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Your company values suck, because they aren’t sticky enough.

Depending on how you approach them, your company’s values will either be a living breathing part of your organisation, or be seen as close to meaningless by most of your team.

The difference between those two outcomes is often down to whether you define your values in a way that’s unique to your culture.

If your organisation has a set of values like Integrity, Trust, Excellence, Teamwork, or Community then I have some news for you… you’re wasting your time.

These aren’t brand values, they’re bland values, and they aren’t going to create any positive change in your organisation.

Despair not though! I’m here to help…

What’s the secret sauce then?

Values need to be sticky

That is, they need to be distinctive and memorable. They need to mean something to the people in your organisation, too.

I first came across the concept of stickiness in Chip & Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick, where they look for some of the reasons behind why some ideas thrive, and why others die.

Sticky ideas are the ones that thrive and the ones that we remember. More importantly, sticky ideas are the ones we talk about and share.

The reason your people can’t remember their company values, let alone feel motivated to do anything with them is because they aren’t sticky enough.

So what makes something sticky?

Sticky is really a stickier word for memorable (see what I did there?).

Sticky ideas often have an element of fun or irreverence, though there are different levels of how far you can push the envelope depending on the culture of your company. It’s different for everyone.

Sticky can sometimes be the combination of two ideas that usually don’t go together, like an insight that makes you look at something in a new light; an aha! moment.

Sticky values usually transcend one single concept and often have a story built into them

We once worked with a regional client targeting tradies to help them refresh their brand identity and improve their culture. We started by looking to redefine their existing cultural values to make them more meaningful. One of these values was Integrity. Now Integrity is the perfect candidate for a bland value. It’s a generic and obvious idea that really gives no meaningful direction to anyone whatsoever. I’d also argue that if you need to remind your people that they need to have integrity, then there may be bigger problems afoot with your culture!

With some further prodding and pushing during a workshop we uncovered what integrity really meant to this company. It was about treating their customers the same way they would their mates.

Now we have a sticky concept that actually means something. Whether someone is writing an email, answering the phone, or talking with a customers on the showroom floor, We Treat People As Our Mates is something everyone can relate to and act upon in every situation.

Sticky values are also more authentic, because they use language that is already part of the fabric of a company. Rather than corporate or marketing speak, they use interesting language that comes from real conversations between people.

Sticky values are like a virus

I know this for a fact, because at Di Marca we really pushed ourselves to capture our culture with a set of sticky values and they have become absolutely contagious. Besides the fact we have them proudly emblazoned on a set of banners in our studio, they come up in conversation at least every couple of days. Our values have become a part of our internal brand voice. They are reminders of how we work together, the standards we expect from each-other, and the mantras that we believe will help us become the type of agency we want to be.

Some sticky inspiration

The culture at Australian tech company Atlassian seems to be a huge part of why they have been so successful. They are recognised as a pretty great place to work, and their values are such shining examples of inspiring sticky-ness they have become part of Atlassian’s marketing as well. Google their values video when you get a moment, it’s worth a look.

While we’re not quite the size of Atlassian just yet, here’s what gets us up out of bed every morning at Di Marca.

We ride at dawn!

This means we turn up on time, ready to work together and get shit done. There is a healthy dose of ‘can-do’ in here, along with a spirit of collaboration and teamwork. Being a relatively small team we have to ride at dawn together and support each other if we’re going to win.

 

TFA

This is our ‘excellence’ value. If our clients aren’t responding with That’s fucken awesome!  then we’re not doing our job.

 

Pinky promise

This is our way of saying ‘we do what we promise’. It’s our integrity value, but in our own language, and it means a lot to us.

 

Only happy cats

This is probably the studio favourite. We want everyone associated with Di Marca to be a happy cat – clients, team members and our partners and suppliers. That means treating each other with respect and doing the right thing. It means having a bit of fun. It also means looking for win-win outcomes.

 

Final thoughts.

Be clear about your values. Sticky doesn’t mean flippant or novel for the sake of it. Make sure they are rooted in something real and in language that really means something, so that they can stand the test of time. Include as many people as you can from your organisation in the process of defining them so everyone can take ownership of them.

Dean

PS. Cultural values are one of the most valuable outcomes of our Brand Bullseye™ workshops, and easily the most fun. If you want find out more about about how sticky values can help you build a culture that other companies will be jealous of then please drop me a line.