Companies are forged based on their ethics. Not only are ethical values the building blocks of any startup, they can be critical in determining how a company deals with certain situations and how it handles internal and external issues.
Setting a strong ethical framework in place is necessary to ensure that the company doesn’t find itself in hot water later in its life, with potentially devastating effects on its development.
But how can a business figure out what values make up its ethical foundation and how can it make sure it stays true to them forever?
To help, members of Forbes Coaches Council look at 12 ways startups can create an ethical framework for their company from the ground up, and why it’s essential to do this earlier, rather than later.
1. Define Your Core Values Early
Your core values are the soul of your business, so defining them early on is essential! Your core values inform your hiring practices, business operations, company culture, and business strategy. Build an ethical foundation by filtering every business decision you make through your core values and seek alignment. Doing so will create coherence between your strategic vision, people and processes. – Jason William Johnson, Cubicle Escape Club
2. Integrate Ethics Into Your Hiring
It is important to focus on ethics early to save time, conflict and money over tough choices later. One way to establish an ethical foundation early is to integrate it into your hiring process. Ask questions to elicit a candidate’s decision-making process, for example. Be very selective about who gets to join your company and only invite in those who have a solid moral compass. - Kelly Tyler Byrnes, Voyage Consulting Group
3. Organize A-Team Brainstorming Session
Facilitate a meeting with your most important stakeholders. The goal is to select five to seven values that align with your mission and help accomplish your strategic objectives. Then, create a list of 20 tangible behaviors for each value that set expectations for employees to know how to live the value. Culture develops rapidly when the team knows what specific behaviors make goals a reality. - Michael S. Seaver, Seaver Consulting, LLC
4. Engage And Benchmark
To align everyday decision making to your values, first engage employees in the creation of those values. Then, add a category called “value alignment” to your monthly scorecard. This allows leaders to have a conversation with their talent about how well their decision making aligns to the company’s values. Without engagement and monthly benchmarking, values are just a plaque on the wall. - Susan K. Wehrley, BIZremedies
5. Build Complexity Into Your Values
Almost all values are actually preferences for a particular pole of a polarity. Take “move quickly” as an example. But a company that preaches speed will inevitably experience its downside—poor quality, lack of alignment, etc. Instead, companies would be better off with a value like “be deliberate and decisive.” This acknowledges and integrates the need for speed and thoughtfulness. – Darren Gold, The Trium Group
6. Craft Something Everyone Can Own
It is critical that startups focus on crafting a set of values that everyone can own. The No. 1 reason to do this in the beginning is that prospective employees will look to see if you have any listed values when determining whether to come and work for your company. If you do, and they can find evidence that you live by them, then it will make it easier for you to attract new talent. - Heather R. Younger, J.D., Customer Fanatix, LLC
7. Imagine Your Startup Was A Person
For founders and startups, your values are a great way to set the tone for why you exist and how you engage. This will draw the right talent and stakeholders to you and set a compass of behavior and engagement for your people. A simple way to start the value conversation as a founder is to ask, “If my startup was a person, what would its values be?” – Shefali Raina,Alpha Lane Partners
8. Create Your Culture Through Collective Habits
Values don’t demonstrate your culture. Behaviors demonstrate your culture. Teams at all levels can identify the optimal habits of behavior for achieving results. The result: People agree on and demonstrate the highest values of integrity, transparent communication, teamwork, trust, support, openness, safety, and ethical behavior, to name a few, which link to the business and the culture together. - Mark Samuel, IMPAQ Corporation
9. Become The Best Place To Work
One way to build a positive culture is to make it a goal to be one of the best places to work in your city. Ask your team from day one what would make your company a place they would absolutely love working at every day. They’ll tell you what they value. Select the common top values and create workplace culture expectations based on those values. You’ll end up in the news for the right reasons. - Christine Rose, Christine Rose Coaching & Consulting
10. Create Directives, Rather Than Attributes
Quick—what does “bold” mean to you and your teammates? Probably something a bit different than it does to me. Organizations create core values out of attributes, not realizing that we all hold a different meaning for words. Remedy: Create directives instead. Try this, instead of “bold.” Always play to win! We may still not always agree what that outcome will produce, but the directive is clearer. - John Hittler, Evoking Genius
11. Bring Your Mission Statement To Life
Craft an authentic and detailed values-based mission statement that is at the forefront of every interaction with new customers and employees alike, and visible for all to see. It is the foundation of your business, your reason for being, a living breathing statement of your purpose and commitment as an organization. It will be the bond that holds your team together during good times and bad. - Debbie Ince, Executive Talent Finders, Inc
12. Start With Employee Interpretation
One big challenge about having a culture based on values is how people interpret “living the values.” One idea could be to organize some group sessions to discuss the core values of the business and find examples and stories that illustrate clear ways to live the values. People need reference points that they can relate to and the best way to get those in to involve them in the discussion. - Steffan Surdek, Pyxis Cultures