About 80% of Fortune 500 companies make their core values public.
What do they know that other businesses don’t?
Simply, value-driven organizations are more effective. Companies imbued from top to bottom with a sense of purpose perform better than the rest. That can only be achieved when your core values are clear, concise, and visible to everyone.
What Are Core Values?
Core values are guiding principles that provide meaning to the things we do. They shape not only the decisions we take, but the directions we inspire to go in individually, as teams, and as an organization. They improve both individual morale and overall strategy.
Of course, everyone has core values of their own. It’s easier to understand how they work in an organizational context when you start by thinking about how core values affect everyday life.
Honesty is one common core value for individuals. People realize that honesty feels better and is better for them.
After all, people are more likely to partner with you when they know you can be trusted. At the same time, you are more secure in every way when others are honest with you.
Odds are good that if you consider honesty as a core value, you won’t walk away with someone’s wallet just because they left it behind.
There are countless other activities that you probably wouldn’t engage in, either, even if it seemed like you could “get away with it.”
What Core Values Do for You: Personal vs. Organizational
For individuals and organizations, values serve crucial functions:
- They impart greater consistency to your actions even as external circumstances change.
- They allow others to cooperate with you (even long-term) while trusting in your stability.
- They make it easier to think through complex decisions (by eliminating many options.)
Usually, individuals don’t have to think too hard about why they hold certain values.
Most people get a core set of values in childhood, nurture and solidify these as teens, and expand or adjust them based on “real world” experience as adults. Things like laws and family traditions provide essential guideposts during this natural process.
The trick is, while people have decades to refine their values, organizations don’t.
And while people will always – inevitably – end up with some kind of value system based on their life experiences, organizations generally won’t develop one unless someone takes action.
If an organization doesn’t articulate its values, they may as well not exist. Worse, the “way of doing things” that arises in the absence of defined values may be counterproductive or harmful.
If you want to reap the benefits of organizational values, then you need to undertake a process.
Core Values Protect Your Enterprise from Engagement Woes
Core values are useful to enterprises because people want work to have meaning.
We all know what it’s like to work a miserable, pointless job – nothing but a life-preserver that occasionally dispenses enough cash to get by. Sure, not all jobs are sheer, unrelieved drudgery. Jobs in your organization are probably (mostly!) pretty comfortable.
But: Are they inspiring? For all too many companies, the answer is “no.”
And this is a big problem. According to Gallup, 85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. The vast majority of the global workforce, 67%, are “not engaged.” They are effectively indifferent to your organization’s priorities and goals.
The total cost of this disengagement burden is $7 trillion annually.
On the other hand, engaged employees are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to” the work they do. They not only contribute their best efforts and their best ideas, but motivate and support others in doing the same.
When it comes to employee engagement, core values can make the difference.
Developing Core Values: To Succeed, Draw on Authenticity
It’s a weird bit of contradiction, but true:
- Your company’s values won’t have value unless you sit down and define what they are.
- At the same time, your company already has values that need to be drawn to the surface.
CEOs and executives can strive to impose virtually any value system on an organization. However, employees have the final veto in terms of adoption. Rather than creating a set of values from scratch, it’s easier to start with the best of what’s already there.
Although this might seem complex, even counter-intuitive, there is a process that will help.
It works like this:
Get Everyone on Board
Each person’s understanding of how to interpret and apply certain values determines whether they truly exist or not. With this in mind, the first step is make sure everyone knows the importance of values and the reason for defining them.
Then, define the parameters of the values project itself.
The key questions to answer here are:
- Why are we defining our core values?
- Who should be involved in the process?
- Where will values appear and in what form?
- How will we know when we’ve succeeded?
- When is our deadline?
Gather 360-Degree Feedback
Now, it’s time to gather feedback from employees and leaders throughout the organization. Ask open-ended questions and let them speak freely without too much structure.
You want to get a sense for what different stakeholders perceive as your current strengths and weaknesses.
Some questions you might ask:
- Tell me about a decision our team made that was right. Why do you feel that way?
- Tell me about a crisis our team faced. How did we respond? Why did that happen?
- What was your most meaningful moment working here? Why do you feel that way?
After individual interviews, you can use a team-wide workshop to ask further questions and generate discussion.
Start with five questions that let participants think about what you do, what your team is best at, and what makes you unique.
Look for the Repeating Themes
Sorting answers into themes illuminates prevailing opinions, about your company, while sorting them by stakeholder type helps you see how various groups perceive things differently.
This also helps you find areas where there’s broad agreement about your existing values.
These are the “gold nuggets” you can refine into solid core values!
Draft Your Values
Word-smithing is in order as you convert themes and ideas into concrete value statements:
- What are your strengths? Focus on positives, not negatives.
- Who are your values for? Use this to guide your wording.
- What emotions are most associated with these values?
The shorter an individual value statement is, the easier it is to apply and check your thoughts or actions against it. Likewise, there shouldn’t be too many statements: 3-9 is best.
Feedback and revisions could go on for months, but keep your final deadline in mind.
A good way to keep feedback positive and constructive is to start with what stakeholders like about the current draft, followed by what they wish could be changed.
To keep the process moving forward, any proposed changes should come with a short, actionable suggestion.
Once your revision process is complete, you can roll out your core values in your website, your office, your training materials, and much more. It may take time to restructure processes so they reflect your values from beginning to end, but you will be on the right track.