Unless you provide a totally unique product or service, every business needs something to stand out from the crowd. This often comes down to the values of an organization. We’re not talking about the cookie-cutter values that everyone thinks are nice but no one really puts maximum effort into.
Integrity, quality, work-life balance, customer service, and teamwork are values everyone agrees are nice, but few organizations are willing to take a hard stand and put a majority of their time and effort into them.
We’re talking about CORE VALUES, the ones where you draw a line in the sand and will NOT compromise. These are your highest priorities, the deeply-held principles that your company stands for. They’re authentic, assertive, and divisive. Strong values aren’t going to please everyone, and they shouldn’t. Authentic core values should narrow down your list of potential employees and customers, but the ones who remain will have a stronger connection with your business. They’ll be fiercely loyal because of the bond they feel with your organization.
If you’re not sure what your core values are, we can help narrow them down. Instead of listing every value that sounds nice, 4 to 6 core values are enough to realistically follow.
What AREN’T Core Values?
If you wish your business embraced teamwork more, that’s not a core value, it’s a goal. Aspirational values are good to have as goals but you shouldn’t claim they’re part of your organization until they’re a reality.
Societal rules that everyone follows aren’t strong enough to be core values. No one values an applicant who lies on their resume, but that doesn’t mean you should add Integrity to your list of values, unless your business prides itself on always clearly stating the truth, even when it can hurt the bottom line.
Values that Aren’t Followed
Values that look good on paper, but aren’t being followed by senior leadership will do more harm than good. The availability of information grows every day, adding transparency to your business, even if you don’t want it. The days of hiding behind false values are disappearing fast. It’s important to have a strong connection between what you say and what you do.
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Going on a business retreat and brainstorming a list of nice buzzwords doesn’t count as your core values. For example, to claim Customer Service as a core value, everyone in your organization needs to have the resources and authority to bend the rules to go above and beyond for every customer.
Defining Your Core Values
To define your values, take a step back and look at the business. What areas are important to focus on and what areas have less impact? Your dress code can provide a quick insight into whether you value professionalism or comfort. Depending on whether you run a law firm or a coffee shop, this could be an important value. If you don’t lean strongly one way or the other, it’s not an important value. Values should have purpose and meaning to connect with your employees and customers.
What are the areas of your organization that you hold above all others? The things you don’t compromise on. The values that motivate you to go above and beyond for your employees and customers. What sets you apart from the competition?
It might sound nice to get input from everyone in the organization but the actual result will be a list of watered-down values that have no impact. Design by committee often results in something that’s unextraordinary. Instead, values should be determined by a small group, including senior leadership, founders, and key employees. Look at members of the business who stand out as good examples of what the company stands for. What characteristics do they have that you’d like to see expand throughout the organization? For now, write them down and revisit them periodically. Try to implement one or two at a time across the whole organization and look at the results. View the progress weekly or monthly to allow time for reflection and see how well your chosen values fit. For example, teamwork is a nice value, but it’s not helpful if it’s slowing people down compared to what they could do on their own.
If you’re having trouble thinking of values that fit your organization, we’ve put together a list of values to get you started. As you’ll see, some of these values can contradict each other, so it’s important to find the values that you really feel strongly about. If you think of a value you strongly identify with and it’s not on this list, that’s OK. Remember to keep your values limited to no more than 4 to 6.
What You Can Do With These Values
Now that you’ve got your shortlist of values narrowed down, you need to put them into practice or they’re useless. That means more than hanging a poster or posting a tweet about them. These should act as your compass for making decisions. Reinforce your values through actions to cement them in the minds of employees and customers. Having strong relationships with employees starts with the hiring process. It’s important for applicants to be able to fulfill the job requirements, but it’s also important for them to mesh with the business’s values. Employees who don’t fit the company culture cause resistance and lead to more turnover. That doesn’t mean every employee should be a mindless clone who blindly follows the will of the company. You can have people with different personalities, experiences, and diverse points of view who understand and embrace the same values. A new employee who shares the organization’s values and needs a little training is more valuable than one who’s an expert at the job but disrupts the working environment in a negative way.
Once you’ve got the right people hired, use your values to evaluate performance and rewards to keep the values in the front of people’s minds. Repetition helps solidify values, so that can mean verbal or visual repetition, but it also means repetition of actions that match those values.
Is it Worth the Work?
It’s actually a lot of work to figure out your company’s values and figure out the best ways to implement them. It’s even more work if you can’t commit to those values and have to backpedal if any of those values are blatantly disregarded. Why figure out your core values in the first place? If you’re able to pin down the areas your company is dedicated to, you’ll attract the right customers and employees, and you’ll have a reliable compass for making decisions. It’ll be more work upfront, but getting it right can lead to smooth sailing.
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