Build Your Business: Using Company Values to Drive Success | Courtney Seiter | Skillshare

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Build Your Business: Using Company Values to Drive Success

teacher avatar Courtney Seiter, Director of People, Buffer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      What are Company Values?


    • 3.

      Creating Your Values


    • 4.

      Practicing Your Values


    • 5.

      Sharing Your Values


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Set yourself apart and power your business with a set of actionable company values!

In today's crowded marketplace, a set of clear and concise company values can align your team, speed decision making, and attract droves of values-driven customers. Join Buffer's Director of People, Courtney Seiter, for a practical guide to creating your own, from brainstorming exercises to putting them into practice every day. Key lessons include:

  • Why company values are vital in the modern workplace
  • Exercises and frameworks to create your own
  • How to implement values in your policies, marketing, and decision making

Whether you're a solo entrepreneur or a member of an established team, after taking this class, you'll have a useful, inspiring set of company values that will unlock potential, clarify your path, and allow you to build the business you've always imagined.

Meet Your Teacher

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Courtney Seiter

Director of People, Buffer


Courtney Seiter is Director of People Operations at Buffer. Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture, runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: I'm Courtney Seiter, I'm the Director of People at Buffer and the co-founder of Girls to the Moon. Culture and values guide both of these projects really strongly. Buffer comes with a very specific set of values that guide our work, and I was very inspired by my work at Buffer when I founded Girls to the Moon with friends of mine. Values started out as a way to define ourselves in the world, in the marketplace, and now they guide every decision we make, every event we put on, every piece of content we put out there are northern star. This class is a values workshop, so we'll start from why you might want to create values to guide your work and we'll go through a number of frameworks and processes to help you figure out what your values might be. From there, we will talk about how you live those values day-to-day, how they are going to impact your decision making and your interactions with those you might encounter as part of your work and life. When you create these things, they set something into motion. It's really hard to anticipate that it can be hugely powerful and connecting you to the community that wants to know you, that wants to cheer for you. I would say this class is for individual entrepreneurs, maybe folks who are trying to launch something new, or folks who are part of a larger company and just feel connected to the idea that work can mean something beyond what you're doing every day. Work can be connected to something greater in the world. By the end of this class, I hope that you'll be very excited about what values can do for you. I hope that you'll have the processes and frameworks to choose from to help you pick out your specific values, and I hope that you'll have that understanding on how they evolve and guide you to make decisions. I'm so excited that you've joined the class. Let's get started. 2. What are Company Values?: So, what are values? They are different than your company mission and vision statement, in that they're going to be a list of tenets, or commands, or suggestions depending on how you write them. They're intended to guide behavior, decision making, help everyone at the company be unified around who we are, why we're here, what our purpose is with the work that we do. So, all companies have a culture, whether you know it or not, whether you define it or not, culture exists at your company. What values do that is really beneficial to a company culture is naming that behavior, naming those actions that you want to see, and calling them out specifically and explicitly. So, everyone at the company is on the same page, understands why we're here, understands what's expected of us, and understands how to communicate with one another. At Buffer we are inspired by a ton of companies who have created very strong value sets. A couple of those that come to mind are Patagonia who create outdoor wear and gear, and make environmental conservation part of their values and part of their reason for being. If you have followed anything that they have done, that impacts their marketing campaigns, that impacts their philanthropic giving, that impacts their politics really, and the decisions that they make every day all throughout the company. Where they make things, where their shops are located, who makes the garments and what conditions are they made under. All of the important business decisions of Patagonia, you can view through this particular lense of the values that guide them. So, if you were a social media manager at Patagonia, it's really clear to see how the value of environmentalism conservation is going to affect your decision making on a day to day basis. You're going to focus on stories and content around those particular values. There won't be a lot of touting, consumerism, you'll be more focused on a different set of values. Basically, focused on environmental impact, focused on what we can do as consumers of those goods to impact the world in a positive way. So, it's a linear progression from creating these very high level values that can feel very removed from day to day decisions, but you can see the breakdown all the way to a specific retweet, or a specific Facebook post. We also are really inspired by Zappos. They have a strong value system that is