October 7, 2021

Your Core Values Are More Than Words On A Wall

We’ve all seen and heard them before. Three to five little words or phrases that are displayed on a company’s website and along the walls of their headquarters — widely known as the core values. 

Here’s the thing — core values are more than words on a wall or webpage, yet many organizations continue to deflate the meaning of this prominent element of core messaging. We come up with something quickly and (let’s be honest), something super generic just so we can check the box — that yes, of course, we have core values. It’s the common case of “everyone else does it so we have to, too” but the power of intentionally setting your core values proves to be very beneficial for the overall success of a company and its employee satisfaction. 

Inspired by the article, Make Your Values Mean Something written by Patrick Lencioni, I thought I’d touch on the insane value that’s brought from a good set of core values and how to quickly check whether or not your current core values are aligned with your company or not. 

Lencioni shares, “Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.”

Well… when you put it that way, it seems to carry some weight, now doesn’t it? The truth is, core values are an opportunity to set the stage for how you operate as a company and as an individual within a company. Core values allow you to define your dynamic. It’s principles that anyone in your company can refer back to which will ensure alignment throughout your organization as a whole. 

What core values are:

  1. They define who you are as an organization.
  2. They explain what you stand for.
  3. They are what you will not compromise.
  4. They create an alignment for your company culture – it should help someone decide whether or not they would be a good fit at your company. 
  5. They should be described as behaviors so everyone understands how to be in alignment with them and gets to choose if they can behave that way or if it’s not them.

What they are NOT:

  1. Words that you wish you were as an organization or what you want to be more of.
  2. Words that are misleading or subjective. Words can mean different things to different people so you must define what each specific term means so that everyone is crystal clear on the intention of each core value. 
  3. Catchy marketing phrases used to win clients.
  4. Base-level characteristics or attributes that should be obvious to anyone who holds a job. (i.e. Professionalism and Honesty – duh, like we want a bunch of slackers that lie!)

How to discover your company core values
Pro tip: You do not create them, they are already there.

  1. Start by writing down five rock stars of your organization. Whether a former employee or currently working for you, if you could clone this person, you know your business could skyrocket and you could take over your market.
  2. Then, write down all the phrases, words, attributes, etc. that describe what makes them great and why you thought of them. 
  3. Next, take all the words and phrases that you wrote down for all five people and divide them into common buckets/themes. 
  4. Lastly, figure out the word or phrase that best describes each bucket/theme and wordsmith a great definition that says what it looks like to behave this way.  

Additional Tips: 

    • Try to brainstorm some examples of people living out or acting in a way that is in alignment.
    • Think of the history of how you know it is a value.
    • Consider using an anti-value if it helps define it (what it is not).


What to do once you have your core values mapped out:

  1. Write a great motivational speech that explains your values with definitions, behaviors, examples, history, analogies, and/or anti-values. You should give the speech at every all-staff meeting (at least quarterly), at orientations of new staff, during reviews, and recognition ceremonies, etc. Keep in mind, we need to hear something seven times to hear it once.
  2. Create a scale to analyze how people in your organization measure up. Run them through each value and grade them with plus (acts this way most of the time), plus/minus (acts this way some of the time), or minus (most of the time does not act this way).
  3. Use Values and your scale as a filter to see if the reason a client, colleague, staff member, contractor, or decision is bothering you and you can’t put your finger on it. i.e. “They are doing a great job and hitting goals, why do they bother me? Why do they not fit or get along with us? Or why would I not want to invite them on a two-year mission into space in a small craft?” 

Additional Tips: 

    • Make sure you use the values to create interview questions that help you to see if potential candidates are aligned.
    • Make sure you change your performance review process so that each core value is graded and you discuss your thoughts on how they shine and should keep it up or what they can do behaviorally to improve their alignment with each value.  
    • What you reward and recognize is what will increase. 
    • Show people that if they are aligned with your Core Values it means they are a “Right Person” for your team.

Everyone needs to see and understand that these truly are important – when they see you referring to them in every meeting, they will realize these truly matter and are NOT just words on the wall.

Check Your Core Values QuizHow do they stack up?

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