Core company values: defining your own (plus 42 examples to inspire you)

Company values are your business’s version of the ten commandments. They will guide every decision you’ll make - which is why they’re crucial to get right.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Company values (also called corporate values or core values) are a set of behaviours or principles which a business strives to embody. Think of them almost like a list of rules. They instruct employees on how to act and, by extension, tell customers how you intend to operate.

These days, every firm worth its salt is looking to become more values-led. Research has shown that by prioritising purpose, not just profit, companies of all sizes are better able to sustain highly engaged staff, loyal customers, and satisfied shareholders.

Attractive values can go a long way to helping you hire, attract, and retain employees – three key priorities for businesses against the current backdrop of worker shortages.

The first step towards this potential mountain of wins is to define your values. But it's living up to them that is the real challenge for businesses.

How well you embed and embody your values has a direct impact on customer trust. Ambition is welcome but it’s also important to be realistic – for example, there’s no point claiming to be sustainable without the credentials to back it up.

We’ve spoken to experts in the HR field to craft the below guide on how to find your own company values. We’ll go through a list of top-quality value examples, as well as our tips for rooting your chosen values into every aspect of your business operations.

What are company values?

Company values are a list of defining principles to which the entire team commits, in order to reach a common business goal. Examples include “being a force for good” or “trading with integrity”.

In 2022, more workers than ever want their employer to share their values. According to one poll, 56% of people say they won’t even consider a workplace that doesn’t do this. That adds increased employee satisfaction to the long list of benefits that corporate values bring to businesses.

Values are not like a mission statement or vision statement. Both of those concepts are used to describe where your business wants to go . But, your values describe what you are and how you act now in your day-to-day operations. This impacts not only how employees treat each other, but also the behaviour expected toward clients, partners, and the broader community.

There are no specific guidelines for designing your company values, although companies tend to use around 1-5 words to illustrate each point.

We also recommend that your corporate values are kept positive and instructive, to ensure staff remain motivated by them. There's no sense being vague – your values should make it clear what you expect from the people in your business.

Inspiring examples of company values

1. Patagonia

Patagonia

1. Build the best product
2. Cause no unnecessary harm
3. Use business to protect nature
4. Not bound by convention

How does the brand live up to these values?

Only recently, Patagonia gave us the perfect example of how it’s living up to all four of its values. Founder Yvon Chouinard announced he was giving away the outdoor clothing and gear company to ensure profits would go towards funding the fight against the climate crisis.

With this one, bold move, the business has shown it is committed to protecting nature, causing no unnecessary harm to the environment, and certainly isn’t bound by convention.

And, in terms of building the best product? Just try to argue against Patagonia’s extensive quality scoring initiative.

What can your brand learn from them?

Look for examples of values online and you will find a lot of impactful adjectives like ‘honesty’ or ‘diversity’. Patagonia is a perfect example of why it can be advantageous to be different.

The company’s list of values is still concise, but the decision to add more specific detail makes it feel much more authentic and original.

2. Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation)

Wikipedia

1. We strive for excellence
2. We welcome and cherish our differences
3. We are in this together
4. We engage in civil discourse
5. We are inspired

How does the brand live up to these values?

Wikipedia’s values clearly represent the brand’s focus on being an accessible source of information for all with over 220,000 community members and contributors across the globe (see: we are in this together, and we welcome and cherish our differences).

The company also appears aware of its power and the huge responsibility that it carries (we strive for excellence). In practice, it supports its members (we are in this together) by awarding £9m in grants to Wikimedia community members, affiliates and nonprofit organisations.

What can your brand learn from them?

Wikipedia illustrates the importance of tailoring your company values to your overall mission statement, as all of the organisation’s values point towards the same goal:

To empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free licence or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

3. Mowgli

Mowgli curry

1. Intelligence
2. Grace
3. Graft

How does the brand live up to these values?