focused on customers, showing gratitude and respect, and appreciation for the customers. Southwest is a great example of values you can tell. Anytime you fly with them that they definitely have a value of fun, and a little bit of wackiness, and that creates a very unique culture. At Buffer, values are sort of all encompassing for almost everything we do, every decision we make. So, particularly in terms of how we bring people onto the team, what we look for when we are looking to hire a new teammate, values will very strongly come into play there. Also on a higher level, they inform all our decision making, who we partner with, what sort of tools we launch, and why. All those things are viewed through a values lens very regularly. The great thing is it's never too late to put values into place. For example, at Buffer we just finished a pretty massive revamp of our own values. We went through a very intense process of interviewing a lot of different teammates, figuring out what still resonated with the team, and maybe what values have evolved a little bit at Buffer. So, even if you start early in your values process, those values are going to change and evolve as you do. So, it's really fine to create them at any point in the process, and to sort of keep creating them throughout the life of the company. What makes a great value for your company is really going to depend on your company and how you communicate. A few things that have helped us at Buffer, and have seemed to help a few different startups in their value creation process are be clear about what the value is intended to put forth into the world, what sort of behavior is expected from the value. So, often when values become so vague as to be pretty meaningless, it could be a general phrase like honesty. Well, what does that mean like back around in your company? Talk about what it means to be honest in a really hard situation, honest when the news is really terrible. All those discussions that are going to be a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit awkward maybe, are going to be the things we really find out who you are and what you stand for. Be actionable. Make sure it's something that folks can work with, can take action on, can improve on, can be something that they live with day to day and work toward. This was a little bit controversial, but make it something with a little bit of teeth, with a little bit of point of view. So, how do you create these values? It can be a big process, but we're going to walk you through it in the next lesson. We've got a few different worksheets and frameworks that will help out, and we'll walk through the whole process together. 3. Creating Your Values: So, it's time to get into how to create these values. Luckily for all of us, there are a lot of smart people who have spent a lot of time thinking about some great ways to do this. I've collected a few of my favorite frameworks and exercises together for this lesson. The first exercise is one of my absolute favorites; it's called mountains and valleys. It's a really neat way to chart the biggest things that have had an impact in your life and figure out what values were present or absent during those particular moments. So, the way you do it is to get a graph. On one axis will be time, so over the course of your life, and on the other access will be happiness. So, your relative happiness throughout these moments of your life. The idea on this exercise is to take some time and chart seven to eight key moments in your life. It could be a marriage, it could be starting a business, it could be positive or negative. So, the idea of this is to take those events and then you look at that list holistically, and you try and figure out what values were present or what values were absent in those moments. So, when you started that new business, how did you feel? Was there pride? Was there a feeling of gratitude in being able to work with the people you were working with? The idea is you'll go through and you'll find themes. They may be easy to find. They may jump right out at you or it may take a little bit of reflection and digging and deeper thinking. Whether or not you start this from a personal standpoint or a company standpoint, it depends on where you are in the process. This exercise will probably work best for a solo entrepreneur or a small group of people maybe who are launching something together. It also can work with a team. The idea that Zappos used to create these values was to pull from personal values and pull them together within the larger group and say, "Okay, we're a group of people who has these disparate values. What are the common themes that can bind us together as a company?" So, that's the way it can work for a larger team, but also works really well for individuals. So, the next exercise is all about identifying your vibe. This one tends to work better for already established teams or folks within a larger company. The idea here is that you're going to take a look around or listen depending on what resonates with you and just fill out who you are as a company. What is your culture? What do you see? What you fear? What do you feel when you are together for an all hands, or have seen folks take a coffee break and have a casual conversation with one another, or having a drink Friday after work, or hanging out at the daycare center with your kids? So, all of these things are elements of culture. So, let's imagine that as a result of this exercise, one thing that you observe is teammates gathering around on a coffee break, talking about challenges that customers have seen with your product, trying to solve this, working through what they're seeing together building this relationship and commodity and trying to solve customer problems. So, what you might extrapolate from that is that you have a value of customer gratitude, customer appreciation. You have a value of teamwork, perhaps. You