Air Made Visible: Making Company Core-Values Tangible

When it comes to business buzzwords, our default response is usually something like this:

But the concept of core values is different. Core values are seriously useful.

What are core values?

On a personal level, our values reflect what's important to us. They drive our decision-making. They stimulate our growth. They help us contribute to society in a positive way. Even if you've never thought about your own personal core values, they definitely exist—they form the groundwork for who you are and what you do.

Core values are just as important to a business. They form the basis of a company's culture. They influence how and when a company spends money, who they hire, and who will become a customer. They can spell the difference between a successful business and a failure (Zappos vs Enron, anyone?).

A company's core values are the backbone of who they are.

What makes core values so important?

  1. Core values drive your company culture. When your employees and your customers are motivated and inspired by your culture, good things happen.

  2. Core values shape how your team works together. They can improve communication, help prevent and resolve conflict, and evaluate and boost performance.

  3. Core values help you hire, fire, and retain the right people. When your employees are aligned with your core values from the get-go, they'll be fired up and ready to invest their best work.

  4. Core values can help every employee at your company feel valued and empowered. Even if you're growing quickly, your core values can help strengthen your corporate culture and make sure no one is left behind.

  5. Core values influence how you communicate with your customers. They turn every interaction into an opportunity to showcase who you are—how and why you're different.

What do core values actually look like?

Just a handful of years ago, you might not have heard of Warby Parker. Over the last 8 years, this company disrupted the prescription eyewear industry when they were among the first to start were selling glasses online. This was an empathy-powered innovation that stemmed from their own disatisfaction as customers paying "ridiculously expensive" prices for eyewear. Warby Parker's core values reflect that origin:

  • Treat customers the way we’d like to be treated: They don’t call it the golden rule for nothing. Shopping for glasses should be fun, easy, and not ridiculously expensive.

  • Create an environment where employees can think big, have fun, and do good: Sometimes people say to us: “If you love your job so much, why don’t you marry it?” (Answer: we would if we could.)

  • Get out there: No company is an island. Serving the community is in our DNA—from distributing a pair of frames for every pair sold to sponsoring local Little League teams (Go Giants! Go Skyscrapers!). We also work with Verité to ensure that our factories have fair working conditions and happy employees.

  • Green is good: Warby Parker is one of the only carbon-neutral eyewear brands in the world.

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Adidas, on the other hand, is far more established. As the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe, Adidas has core values that feel inspired by the industry they play in:

  • Performance: Sport is the foundation for all we do and executional excellence is a core value of our Group.

  • Passion: Passion is at the heart of our company. We are continuously moving forward, innovating, and improving.

  • Integrity: We are honest, open, ethical, and fair. People trust us to adhere to our word.

  • Diversity: We know it takes people with different ideas, strengths, interests, and cultural backgrounds to make our company succeed. We encourage healthy debate and differences of opinion.

How do you put your core values into action?

Core values can sometimes be difficult to translate into actual steps forward or modes of operation. Even if your whole team is living your core values every day, sometimes you can't actually see them.

Focusing on creating culture is a good way to break through the fog. Values create culture, and culture can be actively steered and reinforced. Try out weekly check-ins. Make sure your people are actually taking their vacations and turning off their phones at night. Offer coaching and feedback.

“Whether you’re a new startup or a bigger business, communication within your company is vital. Empower your managers to develop their teams with clear feedback and be active in cultivating a sense of community. Don’t just live your values, speak them, too. Even if it’s just a Friday huddle to talk about what’s going on around the office, this helps everyone feel clued in and connected to the goals of the company.”

– Marti Wolf, chief culture officer of MailChimp

Why should you use core values when hiring?

Core values are vital when you're hiring a new employee. This is something we at Twenty One Toys believe in strongly. When we hire, we use our core values to guide our interviews. We're not only looking for skills and technical abilities, but for a candidate's motivations and values. If they're aligned with ours, we know we'll work well together.

Some companies even ask candidates to come in for a values interview, separate from a skills interview. It's that important.

“You don’t want to hire someone destined to fail, wasting their time and energy (and yours). Being open is the best way to avoid that. Prospective associates will walk away on their own if they don’t believe they can fit in with your culture. We’ve seen it many times—as in the man who called our raw-egg exercise 'really weird' and the woman who announced she didn’t want to be part of our 'kumbaya culture'. It was far better to screen out these people in the initial interview than learn of their discomfort with our values during their first months on the job.”

– Alan Lewis, owner and chairman of Grand Circle Corporation

Some organizations have even used our Empathy Toy for hiring. It can test applicants' communication styles, and reveal how they'll work with their potential new teammates.

Making your core values visible

Using your company's core values goes beyond the hiring process, of course—it's at the core of professional development and team building. We use this principle when we run Empathy Toy workshops, using toys to bring companies' core values to life in relation to leadership, team building, and collaboration.

Naturally, the concept of using design to make the intangible tangible is not ours alone. You may have noticed that we make this face a lot:

It’s a nod to a famous Italian designer, and one of our biggest design inspirations, Bruno Munari.

Munari coined the term "Air Made Visible." It describes how design takes ideas and makes them visible. We make Munari's face so we can do the same thing for core values—so you and your teammates can better practice, assess, and understand them. Making these abstract, invisible values REAL is crucial to your culture, your team, how you hire, and the way you communicate your values to the world.

Share your thoughts with us on twitter or in the comments below!

Unlock innovation at your company by developing empathy in your team

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