How to live out core values beyond just service level

4 min read

HappyHQ‘s Co-Founder, Janine Jacobs published an article in Startups Magazine.


The best analogy I ever read about starting your own company is there’s no detailed map to guide you — you have to create your own. That’s why core values become extremely important navigators for any company big or small. Considering the uncharted nature of starting a business, core values serve as the compass that guides your entrepreneurial journey.

When lived out authentically, core values guide your company’s beliefs, culture, and decisions, they become your North Star, your everyday for everything, and your anchor when all the chips are down.


As a founder, you might have already figured out your core values, but have you taken them beyond just surface level to elevate your business? And if so, is it working for you?

Actions speak louder than words

In today’s world of work especially, it’s not enough to merely declare your values – authentic values must be brought to life through consistent demonstration and embodiment, or else they risk becoming superficial marketing tools that can do more harm than good.

Founders play a critical role in demonstrating values ‘in action’, setting the tone for the rest of the company to be guided by. Take, for example, Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, who embodied the company’s value of delivering exceptional customer service. Hsieh was known for personally responding to customer emails, and going above and beyond to ensure satisfaction.

Another example is Patagonia’s, Let My People Go Surfing Practice, a unique approach to employee flexibility and work-life balance, which was introduced by the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. This practice represents Patagonia’s core values of environmental stewardship, promoting a connection with nature, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, while also not being bound by convention.

The values ripple effect

By living and breathing core values, you create a ripple effect throughout the company, inspiring employees to do the same. It’s not all grand gestures though. Small day-to-day routines and practices such as recognition programs, celebrations, and promotions, reinforce the importance of core values.

One example is Ikea’s ‘no empty hands’ practice, which encourages employees to carry something that needs to be transported from one place to the next, promoting teamwork and a sense of shared responsibility.

As a founder, your team can be involved in creating values in action initiatives they feel engaged by. For example, if you value continuous learning, you could introduce employee ‘mastermind sessions’. If you value autonomy, can you allocate some hours for people to work on passion projects?

Take a step back to examine your daily practices to see how they support and uphold your values. If you value transparency, how do you communicate company updates? If you value a culture of honesty and inclusivity, is there open two-way feedback to support this? And if you value collaboration, how are you encouraging employees to get together in groups?

As well as routines and practices, ensure your values are embedded through mission statements, values-based goals, training programs, and employee recognition, so everyone understands and internalises the values.

Team Halo’s Core Values discovered with HappyHQ

Avoiding values-conflict hires

When people are values-aligned at work they make better decisions, can handle feedback, and will be more engaged. As a founder, ask yourself this, are you different at home from how you are at work? If the answer is yes, there’s incongruence, which can cause unfulfillment, and the same goes for the people you hire. When hiring,  you want to find people who are values-aligned to avoid values conflict. For example, if you hire someone who values being challenged, yet the job doesn’t change much from one day to the next, the routine will cause boredom and disengagement will set in.

The challenge is, most people understand values as a concept but very few will be able to tell you what their core behavioural values are. So, it becomes your job to make sure the hiring process is focused on discovering values alignment. Checking for internal motivators through behavioural and situational questions, but also being clear on what your core values are and your interpretation of those values. The latter is key, because, take for instance ‘creativity’. This value might be something you value as a founder, but what do you mean by creativity in the context of the company and teamwork?

Once you have a clear definition, make sure the interviewee is aligned on its meaning and also has examples of how they live out that value, and why it’s meaningful to them.

When values stop working

By re-evaluating your values, they remain relevant and aligned with your company’s mission and goals. New business challenges will come and go and the world around you will change too. While core values should remain relatively stable, they can evolve as a business grows or undergoes significant changes. For example, a company that once prioritised stability and consistency may need to shift its focus towards adaptability and experimentation in response to staying competitive.

Finally, while the fate of many mission statements can become forgotten words in a business plan, values in action ensure that your company’s core principles remain a driving force behind every decision and activity. By embracing them, you can ensure that your business is authentically and sustainably guided by your North Star.

See how HappyHQ works with companies to help them live out their values beyond surface level:

  • Celebrating a decade of design with KOTA
  • A post-merger culture reset for Suck UK
  • Putting people at the heart of culture goals for The Halo Group

Or check out more case studies here.

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