A couple of weeks ago I was having a one-on-one meeting with one of our machine learning scientists at Affectiva, the emotion AI company I co-founded. We were reflecting on the past couple of months, which have been a whirlwind for us -- we just raised a new round of funding, we're hiring quickly and growing fast. As we chatted, he challenged me with a question: "what core values drive us? Are they clear as we grow?"
I took that question to heart and became curious. Were others wondering the same thing? As a company, we had defined our core values early on, but I realized that values aren't about where you hang them, or where you list them on your website, but about how you live them. After all, as Melinda Gates (one of my personal heroes) has said, shared values are key to success in any organization or relationship.
Here are four ways to bring your company's core values to life.
Make sure your values belong to everyone
Shortly after that one-on-one meeting, I decided to address the question of core values at an all-hands meeting. I surprised the team with a pop quiz: what do you think our core values are? What do we stand for?
Everyone, including our remote teams, wrote their responses and we read each one aloud. I was thrilled to hear that many of us highlighted the same themes: we value collaboration and human connection, we have high integrity and ethics, and we prioritize diversity and inclusion.
While these tenets have been core to the company since our early days, I decided it was time to re-articulate them using the language that the team shared during our "pop quiz." Values can only be authentic and lived if they belong to everyone, rather than just the leadership team at an organization.
Use values to guide hiring decisions
During the all-hands meeting, some of our newest employees expressed that they'd joined Affectiva because of the values we exhibited in the interview process. This is super important -- when companies grow, it can be easy to lose sight of who you are as you scale. But it's crucial to find new recruits that resonate with these values -- it's the only way to keep your values intact.
At Affectiva, a few of our core values include a love of learning, a commitment to collaboration and passion for our work. We're pioneering technology that's never been built before, creating artificial emotional intelligence. We can't do that without people who are willing to learn, partner and work hard to solve tough problems.
So, in interviews, I look for signs of those values. Does a candidate get excited talking about our technology and their ideas for its applications? Do they ask about our team and our partners? Do they seem knowledgeable, but still willing to learn?
Let the core values guide your strategy and business decisions
Your values will be your north star when it comes to making tough business decisions -- whether that's about who you work with, what industries you enter into, how you develop and deploy your product, or otherwise.
I've certainly been tested on this. Years ago, Affectiva received a preliminary investment offer from a government agency that wanted to use our technology for surveillance. We desperately needed the money -- in fact, I was concerned about being able to make payroll. But I couldn't ignore the fact that this application of our technology would be in direct violation of our core values. We are committed to the ethical development and deployment of AI, and we respect people's privacy and do not deploy our technology where it is violated.
So we walked away from the investment. It was scary, but that decision left the door open for other relationships we forged in its wake with partners and investors who share our values too.
Extend your values to your community
It's important that your values serve not only your organization, but also the people that your product or technology will impact. For us at Affectiva, that means being mission-driven: we exist because of our desire to build technology that will make people's lives better, from improving road safety to supporting mental health research, and much more.
One company alone cannot set the standard though -- we all need to keep one another accountable, and actively find avenues to extend our values within our communities. Three years ago, we started hosting our now-annual Emotion AI Summit to serve that purpose, bringing together leaders in AI, healthcare, automotive, robotics, advertising, academia and beyond.
At the end of the day, your core values should be your company's blueprint. Like any blueprint, you can't leave the plans on the page -- you need to build and bring them to life.