As is to be expected, Mowgli’s core values are all pointed towards customer service, with the company focusing on staff characteristics that promote hard work (graft) and attentiveness (intelligence and grace).

Having grown to 10 restaurants across the UK, Mowgli has put a huge amount of work into its people process. Over the past few years, it has streamlined its onboarding process and provided additional training to its team by partnering with a specialist management solution.

What can your brand learn from them?

Mowgli prioritises its staff because it knows that providing a good customer experience is key within the hospitality industry. Corporate values should align with your business strategy. Ask yourself not just who you want to be as a brand, but how you are going to get there.

4. Lush

Lush

1. Freshest cosmetics
2. Handmade
3. Ethical buying
4. Naked (or unpackaged) goodies
5. Fighting animal testing
6. 100% vegetarian

How does the brand live up to these values?

Every decision made by Lush adheres precisely to the above code of conduct it has set itself. Anyone who has ever smelt the delicious inside of a Lush store will know that the retailer uses as little new or recycled packaging, as possible.

It also runs a lot of high-profile campaigns around fighting animal testing and being 100% vegetarian, even incorporating this value into its famous tote bags.

What can your brand learn from them?

Not only does Lush live and die by its six core values, it is also very vocal about doing so.

How you publicise your company values is just as important as how you define them. Make sure that you sing loud and proud about what your values are to demonstrate your commitment (particularly if one of your values is accountability).

5. Apple

HONG KONG, CHINA - MARCH 19: Apple Store in the city center on March, 19, 2013, Hong Kong, China. Apple is a very popular worldwide brand name.

1. Inclusion and diversity
2. Education
3. Accessibility
4. Environment
5. Supplier responsibility
6. Privacy

How does the brand live up to these values?

Apple has a strict code of conduct on its website listing supplier standards that every partner must meet, featuring policies on everything from hiring third-party labour and student worker protections.

What can your brand learn from them?

It's not just employees that will see your company values, but partners as well. Apple prioritises working with responsible suppliers, and being one itself. This tells brands with similar values to trust working with them. Ensure you're thinking about how potential collaborators will view your values as a way to bring direct commercial benefits.

6. John Lewis

Image showing the elevators inside of John Lewis store in Leeds

1. We act with integrity and use our judgement to do the right thing
2. We put everything we have into everything we do
3. We put more in, so everyone gets more out
4. We’re quirky, proud and at our best when we are free to be ourselves
5. When we work together anything is possible

How does the brand live up to these values?

John Lewis is one of the largest employee-owned organisations in the world. You can see this democracy showcased throughout its values, with each one starting with ‘we', demonstrating the company's dedication to moving away from the traditional, hierarchical model of leadership.

What can your brand learn from them?

Company values are strongly linked to your leadership style. As with mission statements, it's important to take both into account when outlining what you believe in as a brand, to ensure you are being consistent across every element.

7. Nintendo

Image of The Nintendo of America headquarters in Washington

1. Flexibility
2. Uniqueness
3. Sincerity
4. Honesty

How does the brand live up to these values?

One of the key factors that has allowed Nintendo to maintain its position near the top of the gaming market is probably its ability to adapt to the changing business environment.

Nintendo began branching into other media in 2023 by co-producing the much-anticipated Super Mario Bros. Movie. Its willingness to diversify demonstrates great flexibility and uniqueness.

What can your brand learn from them?

Failure to innovate can be a nail in the coffin for companies. While it's important to show commitment to values, don't be afraid to change or update them to stand out from the crowd.

8. HBO (Home Box Office)

 Flat-screen TV set displaying logo of HBO, an American premium cable and satellite television network owned by Home Box Office, Inc.

1. Work/private life balance
2. Respect
3. Trust
4. Equal opportunities
5. Responsibility
6. Diversity

How does the brand live up to these values?

One quick glance at HBO job listings on Glassdoor and Indeed tells you this is a brand that's fully embraced remote and hybrid working (which makes sense, given how much money the streaming giant has likely made from us all staying in and glued to our screens).

