A startup without values is like a boat without a rudder. Here are our thoughts on how to establish and live your company values.
Last week, after two years in business, I sat down with myself and created the first draft of the values statement for the company I founded. Whilst it is still early days, its change is groundbreaking. Why the wait?
Like most people who create a new company, I laid out our mission, vision and purpose before registering the business. But at that time, the values or the cultural cornerstones of Hillfarrance remained harder to put down on the whiteboard. Two years later, I was reminded by a dear friend that it was high time that I clarified and shared our values, pronto.
To be clear, corporate values are not the same as corporate culture. As one of our portfolio company founders most eloquently put it recently, “culture is created by the team over time,” and I firmly agree with him on that. Values are the bedrock underneath the surface that will be there 10 or 100 years from now. They are the uncompromising core principles that the company is willing to live and die by, the game's rules.
If a company’s values are its bedrock, then its culture is the shifting landscape on top of it. Culture is the current embodiment of the values as the needs of the business dictate.
In creating our values, I decided not to scrape Google for ideas or examples of other corporate values to base mine upon. Call it slightly arrogant if you like; I had no desire to start with any biases or set expectations on what should or should not be included. Instead, I started with the following guiding principles:
Our values need to support and help deliver our Purpose.
What do our customers want us to excel at?
What values will allow Hillfarrance to be standing firm in 500 years?
They have to mean something and can be followed by everyone. They are easy to attain but hard to master.
Our values need to be displayed through all rituals and interactions with Hillfarrance. Our value set remains constant, from receiving an email to receiving an investment.
Be willing to walk the talk - if someone in the team doesn’t fit those values, they are not a long-term fit for Hillfarrance.
After multiple walks up Mount Takarunga, conversations with myself, my whānau, the team and our customers, it became clear that three core words describe our values:
Growth relates to our relentless pursuit of being the best we can be. This means welcoming the chance to put ourselves in situations that challenge us and learn from what went well and what didn’t. We are a venture capital firm. Our job is to live three years in the future and invest in startup teams who we think are building the next unicorn. Sometimes we get it right. More often than not, we get it wrong. Growth from when we got it wrong is vital to our ongoing success.
A beyond healthy dose of Curiosity is fundamental to the life of a venture capital firm. I read a minimum of 15 articles per day from a wide range of sources, which helps me pivot my mind and perspective from one startup pitch to another. You can’t do this well unless you have a genuine love for innovation, people and wonderment for what the future may hold.
Making effective decisions promptly is another core tenet of a successful VC. Moving with Conviction enables us to provide investment decisions quickly and with finality. We deeply respect and understand entrepreneurs' challenging process when raising capital. The very least we can do is give a timely and insightful answer as to whether we are interested or not.
With our three words-to-live-by or the base pairs of our company DNA in the can, we then moved on to creating our values as a company. These cornerstone cultural molecules represent the value-set of Hillfarrance:
We propel people upwards. We delight in helping others achieve new heights.
We are endlessly curious. We walk boldly and enthusiastically into the future with an open heart and mind.
Our decisions are made with conviction and delivered with humility and respect. We move with certainty and stand firm in our mana.
We seek growth. We are passionate about finding opportunities to grow from successes and failures and to challenge the norm.
We are guardians of our planet and will leave it better for the next generation. When we think we have done enough, we do more.
We preserve and enhance the mana of our Village. Through transparency and integrity, we will protect and grow the relationships entrusted to us.
We also believe that your values should be measured. We have built these into our team balanced scorecards and our bonus structure. Regarding our guardians of the planet value, we have placed a requirement for our team to hit our individual and collective carbon reduction goals; otherwise, individual bonuses will be cut by 50% and donated to a climate change-focused non-profit.
In the new year, we will be commissioning a local artist to create artwork that encompasses these values, and they will be displayed pride of place in our offices. We want everyone who enters our space to know what they can expect from an interaction with our company.
Please make sure you are willing to live your values wholeheartedly for the next twenty years if you do this. Values that are empty or not delivered upon represent a significant risk. They can create cynicism amongst our team, jeopardise relationships with our customers and stunt the growth of our firm—non-desirable outcomes.
If you are a CEO, I do not believe that you can hand off the setting of your values to a consultant or the HR department. Setting your company’s values comes from the founders and considers your business’s purpose, vision, and mission. It requires the memories and experiences from when the spark of entrepreneurialism first appeared and the business was born. There were more thoughts running through my mind at this time than I gave myself credit for.
This is also a piece of work that needs to be addressed within the first 12-24 months of your business, especially when onboarding new clients and employees.
Living your corporate values is probably going to be challenging. There is no negotiation on our climate change prevention values or our insistence on preserving and enhancing mana - that is us and always will be. With that in mind, set them right at the beginning and have an almost maniacal obsession with sharing and maintaining them.
If you haven’t done it already, best of luck instilling your company values.