The key to effective company values is to evolve them with both a company’s brand and business needs.
Serenflipity started as a travel experiment — founder Cara Thomas was off to 90-day solo trip to India and Southeast Asia. She didn’t want to follow a guide book, though, so to create a trip that was wholly hers, she asked friends to write 90 adventures. Each day, she picked one and followed it the best she could.Making sure values are relatable and functional is really important Click To Tweet
The experiment went so well, she decided to bring it to the masses, as a set of 30 playing cards you can “flip” — either while traveling or just in need of a spark. Thomas has now drawn on her years of experience creating innovative brands and products for major companies to grow Serenflipity into a multidimensional brand with live events and an upcoming app, in addition to the card game.
Company values guided Thomas both in hiring — most of her employees are remote or freelancers — and evolving her brand to meet business needs, as she began working with publishers and retailers.
“Making sure values are relatable and functional is really important — that way they don’t just become words that sit on a wall and say things like ‘Innovation’,” Thomas said.
We spoke with Thomas about her experience helping Fortune 500 brands define values, and creating her own values at Serenflipity, as she was ramping up for the first Serenflipity Saturday in Los Angeles. Her learnings and tips are shared here.
As creator of Serenflipity, the company’s values were closely aligned with her own. It’s a huge benefit when you are a natural fit to be the face of your own brand, but can be a challenge for founders to effectively work with early employees — you need their talents, but have to find ways to bring in those individuals without diluting the brand.
“One of the challenges as a founder is finding that balance between personal experience and being able to let go of things that I think are sacred so I can take the spirit of the brand and pass it onto people,” Thomas said.
Often, values are created to bridge this gap. At companies she’s consulted with in the past, Thomas found the values conversation came up when companywide alignment was missing.
“There can be a disconnect between the senior leader’s vision and what’s being executed,” Thomas said.
It’s important to align people around a common cause or mission, and that will usually come from the top. But for values to be effective, companies must request feedback across the organization in order to get buy-in and make values actionable.
“Values-building has been successful across companies when leaders solicit input around two key questions: who we believe we are and who we believe we aren’t,” she said.
How They Did It
Determining the values at Serenflipity came in phases. First, Thomas reflected on her own values and perception of the brand. She brought in Neon Butterfly, a friend’s brand strategy firm, who interviewed her, then highlighted back the main themes in their conversation. That surprised her, Thomas said — having an outside collaborator allowed her to see things she may have missed on her own.
Next, she began talking to the people using the Serenflipity cards, as well as her partners, to see what resonated with each of these groups.Values are where the individual passion and vision, the market need, and the consumer need overlap Click To Tweet
“At the time, I was talking to publishers, retailers, and consumers, and figuring out what was interesting and different in the market,” she said.
“I started to look at it like a Venn diagram — and I could start to see where the individual passion and vision, the market need, and then the consumer need overlapped into something unique.”
Bringing those voices together was the basis for Serenflipity’s values. What had started as her own travel adventure, now, had taken on a life of its own. Now, the cards were inspiring people to go on adventures that didn’t require a plane ticket, but that could happen in their own backyard.
“This time last year I thought the brand was about travel adventure. It’s moved more to being about getting out of your comfort zone in everyday life as well as while you travel,” she said.
The values, now an integral part of Serenflipity’s brand guidelines, influence every new initiative, especially work with freelancers and contractors. Now that Thomas is creating events as well, she’s used the values to ensure everything about Serenflipity Saturdays is aligned with the experience of the cards.
Serenflipity’s values are:
“I can look at how we brief the caterer — is there an element of playfulness in it? Does she have a personal and entrepreneurial story that we can highlight?”
“How can we show who she is and support other people? How can this lead to an unconventional experience that feels like it has a bit of magic and inspiration baked in? Could she take us on an adventure by using an ingredient that we’ve never tried before?”
The values help her share her vision with other people, and filter every touchpoint of the experience, she said.
Her partnerships with social media influencers are also better enabled by the values. Before working with a new partner, she’s able to give them a creative brief that defines the aesthetic of Serenflipity, to ensure the cards aren’t just used as product placement, but are there to tell a narrative.
“It’s not just a card that you can play with — it’s the catalyst for a real experience that can change you and impact the people around you. ” she said.
Now with values that resonate with partners, employees, and of course, the people who use Serenflipity cards every day, Thomas is better able to grow the brand into new spaces.
A great example of how the values allowed her to keep the brand going in the right direction is how they enabled her to give good feedback to the team that was designing the box that holds the cards.
“When I think about going through the first few iterations of the box and the color scheme, it didn’t feel right because it didn’t feel playful, adventurous or like something that would inspire possibility,” she said.
As founder, she knew the box wasn’t quite right, but the values are what helped her give useful feedback in order to get the design back on point.
“It actually helped using values to be able to filter feedback so the conversation stayed focused and on-purpose,’” she said.
Values, no matter how nice they sound, don’t help the business, unless they are used to make the big decisions and guide difficult conversations. Whether it’s feedback to a supplier or a creative new party snack, values are there to support business growth.
“It’s really easy for values to sit on a wall and for people to say, ‘We’re doing this,’” she said. “Actually, the real magic happens when people are embodying them every day and when you’re rewarded and incentivized to deliver on those.”
More in our company values series: