific to Roacherness [Scale 1-4]:Commit to Excellence1. The candidate had a thoughtful and creative approach to the interview questions. 2. The candidate’s skills would fill a gap on my team. Be Transparent about Highs and Lows1. The candidate was open about when they were struggling or needed guidance on the problem. 2. The candidate was receptive to alternate ways of thinking or solving the problem. Respect1. I would like to collaborate on a project with this candidate. 2. The candidate showed curiosity and respect throughout the interview.Our team is currently looking at how we can drive a more culture-driven interview based on the above but are still thinking through this. We have 2 exercise-based interviews that could work. Both are formats where the interviewee teaches the interviewer about something they worked on: 1. 'Technical Writer Information Design' 2. 'Choose Your Own Design' one is a continuous work in progress but I would recommend starting with our open-sourced interview process to learn more: