When leaders and teams are aligned around the core principles that guide how a business should grow and impact the world, daily work is more efficient, fulfilling, and fun. And, ideally, that shared commitment creates a culture that helps folks feel engaged and empowered.
But while the idea of building a culture around values is awesome, it’s not always clear how companies actually make this happen. Is there a secret formula? Not so much. Developing a culture that reflects your company values is about intentional work over time, requiring regular review as you grow.
So where to start? In the ongoing pursuit of building a values-aligned culture at Help Scout, a few key learnings have proven particularly helpful. Read on for four steps we’ve taken to define, share, and live our values.
1. Clarify your values
“Core values” are not a universal, shared set of principles guiding businesses — they are unique to each company, and the work to form and articulate them is the job of leaders and teams. If you haven’t yet clarified the values that you want to guide your business and created statements that describe each one, that’s the first step in creating a culture that then aligns with those values.
If you’re starting from square one, key questions to ask to help define your values could include:
What do we stand for?
What behaviors do we value over all else?
How will we work to achieve our mission and vision?
How do we treat members of our own organization and community?
Once you’ve landed on the values you feel should define your work and your culture, you’ll want to hone those principles using language and tone that are authentic to your brand. At Help Scout, a recent project to refresh and clarify our values included these steps:
Set a timeline: We planned for this work to be completed over roughly four months. To ensure we met our goal, we set milestones and specific dates to solicit feedback as well as a target date for socializing the newly clarified values with the entire team.
Identify a leader: Since the values refresh was a brand initiative, Help Scout’s VP of brand, Kristen Bryant Smith, took ownership of the project.
Form a working group to provide early feedback: With Kristen in place to head up the project, we created a working group of four to six other Help Scout leaders and team members to contribute to the process.
Create cross-functional focus groups: We wanted to be sure that our refreshed values reflected the voices and experiences of our global team and that the language we used was inclusive and not overly colloquial. As part of our refresh process, we held focus groups that reflected our team’s diversity based on role, tenure, geography, race, and gender.
2. Share them with the team
If you’ve done the important work of developing and honing your values, the next step in building a culture that is aligned with those values is to make sure all team members know what they are.
Whether you’re revealing new core values for the first time or you’ve revised or refreshed existing core values, presenting them to your entire team at once is an opportunity to bring folks together and impact culture in a powerful way. At Help Scout, we chose to share our refreshed values at our all-company retreat in Tulum, Mexico. The opening session provided a venue to present the values and the process of the refresh, field questions, and engage in dialogue around the work.
Once you’ve shared your core values internally, another essential step is documenting and publishing them in an easy-to-access internal doc, available to the entire team. You might also choose to create an external site page that names and describes your company values.
No matter where you choose to publish your values, keep in mind that it’s not a one-and-done exercise. If you want your team to continually rally around these principles and keep values top-of-mind, consider these other ways to highlight values in your culture:
Link to your shared values doc or site page regularly in internal communications.
Share values teamwide throughout the year during all-company and smaller team meetings.
Recognize employees who exemplify values (via internal communication channels and team-wide gatherings).
Incorporate values into your performance review processes to illustrate how team members can represent values in their daily work and prioritize them in longer-term contributions.
Don’t miss the chance to create cultural alignment around values early on. Introducing company values in job descriptions and reviewing them during new employees’ onboarding are two opportunities to help ensure folks are aligned with the company’s values from the start.
Operationalizing and consistently sharing your values with your team and the world will help embed them in your culture and affirm their role in guiding behavior and strategy. The more clearly you can articulate your values to prospective and current employees, the more likely you are to ensure that team members join and stay because they share your values.
3. Get specific to connect values back to daily work
While there are lots of ways to share value statements and descriptions, this work has to move beyond lip service. If you’re intent on building a culture that reflects your values, your entire team needs to understand specifically how they show up in their daily work and in contributions to the company.
At Help Scout, we aim to connect our stated values to the way we behave — internally as a team and externally in our collaboration and connection with customers, partners, and our broader communities. When Kristen presented the refreshed values to the Help Scout team, she highlighted this point: “We don't want our values to just be on a shelf or in a document. We want them to really be something that will guide our team’s work — principles that foster continual conversation.”
To show more explicitly how values can show up in our culture, she shared this breakdown of our core values and specific ways they impact how we behave as team members.
