Imagine you’ve recently taken a job at adidas. You’re part of the team that gets to look at samples and decide which shoes will go into production. There is one you are especially excited about. It is both familiar and fresh: undeniably adidas while looking unlike any shoe you’ve ever seen.
Somehow, this is the shoe the others agree to cut from the line. You’re new at the company. It would be easy to go with the flow. The others must have good reasons for cutting the shoe. They know more about how things work than you do. But this shoe – it seems like an important one. Do you explain why you care about this shoe and what you think it represents for the company?
It’s impossible to ignore adidas’ values
A new colleague recently told me this story. And she did speak on behalf of the shoe she loved (just like you chose to, right?). At her previous company, expressing a divergent view was met with a hard ‘no.’ The kind of no meant to embarrass dissenters. But at adidas, she felt respected, like her experience and views mattered. Her sense was proven right. In the case of the beloved shoe, the team considered her points and decided to produce it, after all.
It will be really cool if that one shoe turns out to be a hit. But even if it isn’t the top seller of the season, this is a success story. An employee who had only been with the company for a few months absorbed the adidas values and culture. In doing so, she concluded that this was a place where taking a stand and expressing passionate views is encouraged. Here we value stepping up and speaking out when an opportunity or need is seen. This takes courage. And courage takes us to exciting discoveries.
Her courageous decision was reinforced by her colleagues. They listened to her, took her points seriously, and even implemented her suggestion. What strikes me about this story is that adidas’ values are so prominent. There is a strong, well-established culture here. And it is from this culture that our company values emerged.
What are adidas’ values?
As Robin Pring, Senior Vice President of Talent and Organizational Development puts it, “Determining our company values meant highlighting behaviors that are already an intrinsic part of our culture… Our goal was to pinpoint those values that are essential to us, that make us adidas, and that can be our guiding compass – especially when internal and external factors put pressure on us.”
The values that guide us here at adidas were identified through a collaborative process. Over 5,000 employees at every level of the company were involved in the observations, conversations, surveys, focus groups, feedback rounds and sentiment checks that brought us face-to-face with these six values:
How adidas values and culture are connected
Our values are closely tied to our culture. As Robin puts it, “They are the cornerstones of our culture and ultimately the essence of our identity. Our values offer clarity on what the essential behaviors and mindsets are that we value in our colleagues, that represent the attitude we want to see in each other.”
Scholars describe the close relationship between a company’s values and its culture pretty much exactly as Robin does. In fact, researchers define corporate culture as a combination of values and norms. Values show us what is important, and norms reinforce the behaviors and attitudes that go along with the values.
Behaviors become normalized through a variety of interactions including routines, processes, and priority setting. For instance, a routine like holding regular team meetings in which ideas are shared and developed can indicate the importance of teamplay. Offering and encouraging feedback from each other can reinforce the importance of innovating processes. At the same time, prioritizing consistency in standards can show the essential role that integrity plays.
How employees benefit from adidas’ values
A well-established company culture benefits organizations and the people within them. As the authors of the paper Measuring Corporate Culture Using Machine Learning show, companies with a strong culture benefit from improved efficiency, risk-taking, and net worth. It is easy to imagine that the people responsible for this improved efficiency, who are confident enough to take risks, and who are successful in increasing their company’s overall value will experience accomplishment and satisfaction.
But that’s not all that the employees gain. In the article, Shared values make a difference: An empirical test of corporate culture, the authors prove that strong shared values offer team members other benefits, too. Some of these advantages include fulfillment, a sense of success, and more positive feelings for the company and its vision.
The alignment and harmony that stem from shared values also make everyday tasks smoother. For instance, having shared values eases decision-making, both for groups and individuals. Shared company values offer clear common ground for joint decisions that need to be made. And for any decision – alone or as part of a group – shared values offer a clear reminder of the company’s overarching priorities.
In addition to guiding us in our everyday activities and complex decision-making, company values also offer navigational assistance along the routes that bring us to the most spectacular lookout points.
The positive outcomes of a strong culture powered by values are immense and inspiring. Here we are surrounded by people who are doing incredible things every day.
The Upcycling Café: a value-driven initiative
By looking at one example of an initiative started by an employee, some of the ways that our values are instrumental really come to life. Ophelie Usannaz-Joris is an apparel developer who started the Upcycling Café soon after joining adidas. In fact, it was an alignment of values that brought Ophelie to the company. “I was attracted to adidas because I love sports, and sustainability is really important for me,” she says. “I wanted to be in a company where the culture is positive and empowering.”
Before joining adidas, Ophelie had her own upcycling clothing brand. So, when she found some boxes of sample-stage materials at adidas that were at the end of their lives, she began thinking of ways to give them new life. Through a collaboration with the MakerLab, she offered a workshop where colleagues could learn how to transform the discarded materials into bucket hats. The workshop was so popular, that not everyone could fit in the space.
Building on the shared interest and support of colleagues, she offered more workshops to accommodate demand and interest in other upcycling options. For instance, in one workshop participants learned how to transform material samples into tote bags. In a series of workshops, the group worked together to remove or cover up third-party logos so that clothing could be given to charities.
All six adidas values in one inspiring story
Creating the Upcycling Café clearly shows all six values. It took courage for Ophelie to suggest a new way of managing samples and other discarded materials – especially since she hadn’t been at the company for long.
Bringing her idea to fruition requires ownership – there have been many problems to solve along the way, and she perseveres to fulfill her vision of reducing waste, upskilling colleagues, and creating fun networking meetups.
Additionally, the sessions she provides are innovative. Finding new ways to extend the life of materials and samples disrupts existing processes in ways that improve our company culture.
Naturally, Ophelie’s initiatives require the teamplay of many colleagues. The collaborative projects can only happen with the excitement, support, and ingenuity of others. In addition to the MakerLab, Ophelie partnered with the legal and social impact teams. Getting into contact with these key players was enabled by colleagues, who pointed her in the right direction. And the work done in the upcycling sessions happened through the participation of many employees across the company. Together, they turned this idea into a possibility and, eventually, a concrete social action.
Further, one of the ways members of the Upcycling Café upcycle samples is to cover up third-party logos so that the clothes can be given to charities. The care that Ophelie and her colleagues take to fulfill the legal requirements that allow undamaged clothing samples to be given away shows integrity.
Finally, respect is clearly shown in Ophelie’s desire to ensure resources are used responsibly, to offer new and fashionable clothing to people in need, and by making sure that all who want to participate in her events can.
Awareness of our adidas values helps us see and be our best
Our values are contagious. They inspire and empower those of us who see the work of people like Ophelie and hear her story. A company that supports exciting projects attracts others who share these values. The more we notice the ways in which our adidas values are present in the best processes, dynamics, and projects, the more powerful their presence will be. We are building on our values to create the best work environment where the best work can be done.
Six months into her time at adidas, with six workshops under her belt, I asked Ophelie how accurate her expectations of adidas have proven to be. “Before I joined adidas, I thought if I wanted to live the most sustainable way possible, I would need to do my own thing. That’s why I started my own brand. I didn’t think an actual company would be as purpose-driven as I am. Here at adidas, I’m pleasantly surprised to see the brand is guided by values. I feel like I landed in paradise.”