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Core values  - Your company's personality and culture

June 24, 2018 Doug Walker
 I often meet with business owners who are looking for help developing a growth strategy or improving weak performance. When I tell them we should start by reviewing their company's Core Values, I sometimes get a puzzled or exasperated look. After all, they already know what motivates them and their employees, making my question seem like a waste of time. But, when I ask them to tell me about any employee, and how that individual stacks up against their values, business owners typically struggle to find the right words to express performance relative to values. When I ask how their employees, customers, and suppliers see the business, I see a similar struggle.
Sustainable business success requires clear understanding of your company's personality and culture as it really exists, not just as you wish it to be. Think of this in terms of the famous quote from Amazon's Jeff Bozos: "Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room". Your brand is how others see your personality, regardless of what you have been trying to cultivate through advertising, directives from the boss, and social media campaigns. 
Just like your brand, your Core Values may be heavily influenced by your preferences, but what they truly are is a reflection of the actual behaviour and beliefs of company staff as they go about their work. This is why we speak of Core Value discovery, not design. We need to learn what Core Values are implied by our employees' behaviour. We can certainly change their behaviour, but values are intrinsically driven, meaning they must be adopted willingly rather that decreed. Those who behave consistently according to your values are those who have chosen to share your values. The others are faking it, at best.
So, what are these Core Values and how can they be discovered? Simply put, Core Values are a small set of timeless statements that together define your culture.Usually they are set out as 3-7 short statements, each with 2-4 explanatory bullets. Together, they inform everyone inside and outside your company of your culture. Inside your company, they need to be meaningful enough to allow everyone to quickly identify whether any proposed action is consistent with them. To your customers and suppliers, they need to be consistent with the way they are treated by your company.
Here is an example set, from a client who runs a successful clinic.
  1. Care & Respect
    • of clients
    • of colleagues
    • of clinic
  2. Collaborative Teamwork
    • share clinical experiences
    • to benefit clients
    • to set us apart
  3. Motivated & Hard Working
    • love what we do
    • willing to work hard
    • inspire others
These Core Values are posted prominently for all employees, suppliers, and customers to see. Everyone is expected to speak up if they feel decisions or actions are inconsistent with values.
Here is a suggested approach for discovering your company's Core Values.
  1. Think about your very best current or past employees.
    • What are their attributes that make you feel this way about them?
    • These are some of your candidate Core Values.
  2. Think about your very worst current or past employees.
    • What are their attributes that make you feel this way about them?
    • What would be the opposite of these attributes that would make that behaviour desirable?
    • These are more candidate Core Values.
  3. Refine your list to 3-7 candidate Core Values.
    • Add a few explanatory bullets below each Core Value.
    • Assess a few employees against the Core Values and rank them according to your assessment.
    • Adjust your Core Value set to get consistency between your Core Values and your ranking.
    • Invite employees (and maybe customers) to review your Core Values for consistency with their impressions of your company.
    • Refine as needed.
  4. Share and post for all to see.
  5. Live by these, or fix them if you can't!
The last statement is the most important. Suppose you listed "Honesty" as a Core Value. Suppose also your top sales person is a great closer, but sometimes does so by making delivery commitments that she knows can't be met. If you tolerate this behaviour, the inconsistency will show up first as a credibility issue, then a morale issue as others realize that your actual Core Value is "Periodic Honesty". What else is partly true? This is what people will say about you when you aren't in the room. Ultimately, company performance will be limited as the inconsistency affects reputation.
The solution may be difficult but the rewards are huge. Only those who have internally adopted your company's Core Values should remain. Having an explicit set of Core Values that all employees understand and share is the best basis for improving company success. Don't settle for less. 
Download our eBook to learn more about building a positive culture in your business:
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