Why You Need to Write Down Your Company Values ASAP

September 14, 2016

10:20 am

There are two great examples of a stellar company culture. The first: Netflix’s 124-slide presentation, titled “Culture,” which has been viewed 14 million times. The second: Valve’s Handbook for New Employees, a pdf that whimsically details a healthy and creative work environment.

What do these two have in common? They both exist as standardized, codified documents. You wouldn’t be able to read them or study them if they didn’t, and that’s an essential element behind a sucessful company. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Here’s why that page should be a literal one.

Culture Needs Guidelines

Company cultures are built by the people who work there, and are often strongly dependant on the CEO’s personal philosophies. But the company won’t stay a five person team forever. Companies need to expand strategically, and so do cultures. They need a code, as Tomasz Tunguz emphasizes in an insightful blog post:

“As startups grow, new employees don’t benefit from the historical context around the culture – how it evolved, who values what, which topics are sensitive. And so they can often start ordering adjectives improperly. [Culture codes] illuminate to prospects and employees what matters to a company, whether they would fit and how to speak the language effectively.

Moreover, the process of creating a document like these, even if much narrower in scope, helps teams identify their values and priorities. That knowledge is an essential component of hiring new team members effectively.”

Culture Develops Fast

“Identifying, debating and codifying these values and ideas early in a company is an important step, especially when growing quickly. Because before you know it, a startup’s management team must begin to manage by culture.”

As new employees come in, they’ll have to learn the culture from those around them. Without healthy guidelines, they can easily pick up the wrong aspects of your company’s culture. The end result is an amplification of the problems. The easy solution? Getting those cultural guidelines in writing.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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