I’ve been quoted in hundreds of roundups on all sorts of management and leadership questions—from ways to build resilience (Forbes) through identifying toxic cultures (Inc) to warning signs for new hires (Small Business Trends).
While looking for the “Philosopher’s Stone” (or the next “Golden Rush”) is a normal human trait, there’s a deeper problem to identify first.
There Are Endless “Right” Answers
My definition is broad, but it taps into core principles such as honesty, integrity, passion, care, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and determination.
In reality, identifying a limited set of traits to quickly vote pro or against a strategy or an individual is a limited belief.
Every situation is unique, and so are human beings. This causes cognitive dissonance when leaders try to adapt a personality to an existing business model (and expect that to work out of the box).
Individuals perform effectively in different environments, with different expectations and levels of velocity. Leaders can facilitate that or prevent that—and sometimes, great people are just not a great fit for a great company simply due to misaligning principles and values.
To bridge the gap and allow for some clarity, I’m a big believer in “Core Values”.
What Are Core Values?
According to Susan Heathfield and The Balance Careers:
Core values are traits or qualities that are not just worthwhile, they represent an individual’s or an organization’s highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and core, fundamental driving forces. They are the heart of what your organization and its employees stand for in the world.
Core values can be designed as a corporate set of key principles, as well as individual traits that determine the intrinsic motivation and source of truth for individuals.
Different business and coaching frameworks recommend 4 to 5 core values to work with—identifying the key, integral, mandatory traits an organization should possess and preach. Individuals performing personal assessments can adopt a similar model, too.
It takes a while to discover, narrow down, and fully agree on the core values.
In a business environment, fully adopting these across the board makes a world of a difference—and here are ten reasons why you should establish yours, too.
1. Identify The Key Traits Within Your Culture
“Our core values make us who we are. As we change and grow, the beliefs that are most important to us stay the same—putting people first, pursuing excellence, embracing change, acting with integrity and serving our world. Being part of Marriott International means being part of a proud history and a thriving culture.”Marriott
Individual core value definition includes introspection, looking into role models, and identifying positive traits within the family or ones that you want to adopt and reinforce based on your life goals.
Career-wise, existing organizations have a competitive advantage in the definition of values.
Perform analysis across every team member.
- What qualities do you cherish and praise at work?
- What are common traits that your leaders and managers share?
- What are frequent reasons you would consider a hire for promotion?
- How does your value system match closely with certain individuals?
Working out a similar model—and mapping it to how the organization performed to date—will help you generate the initial list of values.
Get to 15 to 20 values and start trimming until you get to four or five.
2. Strengthen the Mission and Vision
Mission and vision statements are common instruments that keep a business afloat. I prepared a detailed guide on defining your statements to consolidate the common beliefs and communicate the mission both internally AND externally.
Core values are a powerful instrument to reinforce what your vision is, what the culture represents, what your key talent believes in, and how you vet hires at the door.
Communicating what you believe in on all fronts—and living up to date—will amplify your efforts over time.
3. Weed Out The Misfits Objectively
One of the most painful exercises for a manager is firing staff members.
Even organizations that employ PIPs (performance improvement plans) have a hard time communicating the gap between expectations and misalignments.
Your core values (along with your internal organizational processes and KPIs, of course) are an objective roadmap of what your company cares about the most. As long as work gets done on time and is of quality, the key factors to progress in the organization should be clear to all parties.
Your assessment process during hiring can incorporate core values accordingly. Build a set of guiding questions internally (or through a behavior-based system) for your interviews. Your core teams will get stronger as a result.
4. Define a Just Feedback System
Similar to the hiring process, apply the same system to your feedback sessions as well!
In addition to work performance, use your core values within your feedback sessions.
Since your entire team is well familiar with the core values, they should be the guiding light for everyone. Any deviations can be pointed out with practical suggestions for improving them in the future.
Keep in mind that core values are often broad, inspirational, and sound poetic. That doesn’t mean that pursuing greatness is impossible – and incrementally working together (as a team) on getting better at hitting every one of them will bring more clarity and help you move faster.
5. Provide a Direction to Career Development
The most effective core values are those that have practical implementation within the workflow.
- “Honesty” could be encompassed with monthly workshops of “How I started in my career”, or any other personal story that shares vulnerability and truly shows progress and growth
- “Customer Satisfaction” can revolve around tickets, NPS, or other measurable areas
- “Consistency” can be measuring velocity or maintaining the same pace over and over, which is heavily tied to energy management and a work-life balance
- “Loyalty” can even be framed by a group showcase of all HR outreach messages or interview requests your talent receives – and how they still choose your organization
You can adopt a similar model and tie it to the day-to-day for different roles. This enables career growth and development progression that is clear to all individuals, including interns and new hires.
6. Enable Pillars For Growth Into Management
The true believers of core values—and those aspiring to excel at them—are your key team players. You want to retain your best talent and help them grow.
Career development plans can incorporate core values internally. Consider a path toward management that builds on top of core values, developing further models for team leaders and managers to further infuse the values and cascade them down to their teams.
Amplifying the efforts in enhancing the right cultural values will build a strong team that excels. Alignment within the management team shows consistency and shared values among the organization limiting friction and discrepancies in the day-to-day.
7. Build a Stronger Connection Within the Team
Well-designed core values act as common interests, similar to hobbies and mutual goals.
If progress, innovation, and passion for learning represent a value in your organization, you can engage in hackathons, brainstorm events, workshops, and internal seminars—and grow professionally as an organization.
If giving back to the local community (or the environment) is a company-wide value, events will bring you closer together in a company with aligned values.
Don’t underestimate the impact of mutual goals and vision.
8. Send a Clear Message For PR Efforts
What brings us together guides us forward.
Our core values guide everything we do as a company and as people. We strive to bring out the best in one another, deliver success to our customers, and inspire the entire industry through our actions.Salesforce
Core values, along with the mission and vision statements, strengthen your brand positioning.
This unlocks new opportunities to tap into any form of organic or PR efforts to further amplify your exposure through your cultural values.
As your organization gets aligned and works together on achieving the same goal, results will follow. Giving back, learning together, and hitting eNPS scores through the moon is a noteworthy event (or more) to share with the broader digital audience, radio and TV shows, and more.
This attracts the right prospects AND future hires that want to thrive in a similar environment.
9. Increase Retention And Satisfaction
Ambiguity is common across organizations with unclear goals and values.
This impairs communication efforts as reports don’t want to accidentally engage in a conflict with a manager (or the executive team).
A strong, effective team sharing the same values delivers better results with limited feedback loops. In turn, this leads to higher satisfaction and happier employees, and your retention rates will be thankful for the effort.
10. Develop Your Community Efforts Accordingly
The world is our communityNike
Companies often bounce between different ideas in the effort to engage their teams, build stronger connections, and make a broader impact.
Between random team-building activities, internal newsletters, and shared Slack channels for common interests, maintaining velocity in a community activity that everyone cherishes is hard to accomplish until your values are aligned.
Some organizations with clear cultural values spend regular time planting trees, organizing charity events, and even putting up garage sales on behalf of the company. Matching donations make the impact more notable when the company backs up individual donations and doubles down.
What are the core values your company represents?