Happy to help:
Help is our first name. We show up for others, not because we have to, but because we want to. We share knowledge and give freely by default, and we operate with generosity and empathy for each other, our customers, and our community. After all, there is no I in team (or in software).
“Happy to help” is reflected in our shared responsiveness to our teammates. We jump in. We take initiative to be helpful — not because it’s a job requirement but because we actually want to be helpful. We operate with generosity and empathy; we listen intently and we are solutions oriented.
Externally, this value is deeply encoded in our customer-centric DNA. It's what guides our product, and it ensures that we are always keeping our customer's customer in mind.
This value also shows up in our commitment to whole company support. We're all willing to get into the queue and understand what challenges our customers are having with our product. We’re happy to help.
Craft over convention:
Although it’s tempting to follow a well-worn path, we push ourselves to run beyond it — even when that sets us apart from our peers. We’re building a culture where it’s safe to be ambitious and hold each other to high standards. That’s why we obsess over the last 10%, because it shows up for our customers and the business in powerful ways.
In practice, “craft over convention” shows up in the way we always prioritize the customer experience. We want to make sure that no matter what we're doing, we're trying to deliver value to the customer. That might mean that we're taking a different path than many other SaaS companies, but we're willing to do it because we know that it would create the best customer experience. We know we have to deliver high-quality work to meet that bar and we have to operate with curiosity and intention.
Externally, it's our product. We don't build for feature parity–we aim to get the details right. We want to have a very strong customer experience to hang our hat on every single day — and our product is the best example of our craft.
Our commitment to “craft over convention” also guides decisions we make as a company to hold ourselves to a higher standard than our peers. Our DEI dashboard is a great example: We know that the industry benchmarks around DEI are not aspirational, so we strive to exceed them. We’re not interested in checking the same box as the rest of the white, male tech industry. That’s not enough for us. We’re trying to do more — and potentially inspire others to also aim higher.
Progress not perfection:
The work of building a product, culture, and brand is never done – we ship our best effort, listen, iterate, then repeat. Seeking progress requires the vulnerability to be curious, humble, and hungry to learn. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so we share our work openly, welcome the perspective of others, and continuously search for what can be improved.
In practice, this value means embracing a CANI (constant and never-ending improvement) mindset. We want to iterate and experiment by default. We ask, “How can we start small and build based on feedback?” Internally, we welcome feedback on our deliverables and on our projects.
Externally, we make it clear that this is our approach to building products and that we subscribe to never-ending improvement for the good of our customers. And, we step out of the box to offer resources and make an impact in our communities and the world, including our founder-focused resource, In the Works, which we created for the benefit of other founders and SMBs and our commitment to planting trees (add detail/program name).
Own the outcome:
Ownership is key to our collective success. We consider the impact on our team and our community before we act, and we believe that trust and integrity are non-negotiable. To create a better future, our decisions are made with stakeholders today and ten years from now in mind.
Internally, we’re results-oriented and empower each other to make decisions. We know that we must prioritize based on the impact our decisions will have on our customers and community in the short and long term. This requires us to operate with autonomy, welcome feedback and be resilient.
Externally, we “own the outcome” by being accountable to more than just our shareholders. This is most evident in our B Corp status and our commitment to offsetting our impact on the environment through our “One tree per customer” program.
4. Reflect and revisit
As a growing business, it’s likely you’ll want to tweak your value statements over time. While the values themselves will be consistent guideposts through various stages and iterations of your work, you may find new and more relevant ways to talk about them. Businesses are living, changing entities after all, and as your product or mission evolves, it makes sense that how you describe the values that guide your work can also change.
So, as you navigate your way through the values journey, know that it is an ongoing process. There will likely be experiences — a company retreat, a product launch, a town hall meeting — during which you’ll really feel that the energy and purpose of the moment reflects the values you’ve been working to embed in your culture. It will feel really good (and do take a minute to bask in the glow!), but the work won’t be done. Each new hire, new customer, and new project in the course of the company’s growth will require renewed focus on practicing the values and living the principles that you’ve developed as a team.
At Help Scout, we know we’re smack dab in the middle of this continual work of articulating and living our values and creating a culture around them. There are so many more conversations to be had, questions to ask and answer, and alignment to be found. And we’re here for the work! Ultimately, if there’s a secret formula for this process, it might be found in this dialogue itself, the continual back-and-forth about what we value, how we can live those values, and who we are as a business and a community.