When I mention the words “core values” what words come to mind? Words like integrity, diversity, inspiration, community, creativity, sustainability… blah, blah, blah. Right? This is the problem with most organization’s core values: too often, they’re just empty words that mean nothing to the people they’re meant to inspire. They’re usually created from a well-intended place but miss the mark when it comes to language. Stringing together a bulleted list of highly aspirational words does nothing for your employees.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Core values, coupled with your organizational mission and vision give you a roadmap of intentional guideposts and guardrails and a means of establishing common ground across all layers of your organization.
- Your Mission Statement is the rallying cry for why you and your work team hop out of bed every morning.
- Your Vision Statement is the clear picture of what you want to become.
Enter Core Values
Your core values are the scaffolding of your foundation. They are the rules of engagement for how to achieve your mission and vision. Core values clarify expectations that drive your systems, practices, and behaviors. Developing a strong set of core values is key to creating a vibrant culture within your organization. Do you see now why creating a list of words like “integrity” and “creativity” is not going to work?
9 GiANT Steps for Mining Out Your Values
1. Develop Your Storyline
Reflect on your organizational history. When were you founded? Who were the key leaders? What did they set forward to build? Create a timeline from birth to current day and section off the timeline by decades. Ask the key historians in your organization to tell the story. What were the high and low points experienced across each of the decades? What was learned? Where were the breakdowns? Where were the breakthroughs?
2. Identify Six Core Themes of your History
What are the key words or phrases that come to mind as you reflect upon your organizational storyline? Pick six that come through as the clearest.
3. Identify Two Core Themes that your Future will Require
Think about the key trends of your market. Where are you succeeding and growing? What’s different about the market today than where it was ten years ago? Where will it be in ten more years? Think of the two Core Themes that your new future will require and add them to the six value themes from your history.
4. Search for Balance
At this point, you should have roughly eight value themes established. How balanced are they? Consider lining up you value themes as contrasting pairs. Example: A value theme of “adaptability” might be contrasted with a value theme of “consistency” or “ingenuity” might be paired with the value theme of “Authentic.” This does not need to be a perfect balancing act but might help in further assessing how your value themes might both advance and anchor your organization’s strength and viability into the future.
5. Refine to Five
Most organizations have a laundry list of values that can become unwieldy and unmemorable. If you don’t know what your core values are, you can’t believe, apply, or live by them. Moving your value themes from eight down to five forces you to get to the root of who you really are and what you truly stand for. At this point, you have shifted value themes to your five core value words. Now let’s develop the words into meaningful statements.
6. Verbalize your Core Values
Your core values should always start with a verb. Remember, you don’t want to just list a bunch of good qualities, you want to build the rules of engagement for how employees should interact within your organization. Actions mean you need verbs. Verbs help add meaning to your core values. For example, if you want your team to act with empathy when interacting with customers, instead of just saying “empathy” you could say “embrace empathy.” Embracing empathy has way more meaning than just the word empathy. Here is a list of action verbs you can download that might help.
7. Engage your Team and their Teams
Let your core values past the “sniff test” by your employees. Share your working draft values with your teams and divisions and ask for feedback. Pose this question to them: “Is this an accurate reflection of what makes us special?” If your value definitions don’t make sense to them, this might be a good time to further revise the language you are using. One word of warning with full staff involvement: don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. Have a large feedback group so everyone is heard but use a much smaller group to craft the language. Too many people contributing to the edits can lead to a major log jam. The reality is those closest to decision making authority in the organization are those who should be closest to the fine tuning here. Determine who these leaders (choice makers) are and how you will leverage the advisory feedback from others. You may need to have a few feedback loops until you have confidently nailed your core values. Note: For most organizations, this process will take longer than expected.
8. Make your Values Sing
It’s pretty common for organizations to develop internal catch phrases that give voice to the unique nature of who they have always been while projecting enthusiasm of what is to come as the culture is being advanced. These catch phrases are great to incorporate into your core values because they capture the culture and embody what makes you so special. Some examples might include:
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More with Less
- Accountability: If it’s to be, it’s up to me
- Quality: What we do, we do well
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Develop Value Descriptions
9. Finishing Descriptions
Once you get all of your sound bites down, write 2-3 sentence descriptions for each one to provide more clarity. Your descriptions should be short but help to establish the expectations for each value and expressed as your “rules of engagement.” Remember, these are your guideposts and guardrails for the next decade or more.
Core Value Exemplars
Here are some great examples of strong core values that will help you develop your own. Be sure to visit their websites for more complete descriptions.
- Performance: Sport is the foundation for all we do and executional excellence is a core value of our Group.
- Passion: Passion is at the heart of our company. We are continuously moving forward, innovating, and improving.
- Integrity: We are honest, open, ethical, and fair. People trust us to adhere to our word.
- Diversity: We know it takes people with different ideas, strengths, interests, and cultural backgrounds to make our company succeed. We encourage healthy debate and differences of opinion.
- Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
- Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
- Integrity: Be real
- Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me
- Passion: Committed in heart and mind
- Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
- Quality: What we do, we do well
- Humbleness and willpower
- Leadership by example
- Daring to be different
- Togetherness and enthusiasm
- Constant desire for renewal
- Accept and delegate responsibility
- Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome
- Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other
- Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity, and respect
- Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results
- Treat customers the way we’d like to be treated
- Create an environment where employees can think big, have fun, and do good
- Get out there
- Green is good
Are you getting the gist of it? Again, the process may find you and your team aching to poke your eyes out because of the drag in getting to the completed objective. Don’t rush it and know that the heavy lifting here will give you the needed traction and clarity for years to come. The strength of your core values will serve as your guideposts and guardrails for planning, managing, leading, and celebrating and must be understood and applied by every employee in your organization.
Bottom line: Your values become your culture and culture is the most important asset you have for maximizing impact and performance.
What do you think? What are your Core Values? Are they alive, beginning to fade or unrealized altogether?
The GiANT Discovery System might be your best investment this quarter. Want to learn more? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org