How do you make your culture real and have an impact on your long-term success? By taking advantage of one of your most important, yet often underutilized, organizational assets: your core values. Most organizations have them, but many do not take the necessary steps to accurately define and fully live their core values day in and day out.
Core values are the words that describe who you are and what you collectively stand for. These values connect people energetically to each other and the organization, providing a sense of pride and purpose. They are the guiding light and foundational principles over the long-term, during good times and bad. Core values are the words that empower each person regardless of where they are in the organization when making decisions or taking actions with different stakeholders.
“Culture and values provide the foundation upon which everything else is built. They are arguably our most important competitive advantage, and something that has grown to define us. It’s one thing to change the world. It’s another to do it in our own unique way.”
Core values aren’t just ‘nice to haves’. They offer real and tangible business impacts. Research shows that organizations that fully live their stated values have higher productivity and profitability and more easily attract talent than those who do not.
Despite how important they are, there is often considerable difference between the values on the wall and the values actually experienced by employees. Our research of 631 organizations from 36 industries and 54 countries found only 3% of organizations had their complete set of espoused core values fully present in their current culture.
Not a single espoused core value was recognized by employees in 28% of the organizations surveyed, indicating that these organizations are missing out on the positive benefit deeply embedded core values can have on recruitment and the bottom line.
Since simply having core values is not enough, here are the important ‘do’s’ and don’ts in order to take your values off the wall and put them into action:
“The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology, we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.”
“Our values say in a few words what is important to us, not just the executive, so ensuring staff had a voice in the process was critical.”
As you begin to develop or redefine your core values, it is crucial to collect data from key groups to understand the various perspectives within your organization.
“It’s impossible to win the hearts and minds of people unless you clearly establish goals and values and reward people if they act in a way that leads to the fulfillment of those objectives.”
“This is not about fuzzy, holding hands around a campfire, kumbaya stuff. That’s not what values and culture and mission is about. This is about building an organization for success. This is about winning. This is about doing the tactical things to make sure your organization and your people are aligned around the same thing.”
“We believe it’s really important to come up with core values you can really commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”
And now, a few classic don’ts to watch out for:
Values should not be chosen with the intention to impress the market. These are an inside job. And when you live them fully, the market will know.
Ultimately, upholding your culture is everyone’s responsibility. However, the tone for how your organization operates is set by the core values established for your organization. These are the values role modeled every day by leadership. The values that are embedded in the systems, processes, and policies. The values that you recognize and reward people for.
Efforts to build and sustain a values-driven organization is an enriching journey, not a project. It is not an added initiative, but rather the ‘how’ all your initiatives and business are carried out. Values reflect what people stand for and believe in, and thus are proud of. Your core values are the glue that hold everyone in your organization together and what moves the collective forward that much faster to achieving its objectives and dreams.