07 December 2016

Core Values: What are they and why are they needed?

Core values are a public statement of what a company stands for and is willing to be measured against. These values underpin the company’s culture – they are deep-seated, persistent, and demonstrable.

Ultimately, core values help people understand how a company invests its money and the time of its employees. How organisations invest their resources impacts the behaviour of its employees, more so than statements from the executive officers. It’s a short step from this to recognising that core values play an important role in attracting and retaining talented employees, as well ideal clients. Just as clients seek suppliers who can best help them achieve their objectives, talented employees seek companies where they can develop, thrive and be fulfilled.

Never before has a company’s culture been so important.

Seven Steps to Unearthing Your Company’s Core Values

Leaders of organisations often feel that this process begins with them. While it’s true that they have to be behind it and want it to happen, the unearthing process doesn’t start at the top and deliver an edict to employees.

Like all good ‘unearthing’ processes it starts with the boots on the ground – the people doing the work. Ready? Here goes:

Step 1: Naivety is good – start there

Too many discovery processes fall short of what was hoped of them. More often than not, the cause is assumed knowledge. Adopt the mind of a beginner

—maybe that of a reasonably well educated teenager. What would he or she think?

Open your mind and do your very best to drop any ideas, preconceived notions or beliefs that you hold about your company’s culture or business. Give your unconscious mind permission to speak.

Step 2: Create a guide list of internal values

Set out to get a good balance of employees involved in this early step – different ages, experience levels, positions, departments, etc. Have them generate a list that means something to them, in respect of the company’s obligations, ideal behaviours, skills, strengths, etc.

Your goal is unearth pre­existing conditions, as it is difficult to reinforce values that don’t already exist. The ideal is to highlight existing company strengths, with a view to building on them.

Step 3: Separate identified values into related themes

The guide list from the previous step can easily produce more results than can be remembered or actioned. Grouping them under a smaller number of related themes will help reduce the number to something manageable.

Step 4: Make sure the themes are distinct

Double check your work from above, making sure that each group is distinct. For example, you may have ended up with ‘honesty’, ‘transparency’ and ‘directness’ as different themes, when really you’d be better off grouping them as one.

Step 5: Less is more

Now comes the hardest task. It’s more than likely that the output from Step 4 will still be too large. Start asking the tough questions:

What values do we absolutely need in order to get the job done (safely, happily, to the right quality standard and in budget)?

What values embody the primary behaviours we want to be identified with? What values have to be there to support our uniqueness?You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t try to be. Your company’s culture is unique and should emphasise what matters most to you as a group.

While the number of core values differs for each organization, a good range seems to be between 5 and 10.

Step 6: Discuss your Top 5 with your team members

This step is exciting and enervating; you’ll find out whether the core values you think are important are also considered important by others. The values that are similar should be put together in a group.  If these are shared values, create a short summary on what it means for you as a group.

Step 7: Test the result

Here’re some quick questions to test the usefulness of your new core values:

  1. Are they memorable?
  2. Will each value help us make better decisions?
  3. Does each one illustrate a distinct part of our culture?
  4. Can each vale be related to a desired behaviour?
  5. Does the boss do this stuff?
  6. Will they stick when the going gets tough?
An employee is not helpless
The Hidden Workforce