Say Hello By Name
Why Most Corporate Core Values Don't Work (And Introducing Atmosphere's First Core Value)
A frustrating part of many corporate jobs is the lack of personal leadership. When questioned with, "why does *something* work this way and not another?", most mid-level managers will just point upstairs (it is what it is). Hard decisions are either directed somewhat anonymously from the top-down or happen mysteriously in the background through some exchange of political and social capital.
In small companies you can skate by without a clearly defined set of core values, because you're able to take cues from one or two key leaders. However, when those key people aren't around (whether because of job changes or simply, going on vacation), the team doesn't know how to operate, make decisions, or be effective without established core values to guide them. On the flip side, when a company has a unique set of values, they set not just boundary lines, but influence the shape of your team's decisions.
If your company currently has generic values, look beyond the superficial labels and words that comprise your values and into the purpose and history behind them. They should inspire you to make different decisions. Do your values take you down a path that feels unique to your company? Don't remove the soul that makes your values unique. If there's no history or context behind the words, the story of those words will not be told.
Corporate directors tend to give great reverence to the impact their company's core values have in influencing communication and decision-making. They always strive to "do the right things in the right way at the right time" and to "keep the customer first." They will state that their core values help to drive these decisions and are so ingrained in their culture that they are almost intuitive. It's just the way they do business. Integrity. Passion. Customer-Focused. But with values so generic, there's not way they're actually intuitively integrated. There will be many different interpretations of how generic values are applied, depending on the sensibilities of each individual situation or team member.
So, without a unique set of core values, what will serve as the common denominator on which difficult, key decisions are made?
While some companies are starting to understand that specific value systems are important, others still miss the mark on defining their values in a meaningful way. Not wanting to make any hard decisions upfront, they serve up a meaningless platter of core values with no bite. Corporate values, when too generic to be properly applied, typically only serve to justify a decision already being made. (Or, they just meaninglessly sit on the company's 'About' page on their website gathering dust).
So, how do you come up with a non-generic set of core values?
People are naturally influenced not just by what people talk about, but what others are doing and working on around them. When you can name that specific behavior and can be described metaphorically or literally as something you strive to emulate, then you have a value that is real and applicable.
Values aren't to be brainstormed or chosen from a list. Values are revealed over time, through observation. They are descriptive, not of your company's mission statement, but how you work together as a team. Great values can be woven into your backstory and do influence the final product, but they also dictate how decisions are made. In order for values to be real, relatable and actionable, you must describe what the best of your team is currently doing in a way they can see people doing it.
We recently refreshed our Atmosphere core values, because we wanted to have meaningful, actionable, evidence-based core values, instead of boring, aspirational, but non-realistic values.
At Atmosphere, our first core value is:
**Say Hello to Others by Name.**
We’re not strangers –– we’re coworkers, and we want to act like it. We want to feel known and welcome, and greeting each other warmly each morning makes all the difference. After all, we want this to be a comfortable place for everyone in our atmosphere.
This Atmosphere Core Value is actionable and specific. It's a small behavior but it says a lot about the environment we are creating here. There are 50 people in our space at any given time, so it's really tough to learn everyone's name and say hello to everyone most mornings. But (and this a nod to our 5th core value), we have to start small. Learn one person's name. Or give a pleasant hello to someone you don't know. If you are in the kitchen, just every once in a while, say hello and introduce yourself to that person and ask them how their day is.
We believe small things create Atmosphere.