Let’s talk: Defining your company values


Employees discussing company values for brands and businesses

Featured | Let's Talk

By Loren Webb

Company values help employer and employee alike to achieve their business goals through inclusion, alignment and solidarity. They are the foundation of the company, in that they mould the overall identity and purpose of the brand.

They also guide the operations of a business, and provide clear directions for decision-making. For example, if a company values innovation, there is a clear vision of being disruptors, introducing new concepts and challenging traditional ways of doing things.

Defining your company values also assists in attracting people that align with you on your purpose and goals. This then leads to a culture and workforce that reflects those foundations, which is key to a happy and productive team.

If we take two well-known brands, Coca-Cola and Starbucks, we already have a good idea of their company values because of our experience with that brand and through their marketing campaigns. These are amazing examples of how original values flow into the entire operation and identity of the company.

Coca-Cola

  • Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
  • Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
  • Integrity: Be real
  • Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me
  • Passion: Committed in heart and mind
  • Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
  • Quality: What we do, we do well

Starbucks Coffee

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for result

Usually the company values originate from the founder, as our commentators today talk through, but we’ll leave it up to them to provide advice on where to start in terms of defining your company values.


Peter Forbes, founder, HROnboard

I believe a company’s values are the personification of the founders’ attitudes and values, like a code of honour in the beginning. At the beginning when I scaled HROnboard beyond myself, we adopted seven values and over time we’ve refined them to three.

Our values are robot – a disciplined approach, backed by data, monkey – we are passionate, honest and fun and spaceman – we’re explorers, empowered to take risks and are a team who bring new ideas to old problems.

Core values are a lense and a filter that we see everything through from decisions on hiring or product strategy. Our values are the behaviours our team need to embody for everyone to live the vision. We continuously optimise and re-evaluate our values a team as the business evolves.

Related: Traditional values, old tactics: CEO of Ritchies shares their importance

Dan Pollard, founder, Fergus

Defining company values is not an easy task if you want them to be more than just words on an induction document. To mean something, they need to be fully aligned with your culture and your purpose (or your ‘why’). Values are especially important in times of stress and/or conflict. They should make clear the business’ expectations of employees and be a guide as to how to behave and/or approach certain situations. Business leaders need to ask themselves “Do these values define the people we want to work here?” If the answer is no, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Fintan Lalor, Regional Manager, APAC, Wrike

With best places to work published by the likes of Fortune, Glassdoor or LinkedIn making a lot of noise in recent years, employees are increasingly look for businesses that live by values that resonate with them. It is time in 2020 to invest in company values and get them right.

In the quest to define core values, companies need to find their purpose in a world that needs everyone’s contribution to be sustainable. It is critical businesses realise their why, meaning why the organisation does what it does, and what change does it want to bring to the world at their own level, and the rest should naturally follow. That is, core values should be built around a company’s mission to act as the bedrock to help achieve their goal.

These values and mission statement will then act as a guide to recruit the right people for organisations. If the teams are aligned on a purpose and values to live by on the journey, it is a great step to a harmonious and motivated workforce.

Chris Burke, CEO, Plush – Think Sofas

The Plush company values are the driving characteristics of our whole business and the core relationship values we promote. Whether we’re engaging with employees, suppliers or customers, everything we do points back to the company values.

For Plush, the company values stem from our desire to be the best sofa retailer in Australia. We sell one product, and we sell it well. We have worked hard to define the brand’s position in the market, as this is critical and has helped to establish and strengthen our reputation, too.

We are a service business and place incredible value on delivering the best service we can. This isn’t just through customer service. At every level we listen, are generous and trusted, which has also helped us to retain staff and achieve consistent, positive customer feedback.

Importantly, we work hard to create an environment where employees embrace and actively promote the company values on a daily basis.

Justin Babet, co-founder, Chief Nutrition & partner at entrepreneurs’ business retreat Nurture 360

I’ve always been a big believer in setting company values but I’d never been able to make them real for my teams. This changed when I did a values setting session with AFL great Paul Roos who is one of my business partners at nurture360.com.au. We got all the partners in the room and started by defining our vision and mission. This got our heads in the game and then we started listing out what behaviours are important to us as a team and in the people we work with. We stalled here a bit so we then started listing all the behaviours we didn’t like based on other teams and experiences. This created a large list of behaviours that we then whittled down and categorised. So for example, two behaviours were “do what you say you’re going to do” and “ask for help if you need it”, both of these were put into the one category, and that category ended up being one of our values which is “Authentic”.

