Core values – more than just words on a wall

Building a successful business is about so much more than just numbers and a product. Those more intangible things? They’re guided by your core values – whether you’ve defined them or not.

Core values are a set of beliefs that help shape the culture and drive the vision of your company. They’re the principles that you live by, and they have real internal and external advantages for your business.

  • They help guide decision making. For example, if one of your core values is offering a quality product, then sub-standard products will never make it to the customer.

  • Your customers will be drawn to your values, as long as they’re relevant and authentic.

  • You’ll keep the best staff (particularly millennials) when your core beliefs resonate with them.

How to make your core values actually valuable

Many companies will plaster their core values over business documents, stick them on the wall, and reinforce them at every chance. The thing is, you need meaning and action behind these phrases. Otherwise they’re just nice words.

If you want your core values to be more than just lip service, there are steps you need to take. You want to create goals that act as a yardstick for choices made by employees, managers and the business as a whole – essentially, a guide for appropriate behaviours and actions.

“The best companies take their core values to heart, challenging themselves every day to ensure they are truly living their values. Likewise, the companies that have core values, but don’t focus on them, often find themselves struggling financially and culturally.”

Rob Dube, Forbes

Don’t develop your goals and values in isolation

As the business owner you get the ultimate say, but you’ll get more staff buy-in if they are involved in the development process. And once employees buy in intellectually and emotionally, they perform better and are far happier in their jobs. Part of your process in developing these values is asking your team what they like about the company, and where they want to see it going.

You also want authentic values, not whatever the current business it-word is. You need to show what you and your employees believe in your hearts.

Empty, meaningless value-statements can cause more harm than good. Staff can become cynical and disengaged, and that can alienate customers. If people choose the values themselves, they will be so much more committed to them.

Find out where your values fit for employees and customers

Map out your employee and customer journey. Along the way, you’ll find places and processes where you can reinforce your values.

For instance, in the HR recruitment process, do you evaluate hopeful applicants for those same values? You can add questions in the interview process that will assess if behaviours are present. There are even recruitment tools that are designed specially to filter applicants based on how well they fit your values. A previous manager at Coca-Cola used to interview potential employees at restaurants, and evaluate how they treated the wait staff. You can observe more about how applicants’ values play out in their lives, by taking them out of the artificial setting of an office.

So how can you find a place for your core values that makes a real difference for staff and customers? How will your values work for the call centre? What about when accounts staff contact customers for payment? Identify the touch points where you can embed the behaviours you want.

Model behaviours and values

The strongest message you can send is modelling those values and resulting behaviours yourself. Staff need strong role models in leadership. If you’re not following your own guidelines, how can you expect your team to?

You could consider partnering new staff with mentors who live out the core values. Employees who embrace these goals set the tone for new staff members.

Encourage commitment through rewards

How do you encourage positive behaviours that are aligned with your goals? By rewarding people for displaying them. It could be an awards system where staff nominate others in recognition of their work. It might be on family fun days, to encourage employees to have work-life balance.

Try letting your staff come up with ideas to reinforce your core values, and reward people who strongly align to them.


Share examples of your values in action

Alongside these awards and encouragement, start sharing how these values look in real life. Try on-boarding videos for new staff that highlight how to display and live out the core values. Provide examples in company newsletters, and in meetings include an agenda item where stories are shared.

Action plan

  • Get your staff on board and create your company core values together.

  • Find out where in your business you can apply your values.

  • Role model appropriate behaviour in yourself and other senior leaders.

  • Reward and acknowledge staff who display these values.

  • Share examples of these values as they happen in real life.

You could even put the words on the wall – as long as they’re not just for show.

If you need help defining your values and putting them into action, talk to the team at Thrive CA today regarding our Core Values Development program.