Tag Archive for core values

4 Questions Your Core Values Should Answer


Core values.

Everybody’s got ’em. Or at least everybody says they do.

The tricky part about core values is that people see them as meaning different things and serving different purposes, so consequently, they can be either incredibly meaningful or incredibly pointless. Let me explain.

Some well-meaning folks list things like honesty, integrity, and so on as core values; and while I would agree that those are values that a business should embrace, I would argue that those are values that most people would sort of assume that a business would espouse. Those are what we might call expected or assumed values.

The problem with listing those as your organization’s core values is that they don’t do for your organization what you need core values to do. They don’t differentiate you. They don’t define you. They don’t carve out any sort of identity for you.

Here are just a few questions your core values should answer. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Do your core values do the following?

1. Do they tell people how you’re different from other organizations?

2. Do they tell employees how to work, interact, and behave?

3. Do they jive with your brand and reinforce your organization’s identity?

4. If they didn’t have your logo next to them, would people — especially employees — be able to pick them out as yours?

Though by no means an exhaustive list, these are just a few to get you thinking about whether or not your core values are doing the work they’re supposed to do for your organization. Remember, they’re supposed to help you form an identity. They’re part of who you are!

Reader Favorite: 6 Reasons Core Values Matter

Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

Core values–or whatever you want to call them–are a BFD. Some folks might argue that they’re not that important, but I’d suggest they rethink that position because whether they think they’re important or not, core values are a big deal.

Here’s why they’re a big deal:

1. They encourage a sense of belonging. Humans are wired to want and need a sense of belonging, so why wouldn’t we want to create communities in our workplaces that provide the sort of positive, meaningful belonging that we’re designed to desire as human beings?

2. They promote loyalty. They’re like a stake in the ground, so to speak. The more certain sorts of values are internalized by the folks at an organization, the more likely people are to develop a sense of loyalty to the organization and those values.

3. They provide identity and uniqueness (hopefully). Many organizations tout core values, but don’t live them. Think about it this way: if you stripped the walls of the organization of any verbiage about your values, and invited a complete stranger into your organization for the day, what would they think your values were? While that stranger might not be able to articulate the values with the same wording that you do internally, they should be able to detect the general ideas in many cases.

Would they walk out thinking your workplace was fun? Dynamic? Collaborative? Quiet? Somber? Boring? Buzzing? Crazy? Depressing? Creative? Straight-laced? I’m not arguing the merits of any particular value, per se; I’m just saying that whatever those values are, they ought to be apparent.

4. They provide clarity around the purpose of the organization. People need to know the answer to the Why question. Your values will likely have some sort of connection to your greater organizational purpose. They’re the behaviors and attitudes that you believe are conducive to moving toward that purpose.

5. They help everyone understand group norms and behavioral expectations. Anyone who’s ever worked in an organization with unclear or inconsistently lived and enforced values–and most of us have–knows how frustrating this is. Without clearly communicated and understood values, people don’t have an adequate framework within which to live organizational life.

6. They push the concept of “team” past being just a buzzword. Values form a bond between people in a group. There’s a shared understanding of the expectations people have of each other. Instead of a group being a team in some abstract sense, there are real and clear ideas that people can rally around and have in common. Instead of teamwork being something scrawled in an awful font across the breadth of rarely-viewed poster in the break room, it becomes something that people are passionate–even fanatical–about.

So yeah, they matter. They’re the biggest of deals. But hey, I’m super nerdy about culture stuff, so what do you think? What other reasons can you think of?

Reader Favorite: Your Core Values Might Accidentally Suck

corevaluesFirst, Merry Christmas to you and yours! Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

I don’t mean to be unkind, but sadly, it’s true in many cases. Many well-intentioned folks–executives, managers, consultants, and so on–craft core values that end up being almost entirely meaningless if you accept that core values are supposed to be your organization’s DNA. Folks rightly understand that your values undergird your culture, and I think most know on at least some level (even if they don’t want to admit it) that an organization’s culture is a potentially huge–and often untapped–competitive advantage. However…

If you glance at many organizations’ lists of core values, you’ll find things that sound great at first blush. Things like honesty, integrity, respect–those things are all fine and good, but they really don’t speak to what makes your organization different from every other one in your market. I mean really, have you ever seen a financial institution not list those as their values? Yeah, me either. So unless of course you’re suggesting that your organization is more honest, has more integrity, and is more respectful than everyone else (which would be pretty arrogant, right?), you should be looking at your values differently. Think about it–most of us just generally assume that most organizations are honest, aim to conduct business with integrity, and are respectful of, well, whatever it is that organizations are respectful of. So for you to list those as your core, defining values is almost redundant and unnecessary. Those are attributes that we expect most businesses to have; they don’t really make you unique.

Keep thinking. What if we took your core values or your marketing pieces and put them on a piece of paper without colors, identifiable fonts, logos, or anything else. If people read them, would they know it was you? Would your employees even know it was you? Many times, the answer is no. And again–it’s not that those values themselves are bad; they’re just not unique. They’re not you.

What about these? Warrior’s Spirit. A Servant’s Heart. A Fun-LUVing Attitude. Those, of course, are from Southwest Airlines. Now underneath each of those values, there are specific behaviors outlined. By the time you’ve read through them, you have a pretty good idea of who they are and how they roll. Are you stoic and serious-minded? Then Southwest’s not for you, and that’s OK! Core values aren’t moral judgements; they simply speak to what defines the culture of that group of humans.

And please–don’t misread this and think I’m saying everyone needs to be like Southwest or any other organization. That’s not what I think, and I’ve said as much in previous posts. You need to be YOU, warts and all. We don’t need another Zappos. We don’t need another Apple. We don’t need another Five Guys. They’re all great organizations, and we can admire what they’ve done from a culture and branding perspective. But what makes them great is that they’re them. They’re unique and unflinching in regards to their culture and brand.

Your core values should give your employees a sort of behavioral compass, and should give the outside world an idea of who you really are as an organization. It’s essentially your brand. Great organizations find ways to really blur the line between internal organizational culture and external brand, and that’s how it should be. An organization’s brand ought to be simply one face of its culture. But frankly, that’s not possible with those almost default, expected values. You being honest and respectful is great; but it’s also not at all unique. We would all nod and say that those things are sort of standard operating procedures, sure. But they don’t really define your organization in a unique way to your employees or the broader public.

So dig deep. Figure out who you really are. And then be you.