Lately, I hear a lot of A/E/C firms talking about culture. When competing for talent, firms often cite their culture as a differentiator to lure new hires.

I define culture as the shared behaviors and beliefs of your firm. So, how do you share your culture with a prospective hire or client? Don’t they have to experience it?

First, codify the shared behaviors and beliefs of your firm as written Core Values. Sadly, most firm leaders develop a set of banal Core Values at a weekend retreat, then send them out in an equally uninspired mass email to all employees. But, as you’ll see in this post, Core Values can be so much more. A creative manifestation of your Core Values is a powerful marketing tool and an essential artifact of your culture. An artifact that prospective hires or clients can experience to determine if there is a match.

Manifested Core Values Attract the Right Talent and Clients

Prospective hires and clients want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with your firm. They imagine themselves on a typical day at your office and judge whether they’ll fit in. Simultaneously, you want clients and talent that harmonize with your culture. For both parties, this requires a leap of faith. But you can minimize the risk by sharing a creative manifestation of your Core Values. The goal isn’t to create something safe that resonates with everyone. You only want people who fit with your culture. Communicate your point of view. Then let clients and talent self-select.

Here is an example of Manifested Core Values we recently created with our client, Murraysmith. First, we helped them with their positioning: geographical focus on the Northwest, obsession with detail/quality, fun, and the right size (120 people). Sounds like like a craft brewery, right? So, we decided to invent a faux craft beer for each of their seven Core Values. Each Value became manifested as a letterpressed (a craft printing technique) beer coaster. The Core Value is on the front, with a description about what it means on the back. To give each Value the gravitas it deserved, and to create a sense of anticipation, we recommended one new coaster be distributed to each employee for seven consecutive weeks.

AEC Firm Core Values

AEC Firm Core Values

AEC Firm Core Values

Manifested Core Values Demonstrate How To Behave

Most firms have a particular way they like things done. Everything from how to bind a proposal, close out a project, or even write an email.
Some firms even develop a clever name or use The (Firm Name) Way to brand their culture.

I suppose you could create a 10-volume employee manual that imagines all scenarios employees will encounter. Or, you could manifest your Core Values as a guide to allow employees, who are adults, to use their best judgement. I recommend the latter.

Starbucks manifests their Core Values in their Green Apron Book. As you can probably infer, it’s pocket-sized to fit in a barista’s green apron. I like to think the pocket position (over the heart) helps baristas takes the expected behaviors to heart.

Core Values handbook Core Values handbook

Manifested Core Values Demonstrate Quality

Stated or not as an official Core Value, all firms embrace quality. So, whatever form your manifested Core Values take, make sure it’s done well. Use quality materials, professional designers, writers and photographers to communicate the professionalism of your firm. While not specifically designed as a Core Values manifestation, the 20th Anniversary book we created for Schmidt Design Group helped them communicate their beliefs. There are 20 quotes or statements coupled with project photography to express their point of view. The firm received such positive feedback, we created similar books for their 25th and 30th anniversaries. To demonstrate quality, the books feature great photography, graphic design, paper, printing, and perfect binding. One client even told the owner of the firm, “I keep the book on my desk. If I’m having a bad day, I read through the book to find inspiration.”

AEC Firm Core Values

No. 5 – A good designer is a good listener

AEC Firm Core Values

Below are more ways to manifest your Core Values. You could design and print oversized graphic panels to cover boring blank walls within your office.

Super Graphics for Core Values

Clark Construction shares their values through a series of videos on their website. Each video summarizes one value with different employees sharing what that value means to them.

Clark Construction Core Values

You could hire a designer to create an infographic or poster as shown below. They took an acrostic approach where R-I-S-E are the first letters in their four Core Values.

Core Values Poster

 

Conclusion

When you bring your Core Values to life, do so in a medium that reflects your culture. Many employees at Murraysmith go out after work and enjoy the burgeoning craft brewing culture of the Pacific Northwest. So, beer coasters were a great fit to communicate the firm’s Core Values. As Marshall McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message.” Choose a medium that fits your firm.

To effectively pass culture on to the next generation in your firm, it must be manifested. You can’t rely solely on oral tradition. Stories get lost, skewed by the teller, and forgotten by the listener. Share your Core Values and culture through a tangible artifact.

When the right prospective client or employee experiences your Manifested Core Values, a fierce loyalty will develop.

How does your firm creatively manifest Core Values? Please leave a reply.

LecoursDesign is a branding and digital marketing agency helping A/E/C* firms attract clients and talent.
* A/E/C = Architecture / Engineering Construction (but you already knew that)
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