We ended up with three core values, and two behaviours that describe each value. The behaviours that describe each value were the critical piece I was missing before. Without behaviours each value becomes a meaningless word that gets written up and forgotten. Now our values are alive and a regular part of our conversations because it’s very easy to reinforce the positive, e.g. “Justin, thanks for asking for help, that was very authentic of you”, as well as be honest and direct about areas for improvement, e.g. “Justin, you didn’t end up doing what you said you were going to do, that’s not being Authentic”. As a general rule, you want at least four positive reinforcing statements to every one challenging statement, but those challenging statements are extremely important because they give you a tool to be direct and avoid not saying anything about behaviour which upsets you.

David Pich, CEO of IML ANZ and author of Leading Well

I struggle with the whole concept of company values. How can a group of people be expected to have the same values as a business that intrinsically doesn’t have values at all? Values expressed as words (integrity, honesty, authenticity) also tend to be so broad and open to interpretation that they’re rather meaningless.  Instead of single-word values determined by the leadership, IML ANZ’s staff wrote a series of statements that best describe how we act, establishing our Guiding Principles. One principle – ‘we take responsibility for the member experience’ – sets out that when Members visit our lounges, all staff are responsible for ensuring they have a positive experience. These “Guiding Principles” are more practical than values; they’re specific, behaviour-guiding, less nebulous and open to nuance, and hold employees to account – especially the CEO. Whether your business opts for values or Guiding Principles, it’s down to your leaders to walk the talk and to do the right thing.

Ross Judd, founder of Team Focus and author of Cultural Insanity

Start by asking your workforce what they think the values are based on the behaviour of the company and its leadership team. You may be surprised and challenged by what you hear, but if you are serious about establishing a set of values that will drive behaviour this step is critical. If you don’t acknowledge your current values people will never embrace the new values. Then ask what values the company needs to deliver the purpose and strategy, and then summarise those values into one word and encourage people to talk about them so they drive behaviour and results.

Adala Bolto, founder, ZADI Training

Start defining your company values by walking your talk!

As the leader of your organisation, your company’s core values will by default, be defined by your values, and in the way you conduct yourself in life and business.

From the moment you put yourself and your company’s purpose and values out there, these messages must be authentic, ‘pretend values’ are obvious and will create distrust in your company. What you don’t do as a company to uphold those values is as important as what you do. People will hold you accountable and expect you to demonstrate your company values in all transactions and interactions.

Defining your company values is a very effective way to communicate who you and your company are and who you are not. Get this right and you will attract those who are aligned with your purpose and vision and repel those who are opposed to it. Ensuring your people represent and are upholding your company values, ‘walking your talk’ is a very powerful way to gain credibility and brand loyalty. 

Related: Put away the beanbags – the simple secrets behind thriving company culture

Shaun Mahoney, CEO and founder, Chirpy Plus

company values for business employees: Shaun Mahoney

Chirpy’s values are friendship, encouragement, community and empathy.  We are unique in that we are only a community for over 55’s and one with friendship at its core.

We came to develop our prime values of friendship and encouragement because they have always been important to Carol and myself. The other values have been built into our community as we have grown from 10 members to over 25,000 in a year.

Our team of twenty is dedicated to pursuing our culture and implementing it throughout our various forms of communication to our members, such as marketing, to emails, to our weekly newsletter, to internal emails, to our social media posts, and through to our hiring process.

Our company values are ones which flow through to our members because when a member signs up to Chirpy, they agree to not only our terms and conditions but also our code of conduct which ensures that all members are intently aware of the reasoning behind the sustainability of Chirpy.

Kees Kwakernaak, General Manager at Fiserv Australia and New Zealand

As a company that has grown through acquisitions, including a transformational combination with First Data in 2019, our values have served as consistent and unifying principles. By living our values every day we are able to create a culture of respect that makes a positive impact where we work and live.

The key to defining values is to think about what defines your company. What standards guide how you interact with clients, employees, and partners each day? What is your purpose, and what do you aspire to accomplish?

