Why Now is a Great Time to Focus on Core Values

/ Christine Andrukonis

Believe it or not, the beginning of most lockdown orders started more than 100 days ago. While some states are creating phased plans of reopening offices, the vast majority of businesses are still operating from a work-from-home model.

By now, you have likely figured out effective practices for remaining productive and motivating your team, but when was the last time you took a step back to remember the roots of your brand? As leaders, it’s our responsibility to keep our core values front and center, regardless of the current battles we’re facing.

Now—perhaps more than ever—employees and teams need to not only understand what they’re working towards but why they are continuing the daily grind. In a recent roundtable discussion that we hosted with Human Resources executives across various industries, we found that many organizations are using the pandemic as a chance to reset, dig deep, and come back to their center. This extends not only to the business but to individuals, too.

Here, how to remind yourself of the core values of a company during this transformative period, and share our own process:

Identify your roots and anchors.

Every professional has a set of roots that led them to the position they are in today. These include their upbringing, education, career experience, interpersonal relationships, and more. These are often what guides them through daily decisions, strategic thinking, and the simple act of rising out of bed in the morning.

The same is true for organizations. Your company’s roots are the core values of a company – the why behind your company’s existence. People are inspired to join companies that have a robust set of roots, and a compelling brand identity that keeps all employees working toward their goals.

Anchors, on the other hand, are how we do the things we do. What grounds your company and keeps it in place? These can be things like operating models, tactical solutions, business structures, and the tangible, measurable goals we create for ourselves and our companies.

Sometimes, we need to adjust these anchors to account for external factors (say, a pandemic). If business leaders remain glued to ‘how it was’ rather than ‘how it could be,’ ultimately the roots of a company will become irrelevant. In times of uncertainty, it’s important to hold fast to your roots, while reassessing your anchors. Your roots are what will guide you through a crisis, but sometimes the old ways can be holding you back from necessary pivots.

Communicate your values across the company.

As you have been thinking quickly on your toes, adjusting to a new way of conducting business, and trying to stay afloat, so have your team members. No matter what their role, everyone has felt the impact of COVID-19. Since attention has been focused elsewhere (and for good reason), it’s likely that discussion around anchors and roots hasn’t been a priority. That’s okay—but since we are half-way through 2020, it’s time to remind employees of the company’s core values.

It’s a good idea to do this through several channels, leveraging leaders at every level. Here are a few examples:

  • A company-wide email sent from the CEO.
  • Internal and external social posts promoting the employee experience through the lens of the core values.
  • Virtual discussions within and across teams to discuss core values, and how each person can align them with their responsibilities and deliverables.
  • You may also want to take the pulse of your employees around your values.

Remember: core values don’t only matter when you’re hiring, but at every step of the employee life cycle, including recruitment, onboarding, performance and development, rewards and incentives. Be sure they are a part of discussions at each of the stages.

Be honest with yourself. 

To effectively guide change as a leader, you first have to start with yourself. Before you can ask all employees to do a deep dive into the core values of a company, you should spend time self-reflecting. How are you, and your company, staying committed to the core values through these uncertain times? What examples can you point to? Where might there be opportunity to show up better, both within the company and externally, so that you are “walking the talk” and living the values?

After thinking critically on your own, gather the trusted leaders of your organization and analyze the last four months. Have a candid, open conversation about areas where your company may have slipped on its core values due to the high-stress, high-pressure situation. Then, brainstorm ways you can do better moving forward, including safeguards, strategies for making decisions, and other tactics. The goal is to not waver on what matters most to your brand, for the past, present and future—regardless of what’s going on in the world around you. You may shift how you do business, but not your why.

Take your cue from other companies.

There are plenty of examples of how smart brands took a deep breath and went back to the drawing board to figure out how to surf the pandemic waves. Here, a few examples:

ClassPass: This fitness start-up relies heavily on one main activity: fitness classes. Since these studios closed in early March, and only a handful are back open today, the brand had to determine their next move. The founder, Payal Kadakia discussed their pivot on NPR’s How I Built This, explaining that they shifted their efforts toward helping to support their bread-and-butter: their studios, by changing their credit model. Customers can use their credits to livestream digital classes from home, which allows ClassPass to pay these boutique superstars and give them the chance to stay in business.

Warner Brothers: Yes, the entertainment industry has been hit significantly, since concerts and movie theaters likely won’t re-open for the foreseeable future. But since production companies core values are about delighting and inspiring viewers, they still needed a way to get in front of audiences. That’s why many organizations, like Warner Brothers, have worked to speed up the straight-to-streaming process, so everyone can watch from the comfort of their home. It costs the same as a movie ticket would… and popcorn at home is much cheaper for all.

Why we did this, too.

After the roundtable discussion, we were inspired to review our core values at Notion. We came together for our (newly virtual) annual summit, and talked about what they look like, in action, and how they help us achieve each element of our long-term vision.

Here are our core values, which we developed together, and that continue to guide our decisions, no matter what the external climate. These are our roots, which we return to again and again, as we navigate unchartered waters, and continue to re-anchor as needed along the way:

“We are obsessed with empowering great leaders and building fresh, modern organizations, and we walk the talk. Our clients want us around because we value:

Passion: making it a priority to follow our passions inside and outside of work

Energy: possessing the strength, vitality and action-orientation required to do the hard work of change

Curiosity: always working to learn and grow so we may leave things better than how we found them

Courage: keeping cool in the face of uncertainty, and being comfortable with the uncomfortable

Humanity: valuing all human beings and celebrating unique differences