try to solve problems. All of these elements are signals that you can explore more deeply. So, to complete this process, you would talk with any other teammates who were participating in the exercise, compare your list, and maybe take that team wide and make sure that it fills representative of who you are as a company. For the next exercise, we are taking a Mission to Mars. This is an exercise by Jim Collins of Good to Great fame. The idea of this one is you are planning a trip to Mars for your company you're going to colonize, but your ship only has room for, let's say seven people. So, the trick is to figure out who you would take and why. So, this is an exercise that you can do with any and all members of your team to make it a little less awkward and a little more effective. There are a few ground rules. The first one is you can't vote for yourself. The second one is, it's probably best to not vote for C-level executives in your company. The idea of this one is to try and think about maybe those lesser known quieter people who really get things done or really are always there for you in some way. You're through this exercise is going to figure out who the people are that would really make that project work, that audacious, ridiculous project work, and what qualities do they have that make them the right people for the job. For this exercise, it matters a little bit less this specific role on the company and more who this person is and what they are bringing to the table from a value standpoint, but it is always great to consider roles within the company just to make sure you get a broad perspective, just to make sure you are focusing all your efforts on one area or one team in particular. So, you've got your list of folks who would do a great job with this Mars mission, and now your task is to figure out and enumerate why that is. Is there someone who is great at taking charge in a way that makes everyone feel heard and understood? Is there someone who is really great at logistics and understanding what needs to be done almost without you having to say a word? So, we're looking at people from the lens of who they are, how they communicate, what sort of guides them in their decision making process. And from there, you can begin to extrapolate what values are present within these exemplary people. Once you have them, you can sort of compare and contrast list. It's a fun way to praise people in your team as well for being wonderful at what they do. Often it's a little bit easier to view it through the lens of someone that you know rather than just thinking out of thin air, like what values guide who we are. Once you start thinking about people, teammates that you deal with on a day to day basis, it's going to come right into your mind. It's like, "Oh, I would take Sharon because she's fantastic at this particular aspect." Then it'll be really clear what those values are and where they're leading you. The final method is pretty old school, but it still works really well. It is a sticky notes method, where you bring everyone together whether it's an entire team or a specific group that you want to work on this values project, and hand out lots of sticky notes and basically just have folks think from sky-blue standpoint what values are present within your company. You're going to throw them all up on a wall or a whiteboard, and really you just set aside some time to have some fun spirited discussions about them. So, when you get them all in one spot, you're probably going to see themes that emerge, you're probably going to see some things that are a little bit surprising, maybe you didn't see them coming, often those are good places to focus. So, if you see themes, what is it about those particular ideas that are drawing people into that value. If the theme is really strong, how can you express it in a way that feels like it encompasses all the different variations that you're seeing? So, it's great to sort of frame the conversation to give it a lot of time to take place. If you're involving a large group of people in this, you may want to set aside a full afternoon to this process, the sticky notes process, and then revisit in a couple of days. You also want to establish that it's a safe space for communicating anything that needs to be shared. Nothing should be off limits. Nothing should be too weird or too scary to say out loud. To know who you are as a company means having those top discussions and going through that process to figure out where you want to be. So, through this process, you begin to feel like something is emerging as a value. There are a few questions that you can ask yourself and your team can ask to determine whether or not this is really true value that can be sustainable and guide you in the long term. So, one thing you might want to look at is whether or not this affects the whole team or just a certain area or subset of the team. Ideally, you're going to want your values to be as far reaching as possible. Another question you might ask is whether or not this is sustainable. Is this something that's just happening in this particular moment, or is this something that feels like it's recurring, and ongoing, and pretty constant within the company? A final question you might ask is, does this value help us make decisions? So, ideally you're going to want your values to drive you in some direction, to help you make sense of a complicated situation and point you to a path forward. So, you can identify a really strong value by whether or not it guides you in the decision making process. If you are able to establish that, that value is probably going to be beneficial to your long term success. So, at the end of these exercises, you're probably going to end up with a longish list of potential values. So, the next step will be getting those into a form and format that you feel comfortable with, that everyone on your team feels