What can your brand learn from them?

Greater work/life balance is a recent addition to the HBO list of company values. Likely, it was introduced as a direct response to employee demands for more flexible ways of working. Ensure your company values are kept up-to-date with the current zeitgeist to stay ahead of rivals.

9. ALDI

Aldi food market store in Buffalo, New York

1. Consistency
2. Simplicity
3. Responsibility

How does the brand live up to these values?

ALDI is well-known as one of the most generous food retailers in the UK. It has thrice upped staff pay packages in the past year during the cost of living crisis, announcing a recent 14% pay rise in March 2023 to £11.40 per hour.

These kinds of measures display a consistent responsibility to ethical employment – simple, but effective.

What can your brand learn from them?

Good company values that are practically enforced will help build a strong organisational culture, which can do wonders for staff satisfaction and hiring. ALDI is currently on a huge recruitment drive and seeking to create thousands of new jobs in the UK, while rivals like Tesco are seeking to cut 2,000 roles in 2023.

Benefits of company values

Every business owner knows their venture should have values. From Amazon to Zoopla, you'd be hard pushed to find a corporation that hasn't designed their own, usually showcased in a special glass case on their websites.

Still, the motivation for doing so can be less clear. Are company values just an example of groupthink? Are entrepreneurs piling onto something they don't really need?

In short, no. Company values exist to direct staff and senior leaders towards a common goal, showing them what success in their role looks like.

If applied correctly, they work to improve morale and optimise workforce productivity. That means values-led companies can enjoy many advantages, including:

1. Improved employee engagement as employees share an overall vision and sense of purpose, creating a more joined-up sense of community.

2. Reduced staff turnover as employees are more likely to show greater loyalty if their employer shares views similar to their own.

3. Better-met customer needs as most values include sales and partnership strategies, like honesty and responsibility.

4. More targeted marketing as you'll know what your brand stands for. This messaging can then be used to issue advertising that will resonate with customers.

How to communicate company values

To get the most out of your company values, they should be relayed both internally and externally. Depending on who is being spoken to, the language and method used will differ.

When communicating values internally to staff, prioritise accessibility. The case studies we've highlighted above likely don't hide their values away in a random HR manager's folder. They should be clearly presented in a one-page document that's shown during onboarding, and made consistently available through regular reinforcement.

Once you've spent time and effort developing a list of values, don't just let this potential goldmine go untapped. They can also be used to shape initiatives or campaigns that engage staff. For example, if you claim kindness as a value, offer charity days to staff.

Check also that managers are educated on what your values are so they can be a knowledge source for more junior or newer team members.

In terms of outward-facing communication of values, incorporating company values into marketing materials is a must. Firms should put them across every channel, including websites, email marketing, and social media.

Values should also be part of a selection process when it comes to reviewing potential suppliers, to ensure the company works with similarly-minded partners. Highlight testimonials from clients and customers that reinforce values.

Finally, don't be afraid to show your progress. If a company is committed to inclusion, and yet has no neurodiversity policy in place, it should address the discrepancy instead of hoping no-one will notice. Demonstrating awareness of where to improve is more authentic than boldly claiming you make no mistakes.

How to choose your company values

Here’s where it might seem fun to pull out a dictionary and start highlighting adjectives like an English teacher on steroids – but resist this urge.

Defining your company values will require a managed, procedural approach. Try to think of it as a step-by-step process to uncover the core pillars that are already there, rather than a blank canvas.

Step 1. Gather all the key players, team members and stakeholders (if any) and sit down for a brainstorming session. Compile a list of between 20-30 principles that you think are most important for your business to achieve its goals.

Step 2. Next, begin your audit. Consolidate the values you have recorded (combining any that are too similar or may overlap). Think about wording, and whether you want to limit each point to a one-word label, or a longer, customised clause.

Step 3. Once you have your chosen values, take a step back and evaluate them as a complete set. How well do they sit together? Is anything missing? Can you easily picture marketing these values to your employees?

