Discovering our values

By Kathrin Opielka

09 November 2016

A company's values are what makes them unique. Join us on our journey to discovering ours.

What really makes a company unique? Is it their facilities, their logo, their value proposition? Their “unique” selling point?

When you think about it, all of this can be copied by your competitors. What really makes the core of a company is its people and what unites them – their shared values. Values are often underrated and yet they hold an incredible potential for brands.

With all the pressures of running a growing business, understanding your own values is something that is easy to neglect. This is something we realised we were becoming guilty of at Storm, and so we felt we had to take action.

Knowing that aligning the company, our communications, our work ethic and our recruitment and training around the company values would bring great reward, we first had to set out to identify and reinforce what our values actually were.

I would like to invite you to join me on this journey of our own discovery process to show you the true potential values hold for companies.

Looking back to the roots

Over the last few years, Storm has been experiencing significant growth. Just within the last two years, we have welcomed over 20 new employees on board (including myself!). Our organisation has developed from a close circle of friends who wanted to re-think the future into an all-round digital consultancy.

This posed some new challenges for Storm, though. How could we make sure that, while we maintained growth , we could also “preserve the magic” that makes the very soul of what Storm ID is? How can we retain and attract talented people that fit into our culture?

How can we be able to keep up our very open leadership style which relies on trusting every member of Storm to give their very best instead of falling into the trap of micromanagement?

And finally, why would people and companies choose to work together with us rather than any other organisation offering similar services to us? How would we be able to “codify” a consistent customer experience?

The answer to all of these questions is our values.

The true value of values

The problem with values is that you can’t measure their worth. It’s hard to assign them a numeric value or calculate their ROI, and yet I would argue that they are priceless. However, this is the exact reason many companies react quite cynically when values are mentioned.

Almost every organisation formally announces their values, you can find them on their websites, leaflets, sometimes proudly hanging enthroned on posters from office walls.

Often people see the words, they read them, but they are meaningless. A common mistake companies make is defaulting to generic values, that do little to differentiate, or selecting values that they aspire to hold, rather than actually hold.

We realised that finding that very core of our company, making the invisible visible, would help us solve all challenges we have been facing as we were expanding within the last years, and would enable us to give a soul to such a complex phenomenon that organisations are.

How to discover the invisible?

Discovering your values is more challenging than many believe. We didn’t just want to write down generic values, have “pretty words on paper” somewhere, but really make a difference through finding and embracing the very essence that makes Storm unique.

We, therefore, partnered up with Beliyf, a wonderful company whose mission it is to help other organisations discover who they really are, so they can become all they were meant to be.

Mark Sampson, our personal Beliyfer, guided us through the journey of discovering our values here at Storm ID in an extremely interesting and enlightening process.

Having that external help to unravel something that is so hard to grasp was extremely valuable to us and prevented us from falling into the trap of inventing values we might have heard somewhere or would like our company to have rather than identifying what really makes the soul of our company.

Paul McGinness, one of Storm’s founders reflects on the values exercise: "There is a long history of companies who grow fast, recruit poorly and then introduce lots of process to try and manage the chaos. This turn of events often results in companies losing the attributes that made them good in the first place.

"We wanted to avoid that scenario and embarked on the values exercise to give us a framework through which we can make decisions on who we hire, behaviours we value and what processes fit with our culture and which don’t. We are now working hard to operationalise our values across the business."

There is no universal recipe on how to find your company’s values.

Together with Beliyf, we followed a five-step process that would lead us to eventually knowing and applying our own values and culture – a truly inspiring and eye-opening experience.

"The values exercise gave us a framework through which we can make decisions on who we hire, behaviours we value and what processes fit with our culture."

Found a committee

The first step we took was founding a committee. This committee should be as diverse as possible, including people from different teams and departments, mixing old company members and recent starters.

In our case, we had a team of 12 people involved – we found that this size worked extremely well.

Identify your company’s “essence”

After having founded a committee, the discovery process began.

All members of the committee were asked to reflect on various questions and were presented with a list of 120 common values which led to vivid discussions. After this exercise, they were asked to name five people that they would pick if they had to re-found Storm on a lonely island.

We then combined the results of all three exercises and clustered them wherever we could detect trends or patterns.

In the end, we were able to identify five main clusters.

A group of people looking at a wall covered in sticky notes

Formulate unique values

The next step was to formulate these clusters into unique values. It is very important at this point for companies to word their values wisely.

Here are some basic tips from Mark:

  • refrain from putting down generic phrases
  • find your own expressions
  • describe each value with a short explanation starting with a call to action
  • support each value with a set of observable and measurable behaviours

In our case, we identified five values.

Battle complacency

Embrace change, don’t rest on your laurels. Frequently challenge the status quo and accepted norms. Have a bias towards action, and are always looking for ways to improve on something.

Don't pass the buck

Take ownership of opportunities and problems. Be always accountable. Accept responsibility. Always persevere. Demonstrate resourcefulness.

Expand your zone of genius

Be eternal students. Accept there is always more to learn. Pursue an endless quest for mastery. Relish the chance to absorb more knowledge, but equally relish the opportunity to share it with others.

Going above and beyond

Can always be relied upon, and hate letting someone down. Have other people’s backs. Be great team-players. Champion camaraderie. Be open and approachable.

Be genuine

Be modest and humble. Always consider other people’s points-of-view. Don’t brag or boast. Never judge. Embrace your individuality and always be respectful of the quirks and individuality of others.

Find real live examples

As you can see from our discovery process, company values aren’t something you just invent, but based on deep introspection.

To say it in Mark Sampson’s words: "Values aren’t the things that you want to be on a sunny day. They are the non-negotiables, the things that you hold dear and stick to, even if they cost you money in the short term."

In order to make sure that these values really reflect what Storm was about, the committee members were entrusted with the mission of getting external verification through asking people who weren’t included in the discovery process for their feedback.

That way we were able to see if everyone could self-identify with the values we defined.

And once we verified the values, it was important to communicate them to everyone in the company through stories, examples, feedback, etc. to show that these values actually exist, and reflect what our organisation is truly about.

Apply values

Having identified your values, it is now time to embrace them and try to include them into as many processes as possible.

In our specific case, we realised that values had an immense potential of helping us solve the three main questions that came up with our company growing, covering recruitment, management and leadership, as well as marketing and customer relations.

There are, however, much more areas organisations can apply their values to. Values should be embedded in every person on every level in the company. This can be achieved through applying them from the very beginning (in the on-boarding process) through to integrating them into day-to-day processes (the way you answer phones, performance reviews, company events, voicemail greetings).

I think that this is probably the most important step – and sadly the one where many companies tend to stop.

How can you make sure the values you’ve identified will really be applied and accepted by every single member of your company? How can they become and stay the most important part of your company culture, the very essence of your organisation’s identity?

Let me quote Mark Sampson once more, who summarised the actual essence of why companies need to live their values: “Values aren’t what you put on your wall, or even list on your website. They are demonstrated through how your people treat one another. There is no bigger role-model than your leadership team – if your leaders don’t live the values you’ve defined, then your company doesn’t have them.”

After all this effort, you don’t want your values to just be nice words on paper.

You have to live them.

Want to work in an environment where values really matter?

At Storm, we’re always on the look-out for talented people that share our beliefs and values. If you can identify with our culture, we’d love to hear from you.