comfortable with, that truly feel representative of where you want to be with the values process. In general, you can go pretty long to start. A Buffer we have found that it's better to use more words rather than fewer. As you begin this process, you want to be really clear about what you're trying to say and don't feel too self-conscious about the actual wording in the beginning. The idea here is to get consensus from your full team or whoever's involved in this project, and to have them say, "Look. Yes, this does feel representative of how we operate as a company, how we make decisions." So, you may start out with a long sentence or maybe even a couple of sentences. And once you get overall buy in on those concepts, then you can go through the process of fine tuning them a little bit. For us that Buffer that has looked like coming up with a key phrase like default to transparency, and then maybe three to five bullet points underneath it that explain what we mean by that in what specific circumstances you can apply this value, and why we find benefit from that particular action or value. Some folks don't go quite that in-depth. You may not need a number of bullet points underneath if you're able to write really strong clear sentences. Another format that can work really well is a sort of like this not that sort of structure. So, if you are focused on shipping products quickly, you may say, "Done today is better than perfect tomorrow." So, this rather than that convention lets people know which of the two you prefer as a company, where your values lie on a particular topic. So, that might resonate for some folks. The phrasing of this is really key and it's going to be often the difference between whether they are something that drives you and guides you, and whether there's something you just hang on the wall and don't think about that much. With us at Buffer, if we had a value that was just the word transparency, I think that would feel somewhat meaningful. I'm not sure how I would know how to enact it every day. However, we have a value of default to transparency. So, getting that verb in there in that particular verb makes it very clear what I'm intended to do in any particular moment. So, unless there's a specific reason for me not to share something, I'm going to default to transparency. So, moving it from an overall concept to an action verb makes all the difference in that particular construction. So, through this process, you have created a new set of values. Now comes the really fun part of living with them and working with them every day, and that's what we'll talk about in the next lesson. 4. Practicing Your Values: So, when you've got your new set of values, how do you keep them from becoming something you put on a wall and never think about? In this lesson, we'll talk about how to live with them and work with them everyday and make sure they're relevant in your work and in your life. For us at Buffer, values are something that are talked about every single day in one way or another, whether we are making the decision to launch a new feature or plan a new future, whether we are trying to provide more value to our customers and our audience through our marketing efforts, whether we're choosing what content to share on Facebook or Twitter, always in the back of our minds is what this means from the lens of our values. Are we showing gratitude, are we sharing our process transparently, are we creating an environment that is positive, that highlights the good of social media. So, they are really key in all the decisions that we make every day. For example, at Buffer, our value of default to transparency led us down a very interesting path when it comes to salary transparency. We first decided to make salaries transparent within our team internally and that process went pretty well. There are a lot of questions that we needed to answer, a lot of tough conversations that we needed to have to make sure everyone felt comfortable with the process. But we did have a value that guided us, default to transparency which means unless there's a reason not to, we share it. We felt that the reasons not to weren't as strong as the reasons to do it. So, after the decision was made to share salaries internally, we took it even further. We said, "What would it look like if we shared our salaries with the world? What if we made this information public?" We tried to think through the pros and the cons, the challenges and the benefits of this process and we ended up making the decision that it did make sense to share our salaries with the world. As a result, you can now go to Buffer Salary Calculator and find out exactly what you would make if you were part of the Buffer team in any specific role that you might want to play at Buffer. Our values also guide us when we are planning outside events or when we are attending events. So, what we've done in those cases is to create a code of conduct that guides us and this is something that I would recommend to any company that is working together or working with the public. It basically says, this is what we expect from teammates and this is what we can't tolerate, these are the behaviors that we stand for and these are the behaviors that are not okay with us. It's always been better in our experience to make it explicit. You may think you'll never have a situation where you'll have to give a teammate feedback about this particular element or a microaggression or something that felt like harassment. You may think that you're entirely unified in how you see things, how you communicate together, but just having that written down, having that deliberate aspect of it, is a protection and a little bit of a security feature for anyone on the team. So, in case we were to ever have to use this document or ever have to pull up those resources, it's been handled, it's already been something that we've thought about and been deliberate