When should I choose my company values?

There’s no specific timeframe within the new business journey for when you should decide on your values. However, it’s a good idea to get them finalised within the early stages as this will help you to distinguish yourself from rivals when it comes to marketing your brand.

Danielle Bowman is co-founder of Found by Few, a recruitment company. Bowman says that having a set of values helped them to distinguish themselves within a competitive market.

“If you've got strong values that you are living and breathing, then you are able to stand out from the competition,” she clarifies.

This is true not just for external communication, but also internal. Bowman states that, given the huge influence that core values have on organisational culture, brands “should certainly have your values in place by the time you want to hire.”

How many values should I choose?

Deliveroo has no fewer than 12 core values, including the somewhat competing ideas ‘we simplify’ and ‘we think big’. By the time you’ve reeled them all off, it’s already difficult to remember what you’ve said.

Ben Elliott, Bowman’s co-founder, tells Startups that while there is no “optimum number” when it comes to choosing your values, “the common number that we see with our clients is probably three to five.

“At the moment, we operate with two,” he reveals. “Trying to be inclusive and being high performing at the same time is what guides every decision that we make. But we will probably review those as we get a bit bigger.”

Danielle Bowman and Ben Elliott

Danielle Bowman and Ben Elliott, co-founders of Found by Few

Tips for defining your corporate values

DON’T ignore your mission statement and wider business strategy

While your values are separate from the concepts above, it is still important that the two complement each other to ensure you are not setting yourself up for failure in future.

Followers will be confused if a business doesn’t have ‘protecting the Earth' as one of its key values, yet its mission statement is to ‘support the UK’s transition to sustainable energy’.

DO be truthful

Company values aren’t just a sign that’s posted on the wall. Values only work if they are being practised by the business – and it can bring huge reputational risk if they are not.

As an example, let’s look at Ben & Jerry’s. The ice-cream manufacturer’s website states clearly that one of its core values is human rights and dignity.

But, in 2018 migrant workers from the company’s dairy farms campaigned against the brand for egregious work conditions. Workers reported being housed in barns and unheated trailers before being made to work 12 to 14 hour shifts without rest days.

It’s an extreme example, but the key takeaway is still relevant: inconsistency is easy to spot, so don’t feel tempted to overclaim.

DO use inclusive language

Core values are generally kept short and sweet to enable the author to think of the bigger picture. But, it places more emphasis on the words that businesses do use, requiring additional thought about how the reader might perceive them.

Ensure that the descriptors you choose don’t implicate bias towards certain groups or genders. Adjectives like ‘relentless’ or ‘competitive’ can alienate female candidates. Meanwhile, people from a different background might not understand certain colloquial phrases or expressions.

Think of this as an opportunity, not a limitation. Being inclusive brings lots of benefits to businesses. Elliott argues that “being high performing and being an inclusive environment to work in [are] not two different things that fight against each other.

“The more inclusive you are, the better decisions you make [and] the more high performing you are.”

DON’T think short-term

Business owners must live with the values they adopt for a long time. Don’t box yourself in with values that might come back to haunt you in future.

For example, an artisanal startup that says it cares most about being high-quality and handmade may regret that decision if, after a sudden boom in sales, they want to begin large-scale manufacturing in two years’ time.

“I can think of examples where somebody created [their values] at the beginning and clearly didn’t really think about it,” Elliott nods. “Ten years later, it led to them having a huge, huge problem.”

How to embed your company values

Tailor your hiring strategy

Employees are the embodiment of a company’s culture. Finding the people who share the same principles as your business will plant the seeds for your values to grow and flourish within the company.

Design your recruitment process to elicit values. Job descriptions should communicate values to provide clear context for how candidates will be assessed. Include specific values-based criteria and questions so you can score each candidate.

Should honesty be a value you look for, give interviewees a hypothetical scenario or group exercise relating to what they would do if they discovered a coworker was behaving dishonestly.

