How This HR Startup Democratized its Company Values

When your company makes a social learning platform, thinking about how to grow and develop talent comes naturally. That’s why it’s not surprising that the leadership team at Everwise felt confident in handing the reins to a self-selected committee to create and formalize the company’s values last year.

Company values are a great driver of company culture, and help companies like Everwise ensure employees aren’t just productive — but are working on the right things. In turn, employees are motivated and aligned with the company’s mission.

Values help companies ensure employees aren’t just productive — but working on the right things. Click To Tweet

Mike Bergelson, Everwise’s CEO, started the company to create a better way for people to find mentors, and the company has since grown from a mentor-mentee matching service to offering a full solution to enterprise companies, including content, one-on-one mentoring, and analytics, and addressing HR pain points like diversity, management, and retention.

Ada Chen and Kacie Finance were on the committee that reset Everwise’s corporate values last year, and spoke with us about how they managed the process, and the impact values have in driving the culture at Everwise.

The Impulse

It started with a company-wide survey in December 2015. Bergelson and his team were eager to hear employee feedback in order to drive a better workplace culture. The initiative brought to light some challenges the culture was having as the team scaled in headcount.

The survey made clear that some new team members didn’t know what the company’s vision and values were.

The survey made clear that some new team members didn’t know what the company’s vision and values were, and that their employer brand had room for improvement.

The executive team took the feedback to heart and created three committees, each paired with someone in leadership as a facilitator. The values and vision committee was joined by Bergelson, as well as 7-8 volunteers from all over the organization, including marketing, sales, delivery operations and program management. It was time to bring the full team’s expertise on talent development to address a need internally.

“We’re doing all these things for our customers, and so we should be doing it for our employees too,” Chen said.

How They Did It

Although their CEO was part of the values committee, he joined the meetings as a participant — not a leader, Chen said.

The meetings were held weekly for almost three months. The first step was to determine the existing values weren’t cutting it. These values, nicknamed Values 1.0, were set when the team was made up of mostly engineers — but Everwise had since grown to become a more diverse mix of functions, and the values needed to evolve.

The committee started by brainstorming values based on companies they admire — General Assembly, Atlassian, and AnyPerk. Of course, “Use every part of the buffalo” and “Don’t #@!% the customer” were clearly unique to other companies and couldn’t just be copy-and-pasted into Everwise’s brand.

Even with a mixed group of representatives from across the company, the values committee wanted to make sure the values they landed upon would resonate with everyone.

They determined 30-40 statements based on the initial brainstorm. But, even with a mixed group of representatives from across the company, the values committee wanted to make sure the values they landed upon would resonate with everyone. The list of statements was then distributed out to everyone for both feedback and suggestions (One employee suggestion, “See something, say something,” made it into the final list.).

“We did a really cool whiteboard session where we distilled those value statements into something that was more bite-sized,” Chen said.

Next, they needed to narrow their ideas down.

“We actually ran through and created a matrix based on everything we’d gathered from the full workforce here at Everwise and then identified themes throughout that, and then pulled out what we thought the top six buckets were and from there continued to refine them down to the actionable values that we have on our website now,” Finance said.

It wasn’t enough to have good values — they needed to be memorable. Click To Tweet

The original challenge that spurred the project still existed, though. It wasn’t enough to have good values — they needed to be memorable, something Everwise could use in recruiting, in feedback meetings, and in daily interactions. As the marketing person, Chen stepped in to refine the values into statements that fit with the Everwise brand.

“Each of our values is action-driven and tied to something that you do day-to-day,” Chen said.

Value Touchpoints

With a brand new set of company values, the values committee had met its objective — but the Slack channel and email distribution list are still active, Chen said.

Everwise Values:
Be humble. Be hungry.
Ask the question.
Create something you believe in.
Be a character with character.
Offer strong opinions, lightly held.
See something, say something.

The new values were added to Everwise’s website and presented to employees at the company’s bi-weekly all-hands meeting, and continue to be discussed at this meeting. The committee asks for suggestions of employees that have embodied a value, and give a reward and tell the story at every all-hands, a way to continually affirm the values.

The values are also posted on a chalkboard in the San Francisco office, and will be similarly put on display in the new New York office. Printed cards with the values are coming, too.

An employee on Finance’s sales development team printed out the values presentation and posted it on his own — further proof that the democratized process hit the mark in engaging employees to relate to the values as their own.

Impact

The new Everwise values are effectively communicated in recruiting, in team meetings, around the office, and in feedback conversations. That means employees know them and use them when making decisions and especially when speaking to customers and partners.

“Our #4 value of be a character with character is something we try to bring into every sales conversation that we have,” Finance said. “Obviously, showing up with our quirky unique selves in full force, but also having the caliber of character where we’re extending our best selves and solutions to customers and clients.”

At the end of the day they know they’re one team working towards one goal.

The values committee concluded that each employee might identify with one of the values more than the others, but every employee should embody all six, on some level.

“At the end of the day they know they’re one team working towards one goal,” Chen said.

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