about as far as viewing it through the lens of our values. So, there is that protection, there is that recourse in the case we would ever need it. Another example that I really admire and a lot of us at Buffer admire is Patagonia. Of course, they have a value of environmentalism, of conservation and famously, a few Black Fridays ago, launched a really big ad 'Don't buy this jacket.' So, obviously, that's going to catch a lot of attention in a newspaper or a magazine. The idea behind it was to talk about consumer culture, to talk about whether we actually need to buy all the things that we're buying or whether we can get by with fewer things and that's so radical for a company that is designed to sell things, basically. But for them to live up to their values, that was the sort of apparent move for them, that was what they needed to do to be true to their values and to who they are. When you take a radical stance like that, when you do something that is a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit out of your comfort zone, folks are going to follow you there, they're going to feel the passion, they're going to feel that you're going out on a limb for what you believe in. That really resonates with people. It also has a big impact on the hiring front as well. So, one example I really love is from Zappos, they've got a huge focus on customer service, customer support, customer gratitude. When they bring new people on, they go through a long programs specifically focused on values and making sure the folks feel like they are strong fit with Zappos' values, so much so that if the end of their training program arrives and they don't feel aligned with the values, they don't feel like those are something that they can work with and live with day to day, Zappos pays them to quit, thousands of dollars to quit, to say this isn't the right fit for me. Values are also going to be immensely useful when challenges come up in your business and your company. They're going to help you find your way through those moments using what you already know about who you are and who you want to be in the world. For example, at Buffer, we had to make a really tough decision around a feature that we had, that was based on our values and we made the tough decision to get rid of that feature, it was something that customers really loved but we couldn't support it and feel in line with our value is. What it was was called suggestions. Basically, we would scour the internet for things that folks might want to share on social media and we would have this in a queue for them to be able to share at any time, so content on different types of topics; inspiration, business, leadership available for them whenever they wanted to share it. Great idea. Folks really enjoyed it. The problem came when it felt like we were encouraging sharing content without being part of the conversation about content. So, when you make it so easy that folks can share something without reading it or share something without even having any sort of knowledge of what it is, what the words are within the content, it's really tough to say that you have a value of listening as a company, if that is a feature that you're putting out into the world. It was so easy and folks really loved it, it really keeps your social media cues brimming with pretty good content because we chose it ourselves. However, it just didn't work with our values. We couldn't say, "This is who we are and this is what we stand for and how we make decisions" and have that feature and sparing people, basically, for lack of a better word. So, it was a case of making a tough call, basing it on our values. We still don't know if it's the right decision for the bottom line. We know that it was the right decision for our values and for who we are and how we want to act as a company. So, what's tricky here is that you can view this from a lens of us as Buffer the company doing a little bit of pushing our values onto other people. So, where do you draw that line between here's who we are and here's what we stand for, but also we can meet you where you are in the world. Not every customer has to agree with the Buffer values like not everyone has to sign on for that experience. We know it's very unique and very particular to us. The deciding factor here was that the features we put out into the world are who we are. They're all that we really have to stand on as far as this is who Buffer is, this is what Buffer does and we couldn't, in good conscious, feel comfortable with being part of an environment that was contributing in any way to folks sharing content that they hadn't read, to folks spamming their social media followers with content that may not really be who they were, what they felt aligned with. So, while there are a lot of people who I'm sure use that feature very responsibly and in a great way, we couldn't stand behind it as a company and put that out into the world with the Buffer name on it and feel like we were living up to our own values. So, these were just a few examples of how you might find yourself living your values on a day to day basis, from the very ordinary and everyday to more major sort of campaigns and momentous moments in a company. The main thing to remember here is that, what's important is living with them, evolving them, making sure that you discuss them and think about them, keep them real, keep them part of the fabric of your day to day life and the decisions you make. That's going to keep them strong and something that will truly guide you. In our final lesson, we'll talk about sharing your values, whether you choose to share them just within your team or with the world at large. This is a really important step of explaining who you are and how you want to operate as a company. 