Company values are a way of life. Values influence what your teams believe are important and shape their actions and decisions. Values guide the experience your employees have within your company and set the stage for the talent lifecycle, from onboarding new hires to departure from the company. Most importantly, they are the building blocks for an inclusive company culture.

Here are three ways to jumpstart your inclusive culture strategy.

1) Create your company values collaboratively with others.

First, gather your team together to start this important process. Have people answer questions such as, “Who are we at our best?” Decide which values will be foundational when hard decisions must be made. Inclusion should always be one of the foundational values. This amplifies its importance within your culture and company.

Don’t make one person solely responsible for this important task. Designating one person to write values that later become meaningless words on your website is a missed opportunity to create ownership and responsibility with your team.

When working with teams, each person involved should have the opportunity to express their own values. Have an in-depth conversation with your team to align each participant at the table to define “who we are” and “why we exist.”

Come to the conversation with a prepared list of words. Have your team choose the ten words that resonate with them. From those ten, narrow the list to the top two from each person. Have everyone go around the table and share their top two words with the group.


2) Define the behaviors that support your values.

After choosing your values, your team should address the actual behaviors that will support them. Defining behaviors that express and manifest your values is important to shaping your company’s culture. This is more than simply stating them or making aspirational statements.

Create guidance as to how those behaviors are operationalized in real life and share it with other stakeholders outside of your core team, giving them new ways to think about their actions, communication styles, and treatment of others. For example, one way to scale the foundational value of inclusion is to consistently talk about its importance to the organization.

When employees make decisions that go against the company values, it can be detrimental to your business and to your customers. Values are not just words you post on a website, but are foundational elements defining your company and its culture. These guiding principles determine how hiring decisions are made. They also determine how teams work, collaborate, and innovate, how they achieve goals and rewards for those results, and how they treat your customers.


3) Operationalize your values.

Check in with your team to find out how well they know, understand, and live your company values. Hold your team – at all levels – accountable to inclusive behaviors. People want to feel valued and heard, and have a strong desire to make a positive impact on the job. Give your teams a reason to stay engaged and productive. An engagement survey is a great way to identify and assess any gaps that need to be addressed.

Living your company values is practicing them at all levels of the organization. When leaders walk the talk, the broader team gets the message that they should be all-in. Leaders need to seize every opportunity to reinforce what’s important. Every communication is an opportunity to align to the company’s beliefs and way of being.

Even when there are tough moments, values allow leaders not to be silent, but to present reasons to lean into discomfort. Remember, all eyes are watching. These tough moments are tests for the company and serve as validation points for the broader team.

When values aren’t clearly defined and operationalized across the company, confusion reigns. People can act out and go rogue like the wild, wild west when there are no consequences for inappropriate behaviors.

Values are foundational elements. They reinforce how employees should conduct business and influence how people conduct themselves, serving as essential concepts that support inclusive behaviors. They help teams set boundaries with each other and with their customers. They help employees to have courageous conversations and transparent communication, and to prioritize putting people first.

Define your values, call out the behaviors you want to amplify and promote, and don’t forget to practice, practice, practice them. Accountability, consistency, and trust-building are foundational to creating an inclusive company culture.


First published on Forbes