At Fiserv, our values guide our decisions and behaviors and reinforce our commitment to excellence in everything we do. They reflect our focus on service excellence and remind us that we exist to serve our clients.

Ultimately, it is our values that have enabled us to meet with the accelerating pace of change in the financial services market and thrive as one of the world’s largest payments and financial technology providers.

Angus Dorney, Co-CEO, Kablamo 

company values from employee

Values start with the founders. Why did you start the business?  When we at Kablamo came to finding our values, we turned to the founder and the early team. Why was the business created?  Why did they join it? The answer to these questions become the company values.

Values are defined early in the business and after that, they are very hard to change. When someone like a phone company suddenly says they’re going to be customer-centric, you just know that they’ll never hit the mark. They might squeeze a little bit closer to that value, but they will never get there in the end, because they were never there in the beginning. So if you want good values to live by, start early and query yourself often along the way to see if you and your team are living up to them.

Miranda Gillespie, CEO & founder, Luxe.It.Fwd.

company values for business employees: Miranda Gillepsie

Luxe.It.Fwd is an online e-tailer that sells luxury second-hand items, and our focus has always been to provide a complete luxury experience for our customer from start to finish.

Even from the very early days of the business, when it was a side hustle to my law career, I was adamant that the brand’s values reflected my own. As someone who loves the convenience of online shopping for fashion items myself, I thought about the aspects that I really valued as a buyer. Integrity, honesty, authenticity and outstanding communication.”

Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho

company values for business employees: Vijay Sundaram

Company values are a “code of ethics” for any business. They represent the fundamental beliefs that all employees should incorporate and stand for, as well as the conduct expected from the team. The values of a business define the indispensable attributes of your work culture and are the guiding forces behind the growth of the company. Hence, it becomes important to identify them when you start scaling your business.

In the beginning, the values are embodied in the founders, but as you grow your business, it becomes imperative to build a set of defined principles for employees, to guide them through uncertain and critical scenarios. Zoho was started with the core value of building a community and creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome. With time, the company has strengthened its strong culture of innovation, customer-first focus and employee development. This has been done by setting up regular training for employees, offering medical care for employees and families, giving complete autonomy to employees to innovate and launch products, growing Zoho’s businesses in regional areas of the world and pricing products that give the best value to the customers.

Emma Lo Russo, Co-founder and CEO, Digivizer

company values from Emma lo Rosso

In Digivizer’s case, our company’s values start with our people – literally. A few years ago, everyone in the company hacked what we wanted to say about the company and ourselves, and defined what our values were. There was no directive or direction from me – the results are genuinely a reflection of what everyone in Digivizer believes, they remain in place to this day, and they are literally on the walls of our office and in our Employee Playbook online.

Here they are:

How do these values translate into what we do? We focus on a common goal – to be the best we can be and to help our customers and users do the same. We are genuine – with ourselves and our customers, with no room for arseholes. We are courageous – challenging the way things are done. We are responsible – our customers’ success is ours. And we focus on growth – in user numbers on our SaaS platform and revenue, at scale.

Martin Hosking, founder and Interim CEO, RedBubble

When determining company values, it is first important to understand what your business stands for. Many organisations will define theirs based on a business mission. At Redbubble, though, we focus on creating a culture of behaviors that will allow us to work together to achieve success. As such we have formed The Five C’s – Creativity, Courage, Commitment, Accountability and Compassion.

Creativity is the first of our values as it is in our DNA. It is celebrated at the heart of everything we do. Courage encourages our employees and partners to act on their creativity. Commitment and Accountability balance these by pushing people to be creative and courageous while at the same time being accountable to the company and the community, and remaining committed to the business mission. Compassion, both for others and for oneself is the glue that holds it all together.

It is important too, to form values at the very start of a business that will be sufficiently open to an evolving culture as your business grows. The Five C’s are designed to create a culture that can embrace change and be adaptable by providing a non-constraining direction for every person in the business to continuously strive to be the most Creative, Courageous, Committed, Accountable and Compassionate version of themselves.

Michelle Gallaher, CEO, Opyl

Values are indelibly linked to a company’s purpose. Too often we launch into talking about what we do, rather than why we do it. Opyl recently pivoted from martech into digital health, and redefining our company purpose has been at the heart of our realignment strategy.

