Our core values dictate what we deem important and strive to uphold at all times. In business, they are pillars of organisational culture, providing the guide posts by which we make decisions, determine priorities and take action. Core values are also fundamental to a business’s marketing program in highlighting what a brand stands for, thereby acting as a beacon for prospective employees and customers.
Acting out of alignment with core values can damage reputation
When we speak and behave in line with our core values, we are more likely to feel happy and true to ourselves. However, if we say things and act in ways not congruent with our core values, we can feel unsettled and inauthentic. It can also affect our relationships with others who may perceive we’ve been fake or dishonest. It’s the same in business. If a business communicates or acts out of alignment with its stated core values, it can lose trust and credibility with stakeholders and damage its reputation. That’s why when determining business core values, ask yourself, ‘what are we not prepared to compromise on, ever?’.
Core values central to greatness in business
From extensive research conducted with top-performing companies for his best-selling book Good to Great 1, Jim Collins concluded that core values are not only essential for a business making the leap from good to great, but they’re also required for enduring greatness. Collins said, "The point is not what core values you have, but that you have core values at all, that you know what they are, that you build them explicitly into the organisation, and that you preserve them over time".
Collins’s contention that a core ideology, embodying a core purpose beyond making profit and core values, is a fundamental pillar to guide decisions and inspire people, and upon which to build a great organisation. As a case in point, the key extra dimension that helped elevate Hewlett and Packard to elite status was a core ideology known as the ‘HP Way’, reflected in its ‘deeply held set of core values that distinguished the company more than any of its products. These values included technical contribution, respect for the individual, responsibility to communities in which the company operates, and a deeply held belief that profit is not the fundamental goal of a company’.
Benefits of core values expressed as actionable statements
Core values expressed as one or two-words only are open to interpretation by employees. For instance, core values of ‘service’ or ‘empowerment’ are broad terms likely to mean different things to different people. Core values expressed as short, actionable statements however, are likely to provide more clarity and meaning about expected standards of behaviour, such as the expected way of handling customer enquiries, expected way of communicating, expected approach to problem solving, expected way of treating each other, expected attitude, expected performance, expected learning requirements and so on.
Patagonia’s core values for example, expressed as short, actionable statements, define the expected behaviours of those representing the ‘planet-saving’ brand:
- Build the best product
- Cause no unnecessary harm
- Use business to protect nature
- Not bound by convention
A shared understanding of expectations in relation to core values will, over time, lead to greater consistency in decisions, language and behaviour by employees, both internally and when dealing with customers. A shared understanding of ‘empowered service decision-making’ for example, may result in less customer service enquiries being escalated beyond the first point of contact.
Some examples to spark your thinking
Here’s some examples of how core values can be turned into actionable statements to facilitate a shared understanding about expected attitudes and ways of behaving:
- Customer excellence - go the extra yard to delight
- Trust - do what you say you will
- Value - create value for customers at every touch point
- Care - be kind and show empathy
- Growth - learn and apply something new every day
- Teamwork - leave no-one behind
- Accountability - take responsibility and follow through
- Innovation - be curious, creative and open-minded
- Relationships - put trust at the centre of relationships
- Efficiency - do more with less
- Integrity - be honest and ethical
- Fun - go lightly and laugh out loud
Whether you’re running a small or big business, turning your core values into actionable statements will become the yardsticks by which employees think, speak and act. With consistency, these core values will become the ‘trademark behaviours’ by which your brand is known, ultimately driving a strong and positive brand reputation.
1Jim Collins. Good to Great, Random House, London 2001