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Why Your Company’s Core Values Should Be Your “True North”

By Glen Allison
October 1, 2019

Almost every company today has core values––maxims that they write out and hope everyone can easily and naturally follow. 

Most companies, however, don’t actually live their day to day by them. Their values mostly serve as a few nice words they plaster on their website (or even their walls) that otherwise go forgotten. 

This is unfortunate, because when those core values are upheld, they can become a core aspect of your company’s DNA. They may even amount to being North Stars, guiding your company in its decision-making and overall strategy. 

In fact, if you want your company to operate cohesively in solving hard problems of scale and innovation, it’s necessary to have core values that are purposefully designed, easily referenceable, and genuinely understood. This is something we learned early on at Honey.

Here’s why. 

To start, your core values help define who you are as a business. 

And that sense of identity––shared and understood throughout the company––serves as the foundation on which everything else will be built. 

The importance of this became clear to my team early on in my tenure at Honey. When I first joined, we were like many other small companies. We had core values, but we didn’t think about them in an operational sense, nor did they guide our decision-making as clearly as they do now. 

For example, when we first started hiring at Honey, our core values didn’t play as big of a role in the interview process as they should have; we relied more on intuition, which was less effective. So leaders in the company put our heads together and asked ourselves: what values do all candidates and employees need to follow in order to fulfill our company’s mission? What values do we want to see lived through how we operate as a company? What values should comprise who we aspire to be? Then we wrote them down and revisited them every time we had a business decision to make. This is how we began living by them. 

By forcing ourselves to articulate those values, it then helped us understand more clearly what sort of company we wanted to become––and what sort of employees we needed to bring on board to help us get there. 

In addition to identity, company values lend critical direction. 

Establishing our core values so purposefully so that everyone at Honey could start abiding by them also better enabled employees to operate more effectively on an independent level. Our core values provide everyone with a consistent means of direction—guidelines for what to do or how to act in moments of uncertainty. Because our core values help define the “True North” for everyone at Honey, whenever an employee is deciding how best to use their time or what specific action to take at any given moment, they know what to do. 

This is a valuable thing for any company, but it’s especially important for companies that are growing fast. That’s because communication in a rapidly growing company can be tough, and you often need employees to wear multiple hats and make decisions without a ton of guidance. Core values that double as North Stars help ensure employees are able to do that––which in turn ensures your company is moving cohesively in the right direction. 

It’s a matter of making sure everyone on the team is using the same navigational tools. 

Core values help employees grow. 

Some employees in your company might be confused by a new commitment to abiding by core values. Others may perceive that commitment as a reflection of a lack of trust or a sign that you’re taking away their independence. 

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. A company’s core values are not meant to take away employees’ independence, but rather, to embolden everyone’s sense of independence by improving their ability to operate effectively on their own. In this sense, emphasizing and living your company’s core values increases employee autonomy.

And increased employee autonomy is conducive to employee growth. In fact, at Honey, we’ve seen this to be so true that we’ve recently added a new core value: Grow Without Limit. We screen for a growth mindset in our interviews, we encourage people to seek out solutions on their own, and we give them the space to grow in whatever direction they desire. 

But your values must be well implemented and respected for them to prove useful.

It’s one thing to claim at a leadership level that your company’s core values are important; it’s another thing to implement those core values effectively.

At Honey, it starts with the onboarding process, where we first introduce new hires to our values and break down what they actually look like in practice. When we make company-wide announcements, you’ll hear our founders explaining the news in the context of which value(s) it relates to. They’re also listed on our website to give our members a sense of what kind of company we’re trying to build and to give ourselves some accountability.

We’ve found that this helps employees personalize and operationalize the values, transforming them from abstract ideas into tangible, tactile tools. Plus, it encourages employees to buy into the values when they see your company CEO, for example, living them in their own context.

As your company grows, your core values might change––and that’s completely fine. 

In fact, it’s probably necessary. You’ll need to update your values as your company’s needs and operational priorities change. The important thing is the core values should still define who you are as a company and provide strategic direction for your employees. 

Your core values should always define your “True North,” in other words.

If employees always know what that “True North” is––and if leadership puts the right systems in place to hold everyone accountable in striving for it––everyone will better understand what decisions to make in order to help the company get there. 

For every company––fast-growing or not––that’s absolutely critical.