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5 Steps to Discover Your Organization's Core Values

A five-step values workshop process helped Anaplan find common values. Instead of just deciding on the list at the executive level, it is far more impactful to have a bottom-up approach that reflected how people saw themselves and the organization.

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We all know people are the most potent and valuable asset at every company. However, finding the right talent for your organization, and keeping them engaged and happy, involves ensuring a good match on both sides. The best way to do that is through finding common values. 

According to the 2019 Glassdoor Mission and Culture survey, 73 percent of people surveyed said they "would not apply to a company unless its values align with my own personal values," while 71 percent said they would look for a new job if their company's culture deteriorates. But how does an organization determine which values to follow? We believe it needs to come from the people already embodying those values across the organization.

One of the things that worked for Anaplan was our five-step values workshop process. We gathered both input and buy-in from employees across all departments, locations and levels. Instead of just deciding on the list at the executive level, we felt it would be far more impactful to have a bottom-up approach that reflected our people as they saw themselves and our organization.

"Determining specific values can be particularly challenging in hypergrowth organizations because they are changing so rapidly, but it is particularly important for them to do just that, so everyone has the same North Star as the company evolves," Anaplan's Chief People Officer Marilyn Miller said. 

We invested in exceptional facilitators supported by our HR leaders, and I truly believe it was well worth the effort. To start, assemble groups across the organization, virtually or in person when possible and try to get a broad cross section of roles to hold the following workshops. 

Step 1: The Core Values List Question

To create your own core values list, start with these questions: "What is important at our company and what is unique about working here?" 

This exercise works best if the questions are visible to you throughout the rest of the exercise. Make a sticky note on your desk or write it on a whiteboard nearby, just make sure you are mindful of it throughout. 

Step 2: Creating the Core Values List

Take 10 minutes to answer your guiding questions. Write down every answer that comes to mind, putting each idea on its own separate index card or sticky note. These cards are your core values list. Display the cards randomly or make a word cloud so that every idea is visible to the group. 

For the exercise to work well, you should have a minimum of 20–25 ideas written down on your cards before moving on. If your idea flow slows, try inverting the question. Ask yourself, "What is our company NOT?" or "What do similar companies do that our organization would never do?" Inverting the question can help spark discussion. 

Step 3: Organizing Your Core Values List

Begin by sorting the cards into 5–7 groups that feature similar ideas. This process is commonly referred to as affinity mapping or creating an affinity diagram. Affinity mapping helps you find patterns in a large set of data by identifying underlying relationships. 

For example, if you wrote down "teamwork" on one card and "good communication" on another card, you may decide those two ideas are similar and should be grouped together. You can also do this by making new word clouds if doing the exercise virtually. 

Here are a couple of thoughts to help with sorting your core values list:

  • Make sure every card remains visible throughout the sorting process, so you can be flexible as you notice new relationships.

  • Move ideas that don't have a place into a "parking lot" on the side of your sorting area. Come back to the parking lot later in the sorting process to see if these ideas now have a place.

  • Do not discard any ideas even if they are repeated. Repetition is a signal of importance or shared thinking if you created the core values list with multiple people from your team. 

Step 4: Selecting Your Core Values

Look at each of the 5–7 groups you created. Choose a key word or concept that summarizes each group of cards. A large list of core values can come in handy because it can help you capture the right words to summarize each of your groups. The key word or concept you chose from each group is one of your core values. The core values you have selected will be accurate because each group of ideas is weighted by significance and is made up of everything you identified as most important or unique about your organization. 

Step 5: Defining Your Core Values

Determine definitions for your core values using the ideas found in each group of cards. Look for key concepts that appear on multiple cards within a group. The definitions should use the terminology found on the actual cards as much as possible. It will be easier to communicate your core values when their definitions are in your own words and understood by everyone in the organization. 

The HR and executive leadership teams should look at the results of all workshops together to find the common threads that represent the broadest population within your company and use the same process to create a final list. Once you have your core values, review them with your leadership team and then communicate them to the company. Ensure you use examples of what each value means, and then create recognition programs to reward behaviors related to your values.
This is the process that worked for us and could easily be tailored to suit specific company needs. We know we don't have it all figured out, but we believe that if we approach these decisions with a growth mindset and make sure we include our employees in the process, we will be moving in the right direction.   

At Anaplan, we took the opportunity to design our offices with our values painted on our walls, added them to everyone's badges, show them at every company meeting and we have a dedicated Slack channel, #anaplanlove, where people can share examples of how they live our values every day. It's ever-present because it's the core of our culture. 

Frank Calderoni is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Anaplan and author of Upstanding: How Company Character Catalyzes Loyalty, Agility, and Hypergrowth.


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