Define your company values by identifying what inflates or deflates your culture

If your company’s purpose is the why, the core values are the how.

Company values are much more than words; they guide expected behaviors – how your team should work together and what’s expected of them.

Values guide corporate behavior, both internally and externally. They should encourage positive behaviors and discourage anything that harms the working environment.

So, if Core Values play such an important role, how do you choose the right ones? How do you ensure that they are both relevant and meaningful? How many values are enough?

Meet the Core Values Canvas.

What Is the Core Values Canvas?

The Core Values Canvas is a simple-to-use visual tool to identify, define, and update your organization’s values on one page.

It has three key applications:

  • Uncover existing values, understand which ones help (inflators) the culture and which ones harm it (deflators)
  • Prioritize and choose the most relevant and authentic values based on your employee’s feedback
  • Update your core values – either tweak or reduce the amount

The Core Values Canvas was designed for co-creation, involving employees in the entire process of identifying and defining the core values. It was adapted from an exercise Airbnb did when reducing the number of values of the company.

Last but not least, it helps to quantify the most important values and provides actionable qualitative and quantitative insights to decision-makers.

How to Facilitate the Core Values Canvas to Define Your Company Values

Set the (virtual) room for success.

To create a deeper connection with the topic, I usually like to facilitate the personal values exercise, first. This helps people to become more aware of their own values and more excited about the activity at hand. It also encourages people to reflect on how their personal values connect to the company’s and vice-versa.

Provide each participant with a copy of the Core Values Canvas (physical copy, share the JPEG, or create a Mural file for each group).

Culture is like a party balloon some elements inflate the culture others deflate it use the core values canvas to find out which is what

Download your copy of the Core Values Canvas:

Download The Core Values Canvas

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    Step 1: Understand the ideal characteristics of values

    Ask employees to define the characteristics of ideal values. You can do this remotely. Ask people to write 3 things that represent ideal core values and share it via Slack, Google docs, etc. 

    Review the different cards and identify the 3-5 core characteristics. These traits should inform the next steps. Here’s a card example from one of Airbnb’s employees.

    Step 2: Use the Core Values Canvas to understand what inflates or deflates your culture

    There are two ways to facilitate this exercise. You can have people working on their own and then share out, or start with an open conversation. The first approach allows people time for reflection without being influenced by the loud voices in the group.

    Ideally, each team shouldn’t have more than 7 members.

    Ask employees to imagine that your culture is a party balloon; the core values can work as deflators or inflators. Positive values blow more air into the balloon; negative ones drain it.

    Cluster the different values that are either ‘culture-inflators’ or ‘culture-deflators’ by finding common themes. Rank and select the top three inflators.

    Consolidate all the inflators into one canvas.

    Step 3: Clarify What Each Value Actually Means for Everyone

    The problem with values is that we assume that everyone’s talking about the same thing because we use the same words.

    Before moving on to the selection and voting, spend some time discussing – as a group – what the selected values really mean.

    What do you mean by (value)?

    Please provide an example of how you see that value come to life

    What is that value and what it’s not?

    Step 4: Rank & select

    Ask people to vote on the final values. Select the most voted. Cut down the list to the top 3-5.

    Selecting Company Values: Dos and Don’ts

    Use the following checklist to stress-test your core values:

    • Are your core values action-driven or good intentions?

    • Are company values written in a verb form? (e.g., “Do no harm to our community.”)

    • Do your values represent what your organization stands for?

    • Are your values connected to your company’s purpose?

    • Do you have the right number of values? (3-5)

    • Are there any missing? Which can be eliminated?

    • Have you written your values in the company’s voice?

    • Are your values authentic?