How to design a value system for the company that works


Written by Grete

February 14, 2023 | 5 min read

Consciously designing the company's value system unites employees, helps reduce turnover, and cuts company costs. People with similar values make working towards a common goal easier, which in turn increases the company's efficiency.

Values reflect in all company-related activities, behaviours, and goals. However, not all companies have prioritized managing their core values. How are company values created and maintained? Thorgate HR manager Grete Kungla talks about establishing company values from her own experience.

Culture dictates company values

The company's core values begin with the overall organizational culture. This includes the management style, structure, prevailing communication style, and routine work processes. Culture starts with the manager or the founder, but it is established and becomes distinct as the company grows. Every organization has a culture, but in order to use it to your advantage, you have to bring it into your and your employees' consciousness and articulate it clearly. The best way to do that is through values.

I propose four steps to define values that really speak to employees. To ensure the values work, you should look at the stage of the company and act accordingly.

STAGE I – formation of values

Most companies in their early years find themselves in this stage. Owners and founders influence the formation of the value system at the start of the company. Inevitably, founders choose managers they like and have the best rapport with to lead the organization. Managers, in turn, choose people who, in their opinion, will best help achieve the company's goals. This way the values set by the founders are reproduced. At this stage, the values are intuitively perceptible, but articulating them helps strengthen the company's culture.


PHASE II – mapping and creating values

Companies that have been operating for a while and haven’t yet mapped their core values find themselves in this stage most often. Thorgate reached this stage in its third year of operation. Today, we have a comprehensive culture book, which is an important aid for both new and old employees. If the company leaders have not formulated values during the early years, mapping the employee opinions helps to express them at this stage. There are many formats for this, and every company can choose the one that suits them.

At Thorgate, the process of formulating the values took about a year, which included a workshop and brainstorming, as well as a free-form discussion among employees. Also, we held trainings on formulating values and cooperated with an ethics expert.

In the workshop, we used the 5 why’s methodology based on Simon Sinek's theory. Everyone wrote:

  • Why do they work at Thorgate?
  • Why do they work in this particular field?
  • Why are they doing this particular job here, etc?

The 5 why questions get more detailed and deeper. In our company, the answers turned out to be very similar to Thorgate's own vision, which was written earlier. We wanted to check whether we arrived at the same values and formulations without direction. The employees also formulated a mantra, i.e. an easily repeatable principle that describes the employees and which can be used to manage day-to-day work.

After collecting the employees' answers, we found common denominators and overlaps and finalized the articulation of the values. We came up with eight in total:

  • T – Trustworthy
  • H – Hungry
  • O – Open-minded
  • R – Resourceful
  • G – Great
  • A – Ambitious
  • T – Team
  • E – Effort

A company's culture is strong when there is a lot of overlap in employee responses. If there are large discrepancies in the answers, the reasons for this must be analyzed and, if necessary, the owners and managers of the value system must start actively shaping it.

STAGE III – value enhancement

It’s no use articulating values alone if it’s not followed by conscious work to enhance and maintain them. To do this, you can start a number of traditions and activities, each of which corresponds to some value. I will give an example of how Thorgate upholds its values.

For example, to enhance the value of "hungry" we regularly hold courses and trainings for our employees. Once a month, employees have a work-free learning day so that everyone has the opportunity to quench their thirst for knowledge and support personal development. This can mean, for example, reading some books, taking a course, learning new systems, etc. Once a month, we have an anticipated event called "Knowledge sharing", where a team member introduces some new knowledge or skill to their colleagues. Sometimes we also invite external guests to speak at the "Knowledge Sharing".

To keep the value "resourceful" alive, we are constantly looking for new ways to make our work more efficient. We regularly map repetitive activities and think about how to use them as smartly as possible. The value of "open-mindedness" is supported by transparent communication and honesty. For example, once a month we have an event called "Grilling the CEO", where we can anonymously ask Thorgate CEO Raido Pikkari questions and hear honest answers. Similarly, it’s possible to support any value with a specific action.

STAGE IV – re-evaluating values

Culture and its values are dynamic and evolve along with the company's goals and development. At Thorgate, we regularly re-evaluate our values to ensure they are still relevant. In the process, we examine whether these values still support us and whether our actions are consistent with the values. If the whole group finds that a value no longer supports us or the related activities no longer resonate, we critically review the information and jointly decide whether this activity or value is still useful for the company.

Company values in a crisis

Values are not merely a luxury of successful companies, but also come in very handy when a company goes through changes or a crisis. With major layoffs happening in tech companies right now, this question can be relevant to many companies. In difficult times, the most important thing is to stick to the company's values, as it helps maintain a sense of security and creates trust.

For example, if the company has chosen openness as its value, it must remain open even in critical times, communicate honestly with its employees and share information in the same way with everyone. In a crisis situation, it’s good to bring out the dangers and ways to avoid them. It’s also important to uphold all supportive and positive parts of the company's culture and to continue with traditions and mutually supportive activities.

Get to know more about Thorgate’s company culture by downloading our culture book here: