Building a values-driven organization involves much more than slapping a few cookie-cutter words onto a page: it’s about unearthing the beliefs that matter to your team and putting them into motion. When activated, those beliefs will turn into your company’s compass, constantly pointing you in the direction you want to go.

There’s a common thread among organizations that really value people; most of them are also obsessed with values. And when it comes to values building, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is king. Hsieh teaches companies how to identify, create, and ultimately, live the values they preach. In his book, Delivering Happiness, he writes:

“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them.”

Most companies establish a list of value statements — on average between three and seven — but only two in five employees feel like they really know what their company stands for. So how can you change that? Here are five ways you can infuse more values-oriented thinking into your business.

1) Turn personal values into shared values

Your founders aren’t the only ones who should mold the belief system. Employees are stewards of the company’s culture, and therefore should be extremely engaged in the value creation process. If you’re in the beginning phases of forming your values, try polling a few employees about what they think the values should be. Hsieh practiced this approach at Zappos by asking his employees to describe what they believed in when they first started brainstorming. He then compiled that list into the “Zappos Family Core Values,” and to this day, they serve as the company’s guiding light.

2) Treat employees like owners

One important way to make people feel valued at work is to empower them to feel — and act — like owners. At Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll), we celebrate our “ownership mentality” by making sure everyone feels like they have a stake in the company’s success. Weave that mentality into your own workplace by creating new opportunities for employees, and then provide them with the freedom to succeed. IDEO illustrates ownership mentality through their “fail often to succeed sooner” motto, which encourages people to take risks and learn from their mistakes. Personal accountability can only be cultivated by giving people a chance to make a difference. When you build a team that cares deeply about changing things, they will end up doing some of the best work of their lives.

3) Encourage time for creativity

While fancy perks are nice to have, working at a company that helps people realize their full potential can be a lot more meaningful. For example, Google’s 20 percent time provides people with dedicated time to think creatively outside of their day-to-day roles, and has even resulted in breakout products like Gmail and AdSense. Adobe promotes creative experimentation through their “Kickbox” program, which enables any employee to request a “mystery innovation box.” Packed with a $1,000 prepaid credit card, pens, paper, snacks, and a six-level curriculum, the kit is an ironic way to get people to think outside the box, and ultimately, bring innovation to life. Programs like these give employees permission to be creative, which can often be the key to sparking new ideas.

4) Make an impact

More than anything, people want to make a difference at work. Mesh this sense of purpose into your company culture by setting up programs that make a positive impact. One way Salesforce practices social good is through their 1-1-1 philanthropy model. The company donates or discounts 1 percent of its product sales to nonprofits, allows employees to volunteer for 1 percent of their work hours, and offers technology grants using 1 percent of its founding stock. Other companies incorporate philanthropy into their culture by holding volunteer days, supporting corporate giving, and sponsoring food and clothing drives. Find ways to remind employees how their work, and the work of the entire company, can help change the world.

5) Embody your values

Employees often look to senior management for guidance — not only to help them get their work done, but also for advice on how to build a positive culture. It’s no wonder that one of the top things people look for in a Glassdoor review is what people think of the CEO. If you’re in a position of leadership, your values should seep into everything you do. For example, if transparency is important to your business, make sure to hold regular town halls, clearly communicate company news, and share regular updates about the business. Talk openly about how each of your values influence key company decisions, which will help reinforce the meaning and relevance behind each tenet you celebrate.

Core values are the soul of your organization. However, if you want your values to stick, you have to put them in action. You have to live and breathe them; you have to make them yours. And when everyone on your team makes that conscious effort, there’s no stopping the wonders you will achieve.

Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is a former Gusto editor. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.
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