A company’s values are its lifeblood. When done well, they guide us on how we truly want to operate both as a company and individually as we do our daily jobs. They should be a part of every decision made, which means they must have room to grow and change as a company matures. By treating your values as a set of living principles, you’ll be in a position to build a sustainable, flexible and growth-oriented company culture.

When we decided to formalize our values at Guru, it was because we’d reached a point where we were about to start growing rapidly. Before that point, we were able to look around the room to reach a consensus, but we knew that, going forward, we needed to identify our north stars around how we wanted to make decisions holistically. How did we want to interact with each other? How did we want to interact with our customers? Who were the kinds of people we wanted to bring on for the longer journey?
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Here are the five major things we realized as we worked toward a sustainable company culture:

1. Define Values That Symbolize Your Great Team

2. Values Aren’t Perks

3. Be Intentional About Reinforcing Them

4. Avoid The Growth-At-All-Costs Culture Killer

5. New Leaders Should Make Culture A Top Priority

 

Define Values That Symbolize Your Great Team

Protecting company culture is one of the most important jobs of a CEO, but no CEO exists in a vacuum. Observe the way your team interacts and identify patterns. Those patterns are clues to what your culture is, and some of them can be defined as company values.

Tap those people who have passionate opinions and views, but don’t lose sight of values you feel are nonnegotiables. For me, those were “don’t take yourself too seriously,” (because those who do tend to debate out of a desire to be right instead of a desire to learn) and “seek balance” (because burnout cultures never endure).

It’s also critical to revisit your values over time so that they can evolve as the company grows. Not only does that give you permission to not burden yourself with trying to find the perfect set of values the first time, but it allows you to recognize that A) what works for a company of 30 people may not work for a company of 300 (or 3000), and B) you’re probably going to get something wrong the first time out.

 

2. Values Aren’t Perks

I believe that trying to out-perk other companies to attract the best talent is a losing proposition. Perks get copied (in a way, they’re just another feature set), but the identity of your company- how you define it, measure it and reinforce it over and over and over again- is something that can’t be copied. Not only would it be ridiculous to try, but it would also just be plain weird.

At Guru, we want to compete for the best talent based on values, not on which perks we offer- and I also know that that means we’re going to lose some candidates. At the same time, that means that those candidates who do end up joining are driven by more than just a paycheck (or gourmet chefs, onsite dry cleaning and climbing gyms). They tend to be more mission-driven and more excited about the cause.

 

3. Be Intentional About Reinforcing Them

Once defined, celebrate employees who live out your company values. It’s a way to show newer employees what behaviors help you live a value.

At every one of our monthly company town halls, we have a segment called “Values in Action” where we thank individuals who embody our values through their contributions. To integrate our values into our workdays, we designed custom Slack emojis for each value, making it easy for team members to recognize each other. Our standard employee review process also includes a score for each value, allowing peers and managers to rate and have a discussion with the employee about how they live them and where there might be opportunities for improvement.

When not a daily part of the conversation, it’s too easy to forget values, which can lead to culture dissolving. By keeping these principles at the forefront of everything, you can naturally promote your company culture by showing instead of just telling.

 

4. Avoid The Growth-At-All-Costs Culture Killer

If culture is one of the last great corporate differentiators, and your hiring process ignores it in favor of “rockstar software developers” (or simply hitting hiring targets for the sake of hitting hiring targets), you’re going to lose your culture before you have a chance to even build it.

We use the scorecard process defined by Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s book Who, and our scorecard includes a culture interview component. After defining our values, we break them down into interview questions so we can test for compatibility. The result is an inspiring amount of team compatibility, with a strong ability to collaborate, figure out tough problems and execute effectively. Oh yeah, and they are more likely to be here because they feel connected to the company and the mission, not just equity. 

 

5. New Leaders Should Make Culture A Top Priority

If you’re new to a company that has a strong existing culture, understanding and attempting to demonstrate it should be a top priority in your first six months. Again, this shouldn’t solely be a top-down approach. You’re going to be working with people who have been functioning- and hopefully thriving- under the current culture.

The better way to approach it is to look at it as you would an existing product with a strong brand. Talk to your co-workers and understand the way they think and operate and learn what they're experiencing and seeing. Look to codify the positives in what you observe and then explain why you’ve decided to incorporate those into your company values. This will ensure that everyone understands that it’s coming out of listening and learning from those around you and that you’re responding to what they care about.

Remember that culture trumps strategy. Defining, iterating, celebrating and hiring for your values will go a long way toward creating an enduring company.

This article originally appeared on behalf of the Forbes Technology Council, a community for world-class CIOs, CTOs, and technology executives. Read the original post here.

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