Ajay Pattani is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Chicago and founder (and reigning ping pong champion) of Perfect Search Media, a search and social agency named to the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing companies and Inc.'s Best Workplaces 2018 list. Ajay counts his business core values among the company's most important assets, so we asked how he created them and what impact they provide. Here's what he shared:

When you're interviewing applicants to join your company, you want to make sure they're the right fit. It's not just about whether or not they have certain skills--it's also about whether they reflect your organization's mission and values. One of my go-to interview questions is: "Describe an experience in your last role where you took initiative and created or implemented a process."

I like that question because it provides insights that resonate with our company's core value of taking initiative. This has the dual benefit of giving us the opportunity to share our values while determining whether the applicant personifies them or has the potential to do so. We're a proactive group, so in every interview, we tie questions back to our core values. And it goes even further than that: In our company, we tie our core values to pretty much everything.

Delineate what distinguishes your company

Core values guide how an organization thinks and behaves; they're the bedrock on which business decisions are made and successful relationships are formed. Once defined, core values should be visible in every aspect of company operations: from sales and marketing to internal reviews to employee check-ins. At our quarterly offsite meetings, we review each core value and give shout-outs to individuals who've exemplified them.

As a nod to their esteemed place in our company culture, our core values are painted prominently on one of our office walls:

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Take Initiative: Be proactive, challenge each other, take risks and adapt.
Be Passionate: Care about your work and take pride in what you do.
Have Fun: Create a positive work space and build strong relationships.
Value Teamwork: Approach problems with a "we over me" mentality.
Ensure Growth: Learn and evolve personally, professionally, as a team and as a firm.

These values are such a huge part of our company that we can't fathom a time before they existed. But they're not inherent to any organization. You have to create them--we had to do it, too--and it can take a lot of work. But it's a labor of love: Your core values already exist, you just have to identify, define and delineate them.

Trust the process

But don't rush it. The process of developing our core values was neither quick nor easy. Once we realized the need for organizational values, we knew we wanted to develop them together, as a team. This bottom-up approach made sense because we wanted all team members and our existing culture to guide and inform what's important to us.

We found that the best time to brainstorm core values was during our weekly company meetings. We'd split up into small groups, and each would list the qualities that they believed we embodied. Once we had each team's list, we noticed overlap and patterns--which was reassuring. The qualities of "taking initiative" and "being proactive" were so similar that it made sense to combine them.

We also didn't want too many or too few. Our team decided that five was a reasonable number that's easy to remember, while thorough enough to cover all the bases. Then we narrowed the full list, chose the most important values, and workshopped them into concise statements. That's how the core values list above was born.

Revisit and evolve

However, that doesn't mean the list is static. In fact, a few months later we decided to combine "have passion" and "have pride" into one core value and add "have fun" as its own standalone value. It more accurately represented our team and our overall purpose.

For nearly two years we've worked under the guidance of these five core values; I believe they still accurately reflect our team. We also recently realized that these values embody our account service team as well. Because of this, we now promote our core values in sales and marketing materials as a differentiator for our agency. We're proud to share the values that drive our organizational decisions and direction.

Ready to define your core values?

Our core values are more than just words. They are our way of life. If your business is creating or updating its core values, here are some lessons we've learned:

  • Make them detailed with summary headings so they are easy to remember.
  • Ensure visibility so that your team can view and review them daily, rather than burying them in an employee handbook.
  • Leverage core values within company communications alongside kudos given to departments or team members.
  • Revisit them on an annual basis. As your culture evolves, so may your values.

Companies with strong cultures are known to perform better than those without. Although creating and leveraging core values may seem daunting, the impact to your company culture can be tremendous. So, gather your team and get ready to brainstorm!