“Treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.”

The above statement is more than just a talking point in business management 101; it’s part of the core values statement of L.L. Bean, one of the most recognizable names in the retail world.

It’s not realistic to construct a time-tested values system like L.L. Bean’s overnight; building a brand from the ground up takes time, patience, blood, sweat, and tears. But regardless of your company’s size, a workplace that’s built around core values is a vital bedrock for company culture.

Speaking of culture, there’s more to this buzzword-y term than ping pong tables, in-office waterslides or fancy happy hours. As this aptly titled Fast Company piece suggests, in the modern workplace, culture eats strategy for lunch.

Employees who feel like a cog in a machine instead of part of a collaborative whole will look elsewhere.

The hard part is adequately articulating the underlying principles of company culture to the people who matter most: Your employees.

When organizational values are unclear, contradictory, nonexistent or, worse, so insincere that they’re cringe-worthy, you may find your employees floundering to define their purpose. And when this sense of purposelessness occurs, your business is in trouble from a retention perspective: Employees who feel like a cog in a machine instead of part of a collaborative whole will look elsewhere for cohesiveness.

When articulated well, core values can function as an internal sounding board and a bonding rallying cry for your company. Below are a few pieces of advice for on how to define them.

Put Your Company’s Core Values in Writing

Many CEOs spend an inordinate amount of time thinking in marketing jargon. Unfortunately, this mindset often results in a litany of organizational values that sound vague and trite at best and laughable at worst.

When it comes to defining the core values for your business, it’s important to recognize that you’re not just throwing around words that sound good on paper — you’re laying a foundation for team unity and employee loyalty. Clearly defined core values are one of the best ways to foster collaboration both within and among teams; think of these values as the glue that binds your business to its human element.

Values help to lay a foundation for team unity and employee loyalty Click To Tweet

The glue may be invisible, but it’s still important that this adhesive element is communicated clearly to everyone who works at your company. This is why consistent internal language — describing what exactly it is that your company does, what it believes in/stands for, and what will serve as a guiding light in the event of unforeseen obstacles – is a crucial bedrock. Whether this is formatted as a mission statement, a mantra that’s prominently displayed in the office, or an open-forum Reddit AMA will depend on your business and its style. Core values may also show up in recruitment messaging, goal-setting, and training programs.

Get Creative (and Specific) With Company Values

Integrity. Passion. Leadership.

The problem with these terms is that they’re applicable to pretty much any business; in today’s modern workforce, every company should strive for these intangibles. (“Leadership,” it’s worth noting, is not even a concrete value.)

To have actual impact – instead of simply labeling your business “impactful” – try going deeper: global-mindedness, aggressive inclusiveness, and voracious knowledge-seeking may be better places to start the brainstorming process.

The most important part of these values? Living them. Once you’ve settled on the language and the key mission that will define your company, consider those values inexorable. They should function as the underlying impetus for every business decision you make. Your employees will notice if “transparency” is a value but your leadership is keeping key information under cover.

Core Values Don’t Need to Be About Changing the World

Today’s workforce cares about having a purpose. The numbers back it up: More than 50% of millennials, the largest generational cohort in the workforce today, say they would take a pay cut to find work that aligns with their values.

One of the most important elements to consider when defining values is sincerity. If your company truly has goals of global impact or aligns with a social good initiative, it’s fine to include phrases like “changing the world” in your mission statement – but think long and hard about if that’s what your company is really striving for.

Today’s workforce cares about having a purpose. Click To Tweet

Many companies struggle with this, trying to attach lofty language to a product or company that’s just not a fit. In many cases, the words just feel off, and ultimately become meaningless or eye-roll-inducing. As an example of companies doing it well, here are a few samples of well-crafted values statements.

In other words, your subscription-box sock company may be super innovative – but it’s unlikely that it’s solving any global crises. Maybe your mission is simply to give people the warm and fuzzies, in the most literal sense of the phrase. And there’s nothing wrong with that.