Real business story

How to work with staff to create and codify company values

Once a business gets bigger, an unspoken, unwritten culture becomes unsustainable. Defining and codifying your unique culture will help retain staff and drive the business forward.
Gemma Screen – Extract Coffee

Gemma Screen feels the team at Extract Coffee are now better connected to the values the business has

At a certain point, something weird happens in a growing business. It turns into something with its own momentum and it goes from all hands on deck, with everything doing all sorts, into a bigger, slicker operation.

For Extract Coffee Roasters, a Bristol-based coffee producer and wholesaler, this tipping point came around 20-plus people. Extract’s marketing manager Gemma Screen vividly remembers the change. The business went from a 15-person operation where everyone “did a bit of everything” to a 25-person organisation with clearly defined roles.

With the business growing, and adding people who weren’t there from the very start, Extract’s team wanted to create a set of company values that would lead to a stronger, more structured induction process.

How to codify your values

Stories and narratives are central to human cognition and communication. They help us connect, teach us the rules and boundaries and help us feel like we belong. All these things are important when onboarding new employees.

Piecing together a cohesive, accurate narrative, however, can be tricky. At Extract Coffee Roasters, the business identified three key objectives:

  1. Capture the story
  2. Define our values
  3. Create an amazing induction experience

Run a values workshop

The first step was to split the business into random groups of around five to six people. Each group was asked to brainstorm ideas about what they loved about Extract, what they thought the company did well and what they thought needed improving.

Ideas were captured on Post-it Notes, which were saved from each group’s meeting. The project team – Gemma, the office manager and two directors – came together to categorise the Post-it Notes.

Eventually, they defined six categories and used them as starting points for Extract’s values.

“Doing it this way meant that the values are both realistic and aspirational. The examples that came from the workshop show who we are at our best, as defined by the team. They’re a reminder of what we’ve achieved so far and what we can achieve in future,” Gemma said.

While values do need to be succinct and memorable, stripping them back too much runs the risk of making them generic. For example, single words like “efficiency” or “communication” can lose context.

“We initially condensed each value category down to a single word. But, after sitting on it for a few weeks, we realised that the words we were left with no longer felt very ‘Extract’ or personal to us,” Gemma explained.

“The right amount of emotion makes these connections stronger and communication more meaningful, more powerful and more effective.”

Gemma Screen, marketing manager, Extract Coffee

Don’t take emotion out of your values

The team went back to the Post-it Notes and looked for emotive phrases that people had used time and time again. They used these to create captions, which would accompany each value heading.

Suddenly, Gemma remembered, the values were reconnected with how people in the business really felt and what it meant to be part of their team.

“Stripping too much emotion out of your values is a mistake made by a lot of businesses in a bid to be more clear or professional. The majority of businesses, big and small, are made up of teams of people establishing connections with customers – who are also people,” she said.

“The right amount of emotion makes these connections stronger and communication more meaningful, more powerful and more effective.”

Extract’s final values were:

  • We are passionate: proud of who we are, proud of what we do
  • We are a community: better together
  • We are storytellers: stories are free and travel fast. Tell your story and tell it well
  • We are ethical: do what’s right, not what’s easy
  • We are innovative: built not bought
  • We are knowledge sharers: quality, driven by knowledge

“All of this was brought together in our Compass book, which was given to every team member and is given to new starters when they join. We also created an internal company website, which includes the history of Extract, examples of our values in action and useful information for new starters when they join,” added Gemma.

Follow in Extract's footsteps and create a set of company values

Download the five-step action plan
  • location: South West (England)
  • business size: 10-49 People
  • business type: Food manufacturing

Top three takeaways

As your company grows, your traditions, values and founding ethos can get lost or changed if not recorded.

Your employees aren’t going to buy into values handed from the top-down. They help create your values every day, so you need their help to codify them.

Don’t strip all the emotion out of your values – they’re meant to inspire people.