5. Sharing Your Values: So, now is a part of the process where we figure out how to share the values, who it needs to be informed of the values, whether it is just your area, your whole company, or the entire world. So, by this point, you may have a set of values that you are super excited about and want to shout from the rooftops about. One good thing to do in this case is to start a little bit smaller than you might expect. It's great to live with the values internally for a little while and see how they work for you. Authenticity is a really important part of this process. If you shout them and share them with the entire world, and are able to fully follow through in the way that you would want to, in the way that your community might expect you to, you might be setting yourself up for some bad feelings. So, the best policy might be to live with them internally, make sure that you're able to be active about them, and make sure that you're able to follow through them, make sure that they're doing what they are intended to do for you in terms of guiding you, helping you make company decisions, helping you live your day to day. Then, when they feel really strong, and like something that has been validated, and is worth sharing with the community, then that's a great moment to make that stop. I thought that we found that some of the ways that sharing the values have benefited our team, has been through a greater trust with one another, more common expectations of what we expect from one another, and how we're going to communicate together, and just the overall sense of greater contacts. We all know what we're working toward. We all know how we're working. We all know how we will get there. So, it might depend on what values you've chosen, what your organization's culture is like already. But, those might be some of the benefits that you could look forward to with sharing your values internally. Practically speaking, the way that most companies share their values is just writing them on a piece of paper, whether that these are digital or analog, and having them be visible to folks within the company. So, that might be like an email that goes out, it might be a poster that you can share in your office, and you can have a lot of fun with it, too. For buffer, we are a distributed company, which means we don't have a headquarters to hang posters in, and so we've done things like stickers with our values on them. That we have given out to teammates and to community members who love our values, and are interested in following along with our journey. We know that it can be tough to walk into a new environment, and not really know what to expect with these values. So, with each new teammate, a buffer is given what we call a culture buddy, and that person works them through all the values, often one at a time, maybe taking up to like an hour on each value, going into specific examples of where it's impacted our culture, decisions that we've made around there, important conversations, and discussions, or even disagreements about the value. Just to get the full context of where we are with that particular value, and a full understanding of what it means to work at Buffer and to live those values. So, there was a study done of 7,000 consumers, and it found that only 23 percent have any kind of relationship with a brand. Of those who do, the biggest reason why they would have a relationship is around shared values. That's how important these values can be to connect you to your community, to connect you to the people who may have a lot of different choices for what they want to buy, and they might choose you based on those shared values. There's a ton of different ways that you can share your values with your community or your audience if you choose to make that part of your process. At buffer, we have written a lot of our blog content around our values, and why we make the decisions that we make. It's part of our value of transparency to share as much as we possibly can to help anyone who might come behind us, and help people understand us a little bit better. We've also put on events that are focused around values. So, creating your own values or working with values, understanding what it's like to work for a remote company, which relates to values in many ways in terms of communication, and how we operate with one another. Any way, you can bring your community together to talk about these things and rally around these types of ideas, tends to be a really unifying force. This can go all the way up to making it a big marketing campaign like Patagonia does, and even making it part of your core business practices like Tom does with the one for one campaign. It's a value that not only is how they do business, but it's why they do business. Is there a purpose for being? So, where would you find yourself on that spectrum? From small changes, small bits of information to your community, to making it a huge public proclamation, all of these can be equally valuable and can all be part of your process. 6. Final Thoughts: What I hope you'll take away from this, is the impact that values can have on your business, whether it's the first day of your side business or you've been at the same big company for a while and you want to reinvest in figuring out the how of what your work is and why you do it the way you do. Values can have a giant impact no matter where you are in that journey. I'd love for you to download some of the worksheets and explore the different frameworks and possibilities for creating your values, see which one resonates with you and if you go through the process, and want to share your values, please upload those to the project gallery. I would love to see what you're working on. I know the community would love to see. Let's learn from each other and share some great values together. Thank you all so much for being part of this process for watching these lessons. I hope this has been helpful for you. I can't wait to see the values that you're going to come up with. Please share them.