Conducting this process early on will narrow down the candidate pool early on, until you’re only speaking to people who can relate to all of your priority values.

Re-evaluate your rewards system

Getting new hires onboard with your values is one thing – ensuring they remain so requires an entirely different approach.

As an added incentive, tie values to employee performance by using them as a lens to encourage recognition, rewards and outcomes. Throw out ‘employee of the month’ labels and replace them with ‘values champions’ who can act as an ambassador.

Crucially, don’t forget to communicate any commendations with the wider staff. Doing so will make the rewards system clear so that other team members know who they have to emulate to succeed within the company.

Similarly, remember to lead by example. Having senior leaders regularly communicate and model behaviours for others will help with the adoption of these values throughout the rest of the organisation.

Consider KPIs

One way for companies to monitor how well they are embodying a set of values – and adjust their operations accordingly – is to use key performance indicators (KPIs).

Say you are a courier service that wants to practise exceptional customer service. You might seek to measure the average delivery time per customer over a year-long period to quantify how well you are performing.

That said, it’s important to consider qualitative research, not just quantitative. Whether or not your company is trustworthy, open-minded, or innovative can only be evaluated subjectively. To try to make your employees’ opinions fit inside a ‘yes/no’ option risks oversimplifying more complex attitudes towards your company culture and performance.

“From my own lived experience, [I feel that] companies can get lost in the data and forget about the human side,” Bowman discloses.

“When questions like ‘how do you feel?’ or ‘what can we be doing more of?’ aren't being asked, you start to feel like a number rather than that the company genuinely cares and values you.”

Be mindful of marketing

Getting your brand noticed by customers and potential investors is one of the biggest challenges that today’s small business owners face. Given the rising cost of living, it’s never been more important to stand out from rivals and encourage outside interest.

What better way to supercharge your values and your marketing by using one to inform the other?

Buyers are tired of seeing repetitive ads, gimmicks, and intrusive promotions. They want originality – a trait that value marketing provides. Instead, advertise a product by highlighting its ethical manufacturing or the team member who first came up with the idea.

The appetite from shoppers is there. Today, the average consumer is increasingly favouring socially responsible or sustainable brands, which means finding a brand that has similar beliefs to their own will have a sizeable effect on purchase.

Bowman agrees. She contends that, for SMEs, “everything you do in terms of your marketing strategy [should] ladder back up to your values.

“Whether in your social media posts or a campaign you are running, sit down and look at that piece of content. If it's not reflecting your values, really consider if it should be there.”

Conclusion

There is no exact template to follow when deciding on a set of company values. As the above case studies show, the number and wording of your company values will be inconsistent from one business to the next. What does matter is how well you stick to the values you've chosen for your brand.

Particularly in today's online world, with every mistake a company makes being broadcast for millions of people to view, every entrepreneur is chasing authenticity. Choosing values that naturally reflect your firm's strategy and communications is therefore the only ‘right' approach.

Based on the advice above from the experts, here’s our top five recommendations for designing and embedding company values:

1. Use your existing brand to inspire your values, not the other way around
2. Be truthful about where you are in your values journey
3. Communicate values across every channel, internal and external
4. Embed values in the entire people process, from recruitment to employment
5. Don't be afraid to update your values to stay ahead of the competition

Company values FAQs
  • Why are company values important?
    In today’s business world, it’s almost impossible to attract investors, customers, and job seekers without a strong set of values to tell them who you are as a brand and what you stand for. We strongly recommend finding your own set of principles to guide your decision-making and improve trust with consumers.
  • What makes a good company value?
    Because your values are all about building trust, it is most important that they are an honest reflection of what your organisation cares about. They should also align with both your mission statement and long-term business strategy, as well as each other.
  • How do you communicate your company values?
    Posting your values on your online channels such as a website or social media page, will ensure that curious customers can find them easily. But it should also inform your marketing strategy so that every piece of content or campaign reflects your values accurately.
Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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