How to Discover Your Company’s Core Values
Your core values already exist in your organization because they come from you as the founder. So, you actually discover your company’s core values, not create them. Do you know how to find them?
Use this exercise to discover your company’s core values and cultivate your culture.
SO WHAT ARE CORE VALUES ANYWAY?
Your Core Values are foundational items that are the undercurrent of your organization’s culture.
Whether you have been intentional about them or not, your core values already exist – you just have to know where to look for them. You discover your values, not create them. They come from YOU as the owner of the business.
Core Values are a non-negotiable set of rules for the behavior you expect from your team. They are critical to every step of building your team — including the selection of your team members, providing performance reviews, and determining when a team member is not a fit for your team. These values should be shared with your team to ensure they are “alive” in the organization. This should not be confused with your Core Purpose which is the critical ‘why’ behind everything that you do (sometimes referred to as a mission) and is a single statement. Your core values are the behavior you expect from your team when they interact with each other and with vendors and clients.
HOW TO DISCOVER YOUR COMPANY’S CORE VALUES
- First, assemble a small group of people (5-7) that includes your management team and top employees.
- This group should only include team members that you’d enthusiastically rehire without hesitation. This will help you involve people who understand and help you come up with the best values or find if your team members are on the same page.
- Next, simply ask them to think of 3 team members who consistently exceeded your expectations by making a decision or acting in a way that had a dramatic, positive impact on the organization. They should write those 3 names down.
- Then, have them write a specific story of each of those 3 people telling of a specific time where they exceeded expectations.
- The stories should go into as much detail as possible. The details of the story are key.
- Once they have completed writing their stories – usually 10-12 sentences, ask each person to read their story aloud. As they are reading, capture key phrases that are unique to that person and situation. You are not looking for single words, you are looking for phrases.
- After each person has read their stories, you should notice a consistency to certain attributes. Those attributes are likely your true core values.
- Many times you will see patterns come up quickly.
- Finally, categorize the phrases that have synergy together and as a team narrow down the core value phrase that was used that best reflects your organization and your, as the business owner, values.
- You’re looking for no more than 6 core value phrases. Any more than that will be hard for teams to repeat from memory.
Already Have Core Values?
Our guess is that they are single words like “integrity” and “ownership”. Here’s the challenge with those: everyone will have their own definition and there won’t be clarity of the behavior you are looking for from that core value. (I mean, Enron had a core value of integrity and we see where that got them. IYKYK…). Either way, if your company has been in business for awhile, and you feel you have already determined your values, use this stress test on the current ones to determine if they are the right fit for where your company is now. Simply pretend your current values don’t exist. Complete the exercise above and when you have your final draft of the new ideas, view them side by side. Look for similarities or areas you can improve and choose which ones you will adopt – making sure to keep your list to no more than 6. You may find that they match up and you don’t have much to change. You may find that this exercise is what you needed and the values that were established, needs to be changed.
Why Stories and Phrases Instead of Words?
You may have noticed in the steps above, you were told to have your team write stories of examples that they witnessed. Stories are relatable and provide examples instead of trying to interpret definitions of words like “integrity” or “excellence.” These are examples of words you want to avoid because they are left up to interpretation from person to person. Without an example or story to clarify, you may be using the same word as a team member but with a different definition in mind.
Testing Your New Core Values
As you go through the next 3-6 months of business, use these draft core values to praise your team members and practice saying them aloud. See how and if they apply in the culture your business. When you are ready, you can roll them out officially to the team. You may find that as you focus on your team and their achievements and how they handle conflict, you may change your values or you may solidify them more. Sharing them with the team helps ensure that everyone is aware and holds each other accountable to them. Having clear values that are easy to remember, keeps your team in sync.
How to Use Your Values
Creating your core values is the easy part. Now, you have to make them “alive” in your organization. Each time you come together, keep them alive by repeating them during team member reviews, when giving employee appreciation, and to share stories about your team during staff meetings. Keep in mind these are internal values. They are for your team and employees, not external for clients or customers.
Your core values are vital to the internal process of your organization and they happen whether you are aware or not. As you meet with your team and determine phrases from their stories, you will be able to see what values have already developed themselves in your company. By being intentional and holding your team accountable for them, you will keep your employees and the culture of your company strong.
Written by Jennifer Faught, President and COO of BrainTrust and Certified Scaling Up Coach. Jennifer has helped companies establish their core values all over the country and it’s one of her favorite exercises to do with leadership teams.