We used the ‘five whys’ approach – an iterative investigation into understanding the root cause of the problem we are trying to solve, and who will benefit from the solution. Understanding our purpose naturally gave rise to a discussion around our identity, behaviours, ethics and principles – how we are going to deliver on our purpose and why that matters.

Consciously and deliberately living our values takes commitment. Because we work at the intersection of AI, health and social media, our company values play a critical role in us negotiating a social licence to operate, and attract the right type of clients, collaborators and investors.

In our business, we have a series of values statements rather than just words. One of those guiding values statements is: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Related: Strong, supportive company cultures: Top things that create a great place to work

Simone Shugg, Chief People Officer, Nearmap

Company values should reflect the nature of your business and the way you want to work. Define what’s going to create a great culture for your organisation and reflect that in your values, so they can be a guiding light for employees. You really don’t have to over-engineer it – values should be simple and meaningful, so they resonate with your people. For example, when Nearmap was founded in 2007, being brave and innovating was in our DNA. So we wanted to make sure we captured that in one of our values. We landed on “risk it”, because even as we continue to grow, we want to maintain that entrepreneurial spirit. Our other values are equally simple – risk it, love it, own it, tell it, and work it – and colleagues will often reference these in conversation, which shows that they’ve become embedded in our culture.

Sean Girvin, Managing Director ANZ, Rackspace

company values for business employees: Sean Girvin

Company values should be at the heart of everything a business does. It is important to create core values that reflect the essence of an organisation and make people want to be part of that business journey. Values ensure that all stakeholders are working towards a shared, collective goal and are aligned on what their business stands for. Without purpose and direction, businesses can expect misalignment in their internal and external brand messaging. In addition to attracting the best possible talent, positive core values also allow organisations to achieve their more long-term, strategic goals.

At Rackspace, two of our core values are expertise and excellence, empowering our teams to explore interests beyond their day-to-day like Photoshop, management, or writing. In turn, this allows employees to be challenged, to express themselves creatively and generally be more fulfilled, which also comes through in their work. We are here to innovate. By breaking the ‘professional’ mould, we create a more human experience for all Rackers, contributing to the workplace culture that we’ve come to love.

Monica Watt, Chief Human Resource Officer, ELMO Cloud HR and Payroll

company values for business employees: Monica Watt

There’s a lingering belief that the values of an organisation are set from the top. This archaic belief needs to be discarded if a business wants to attract people and have an engaged, dedicated and enthusiastic workforce.

Organisations can’t dictate values via an email. Defining company values requires consultation, workshops and employee engagement to understand how employees see their roles and where the organisation is heading. Employees are the people you want modelling your values to the world. It makes sense that employees believe in an organisation’s values, and champion these values as they carry out their job.

Every business wants to hire innovators and people who are enthusiastic about their role. Once they’re in the door, businesses need to let those same people put their skills towards shaping the organisation. If leaders have communicated their values effectively there shouldn’t be a disconnect between leadership’s perception of the values and those of employees.

Related: 5 tips to attract, develop and retain the best talent in 2020

Rudy Crous, CEO and co-founder of Shortlyster:

The first step in defining your company values is to have a clear understanding of your organisation’s purpose and the traits that help you best serve your clients, employees and the wider community.

Your values will

  • guide important business decisions,
  • impact who you hire,
  • unite your employees, and
  • influence the ability to secure partnerships and customers.

Secondly, this discussion needs to be a collaborative effort inclusive of a range of team members, not just those at the executive level. Buy-in from team members on all levels is necessary for your values to stick.

Finally, these values need to be considered when recruiting new employees. Your values will help communicate why you exist to potential employees, encourage a strong company culture and foster a positive work environment.

Anthony Welsh, Director, Popcar

Company values are integral to us at Popcar. Our joint vision is to be a leading car share operator in Australia, redefining the way Australians move. We want to educate and assist Australians in understanding the benefits of car sharing and how it can be a financially savvy and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional car ownership.

At our core, we aim daily to be better – create better budgets, better experiences, a better community and most importantly, a better planet. Being a part of a solution for Australians is one of our driving core values. Our service is centred around problem solving and assisting consumers and councils while also encouraging a reduction of financial and environmental impact.

Our company values are influenced by our internal team, external partners and stakeholders and consumers. As our company values evolve with time and expectations, we remain committed to maintaining our morals and mission as a company to do better and be better.

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