Creating and Living Your Company’s Core Values Pays Off Big. Here’s How.
When thinking about strategic HR and team management planning for your business, it’s important to take some time to establish a strong sense of your Company Culture, and that starts with defining your Core Values.
But, What Is Company Culture?
In a 2014 article in Forbes, WebFX founder and president William Craig said that Company Culture “is something that is pre-existing in your company’s genetic code; it’s not something that employees bring with them.” No matter the size of a business, every company has its own company culture, and that’s true whether that culture was deliberately structured and implemented, or whether it came to be organically throughout the life of the company.
Your company culture is a defining characteristic of your organization based on a set of principles that guide the way your company and its employees operate. It includes everything your company does and every communication it has with its customers or prospects. From your marketing content, to the personalities of the people you hire, to the decor of your office, your company culture provides a framework on which everything else at your company is built.
With that in mind, defining your company culture might seem like an intimidating prospect. But, rather than allowing yourself to get tangled in the weeds of everything from your email signatures to the lamps you selected for your lobby, it’s best to start building from a foundation we call the Three Pillars of Company Culture — your Purpose, Vision, and Core Values.
Of those Three Pillars, your Core Values are likely the most useful day-to-day team tool because they can inform your decisions about who to hire, what to coach on, and, ultimately, who you might have to fire. Creating your core values can also give you a platform for constructively addressing unwanted behavior based on an established set of guidelines.
The Three Pillars of Company Culture:
Purpose: This is the fundamental reason for your organization’s existence. It grows out of your Core values and Beliefs. Your task in articulating your Purpose is to put your finger on why the world wants your company to exist and what void you would leave in the world if you folded up shop. Your Purpose is something you are always working toward, but never fully attaining.
Vision. This is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Unlike your Purpose, your Vision is meant to be achieved. It has a clear finish line and a specific time frame. A 3-5 year time frame is ideal.
Core Values: These are the philosophical underpinnings of your business. They last forever and exist regardless of your business model or product offering. Together, your core values create a statement of who you are, what you stand for, and how your business runs. They should be used to inform the creation of your Purpose and Vision.
Defining Your Core Values
Core Values are the philosophical underpinnings of your business. They last forever and exist regardless of your business model or product offering. Together, your core values create a statement of who you are, what you stand for, and how your business runs. Your task in articulating your Core Values is to discover and state what is — not what you aspire to be.
Your core values say what is important to your company and what is unique about working there. They should be specific enough to be easily understood as guiding principles, but also general enough to be held up against all communication, personal interactions, and work done by or on behalf of your business. Words like “integrity,” “honesty,” “innovation,” and “teamwork” are common in the Statement of Core Values that appears in many professionally written employee handbooks, including those composed by the HR experts here at CEDR.
Keep in mind that your core values are guiding principles — not rules. Where it’s appropriate to have a section of your handbook dedicated to rules for employees, your core values are not the place for that.
Generally speaking, business owners and managers have a lot of freedom when it comes to defining their core values, as well as how many they define. We recommend coming up with a handful — somewhere between 3 and 15, in total — in order to be thorough, but also to give employees the chance to actually memorize them by repetition. Here at CEDR, we have 10 Core Values. They are:
- Integrity. We do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it. When we know we won’t be able to do it, we take accountability and re-promise.
- We are clear in our communications to our members and to each other.
- We deliver our value in the way we would want value delivered to us.
- We use innovation to find efficiency without compromising quality.
- We respect our members by suspending judgment and meeting them “where they are at.”
- We grow from failure. We are a safe place to learn from our mistakes.
- We are a model of the great workplace we help our members achieve.
- We are current on the guidance we are giving.
- We are strategic in who we work with.
- We are financially sustainable and profitable.
Core Values and Company Culture in Action
Your Company Culture, built with your Core Values as a cornerstone, is what attracts job seekers to your business. Build a company culture that speaks to the heart of a certain type of individual and those individuals will look for opportunities to work for your company and seek you out, rather than the traditional model of employers looking for difference makers to hire amongst a crowded job market.
I often use the example of Southwest Airlines in many of my talks because their company culture is so well honed and it informs everything that the business does. In fact, Southwest has become pretty well known in entrepreneurial influencer circles for its success at making company culture a priority and a focal point for the business.
