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Who are you?
That’s the essential question that a company’s core values seek to answer.
If you haven’t read the definitive article on core values and company vision, first check out “Building Your Company’s Vision” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.
Our consultants get a LOT of questions from leadership teams who are developing their core values. It makes sense. Choosing the handful of phrases that will define your organization’s identity isn’t to be taken lightly.
At the same, overcomplicating any methodology just leads to confusion. If you’re unclear about the validity of your core values, or if you’re just wrapped around the axle trying to figure out what they are, here are a few simple tips to keep you on course:
Core Values DOs
Choose values that you are comfortable hiring, firing, and rewarding on. Core values help determine who should be part of your team and what it takes to stay there. Evaluation based on core values isn’t about what an employee achieves, but how they achieve it.
Stay open to your values evolving, especially at the beginning of the process. Values are part of a company’s DNA, and DNA doesn’t fundamentally change. However, when you’re first grappling with core values, the language may not be as precise as you like. After the first pass, give yourself 90 days to live with those values. Then go back and iterate as needed until you’re satisfied.
Repeat and reinforce. Core values must become part of an organization’s DNA. Once you’ve settled on your core values, roll them out through your entire workforce. Develop a core values speech and use it to train every new team member. Recognize employees who embody core values during your company’s all-hands meetings. Everyone in your organization should be able to say your core values—and know exactly what they mean.
Core Values DON’Ts
Create aspirational values. Core values don’t exist as an aspirational or motivational tool. They should be who you are, not who you hope to become. That’s why for SMBs, the business owner’s opinion carries a lot of weight: whoever that person is at their core likely has a big impact on the organization’s culture.
Deceive yourself about who you are. Core values can be customer-facing, but they shouldn’t be generated as a PR tool. Don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. Be judgment-agnostic when creating core values: if your company believes “the customer is usually wrong,” you may not put that on your website, but you need to acknowledge it and find team members who will act accordingly.
Expect values to define goals or job functions. Core values isn’t a one-stop-shop for people evaluation in your business. There’s no way to effectively capture an employee’s effectiveness at hitting specific goals or whether they fulfill the role requirements for their job via core values alone. There are other tools for making those assessments, such as Rocks and scorecards.