Designing and embedding company values with Andrea McDowell, VP of People, Culture & Impact

Cape

Hands up if you can remember the company values from your last job? 

Too often, organisational values are something you’re told on day one (and sit there collecting dust in an onboarding presentation for the rest of your time at that job). 

But company values have the potential to be a purposeful and practical way to corral teams and clearly define how you work together daily. 

Here at Cape, we’ve made perfecting our company values a top priority and want to help your business do the same. 

We sat down with Andrea McDowell, our VP of People, Culture and Impact -and the driver behind Cape’s values - to drill down into her best practice playbook for designing company values and how businesses can embed them into the way their teams work, behave, and interact. 

Why should organisations care about values?

Andrea is quick to point out that, “whether businesses like it or not, they’re going to come up with a set of values. The difference is that when you articulate them, you can use them to drive a great culture.” But rather than viewing these values as an obligation or afterthought, Andrea encourages leaders to see values as a way to define what’s important to their company from the get-go.

“It’s really important for organisations to come up with a set of values so that everyone’s on the same page, you’re singing from the same hymn book, and people are clear of what’s expected from them in terms of how they show up and how they interact with each other,” explains Andrea.

Essentially, values act as the foundation for a more cohesive way of working for your team.

What makes a good set of values?

When designing values, Andrea believes that the best company values are built collaboratively with strong leadership sponsorship and support. 

“For people to live out the values they need to feel connected to them, and people often feel connected to things that they’re part of bringing to life” shares Andrea.

That means getting the whole team involved from the start to ensure everyone has a say in shaping your organisation’s values. That will create a sense of buy-in and empower your people to embody these values on a daily basis. 

Brand values vs. company values

Think brand and company values are the same thing? Think again. 

“There’s a big difference between brand values and company values. Brand values are used for the marketing side of your business and fall within your brand book and capture your brand’s personality,” reveals Andrea.

“On the flip side, your cultural values are really down to behaviours, thoughts and actions - essentially how people are interacting with each other and their ways of working.”

Andrea’s experience building Cape’s company values 

From the beginning, our team understood the importance of prioritising our company values. As Andrea explains, “Ryan, our founder, is incredibly passionate about values and purpose. It's quite impressive that we actually have built our values out so early on. Having his support on this has really driven the agenda with the team.”

To bring everyone on the journey, Andrea ran a series of workshops with both leaders and teams to find out what they value in workplaces and what kind of culture they wanted to foster at Cape.

Following these workshops, Andrea and the team went through over seven iterations of Cape’s company values. After tweaking the language and phrasing, they reached a stage where “we can put our hands on our hearts and say that we all came up with these values, we believe in them and are committed to embedding them into our ways of working.”

Here’s where we landed.

  • Simpler is smarter
  • Actions need ownership
  • Visible for all
  • Empathy, not ego.

Underneath each of these, we have a little blurb that gives extra insight into what these values actually mean.

How to embed company values in an organisation 

This next bit is arguably the most important: bringing these company values to life. 

As Andrea explains, “we’ve got lots of new starters now who weren’t necessarily part of building our values. So, it's really important that we give them the opportunity to step into those values and connect with them.”

Embedding these values is an ongoing process that takes team-wide commitment. It starts with running team-specific workshops to understand what these values mean to everyone from our marketers to our engineers. This gives us the opportunity to create tangible, specific examples of what these values look like on a daily basis for particular roles. 

Then, we’ve translated these insights and learnings into a playbook that we can use internally when onboarding new team members. 

Andrea reveals that “where people get stuck with values is that they can be quite vague and high level. They can be beautifully written and have a great illustration, but what does it actually look like in practical terms?”

A few ways we’re bringing our values to life at Cape include:

  • Embedding our values into daily work: Values need to be seen and heard. We have tied values into our communications, kudos, and have even created values emojis in our team slack. 
  • Launching our Cape Values Awards: This recognition gives everyone the opportunity to nominate and celebrate teammates who have lived out our values.
  • Developing a Cape Values Matrix: Developing specific examples and a ranking system that shows what it looks like to live out a value from a basic understanding through to mastery.
  • Uniting our values with OKRs: Using 360 degree survey tools and platforms to get all stakeholders (not just managers) to weigh in on how well our team are living out our values for an extra layer of positive accountability.
  • Leveraging our values during recruitment: Adding our values to hiring conversations to ensure we’re bringing value-aligned talent into our business. 

The thing about embedding values in an organisation is that it’s an ongoing process that needs to be revisited every month, quarter, and year. It’s about recognising when people are driving the right behaviours and going the extra mile to recognise and reward it, too.