You can read about Southwest Airlines’ company culture in depth on their website, but this short paragraph about what they call “Southwest Citizenship” sums it up pretty well:
At Southwest Airlines, it’s always been about Heart. It’s about connecting People and championing communities, because distance shouldn’t keep us from being neighbors. Whether in the air or on the ground, we believe community is more than a place–it’s at the Heart of what brings us together.
Southwest trumpets a total of six core values which are divided into two categories — “Living” the Southwest Way and “Working” the Southwest Way. Those values, which include things like living with a “Warrior Spirit” and a “Servant’s Heart,” are each then broken down into three points that help explain what is meant by each value, as well as how to work that value into your everyday approach to life and work.
I suggest taking a look at this prime example of culture building before setting out to shape the core values for your own company.
How Well-Defined Core Values Support Managers
The life of someone who manages others is a never-ending continuum in which problems occur and managers then jump in and address them in an effort to find solutions. It’s what a manager does.
Often, one employee’s behavior can set off an entire circus of drama and, left unchecked, that drama can bleed over to your entire team, ultimately causing breakdowns in how your business performs for your customers and/or patients.
Core values can add an arrow to your quiver when it comes to team problem solving and, specifically, when it comes to holding people accountable when their behavior fails to align with those values. “How does you being late four or more times per month stand with respect to our core value of ‘being on time’?”
“Being On Time” is a great example of a core value that is specific enough to offer guidance on work and behavior, but general enough to apply to almost everything that happens at a business.
Almost every dental or medical practice I work with adopts “On Time” as one of it’s core values. It’s an umbrella that covers a broad array of challenges for every busy and well-run practice, including everything from being on time for one another, being on time for meetings, as well as seeing patients “on time.”
Work with Your Support System to Develop Your Core Values
As we’ve worked with other businesses in the past, we’ve found that creating any of the components of your company culture or strategic HR plan in a vacuum will yield sub-optimal results.
Once you get started, bring in the troops and get them engaged to help improve the process. This can include all of your employees, just your management team, and even your spouse, friends, and/or family members.
It can take a month or more of well-organized, short lunch meetings to get it right, but you will find that this exercise gets your team thinking about the business as something they have ownership in, and this will cause engagement to sky rocket.
How Core Values Can Help You Address Issues with an Individual Team Member
Do one or more employees on your team show up with one or more of these behaviors or attitudes?
- Lacking inspiration
- Lacking initiative
- Failing to take ownership
- Waiting for someone else to solve problems
- Choosing to hideout
- Drama seems to be the “norm.”
I refer to these as “soft problems.” To me, a soft problem is not a specific behavior to be corrected, but an overall attitude that requires leaders to help lead others out of the mire.
When one or two people in your office are creating a problem, it’s important that you address the unwanted behavior on an individual basis. If you are looking for some place to start, or for help with having a constructive conversation with those employees, look to your core values.
Address the individual behavior within the context of your values: “Let me ask you, given that one of our core values is that we will be present for one another and the team, how does you being on your phone during work hours support that value?”
Keep in mind that drama, which is made up of the individual actions of each team member, creates systemic issues within your entire operation and comes in many different forms. Establishing Core Values is a key method for countering overall drama and can make addressing individual issues much easier.
Note: You must address individual issues because your Purpose and Vision are unattainable if your core values are ignored.
The sooner you establish the Three Pillars of Company Culture in service of strategic HR and team management planning, the better. That’s because, as soon as you grow from two employees to four — or from four to twelve, and so on — you will notice that a lack of clarity in any of those three areas will cause things to fall apart at the edges. People will become disengaged and start to create their own definition of what your workplace should be and how it should operate.
The concept of Strategic HR and Team Management Planning is a big one, and it can take up a lot of your attention. But you are doing yourself a disservice if you buy into the prevailing idea that Strategy Planning is only for larger organizations, or is something you can put off indefinitely.
Start working on this early and I promise it will lead to a much better work-life experience for you and your entire team. After a few years, you will look back and wonder how other offices survive without it.
If you would like to experience how CEDR helps it’s members and non-members address and create their strategic HR Planning for yourself, sign up for a free one-on-one conversation with one of our in-house HR and team management experts.