There’s 3 important things that Core Values bring alive in an organization.
Number one, they give employees the ability to make decisions in ambiguous situations, and they have a defensible reason why they made a decision. So, if they decide to do something that is – you know – maybe on the edge, and they aren’t sure if they should or they shouldn’t, but they’ve got the ability to say, “hey, listen, our Core Value is ‘think like a customer’ and I made this decision and I really referenced that Core Value and here is why – here is my thought process.” It creates incredible confidence on behalf of the employee to help them make that decision, way better than them running to you or running to the senior team every time there is an ambiguous situation- and asking “what should I do?”
Core Values almost becomes a sounding board for them, or a replacement for an interaction with you, to help them with those decisions.
And along those same lines, Core Values give those type of things in an organization leverage. So, let’s say you need to have a difficult conversation, before you have really well adopted Core Values, that interaction might almost be confrontational. Now, if you have that same conversation, but instead of you sharing with them that you think they were wrong, the Core Value becomes kind of the lever.
So, again, let’s use “think like a customer”, which was a core value at Appletree. Someone does something dumb, we can go to that employee and say, “hey, we have this Core Value ‘think like a customer’, and here’s the decision you made and here’s how the impact was. How does that decision line up with ‘think like a customer?’” Now, the Core Value is the bad guy, the Core Value kind of plays the role of the heavy. Instead of you pointing to someone directly and saying “you’re wrong”.
The third thing, and one of the things I think is incredibly important, is it gives everyone a common language. A common language that’s unique to your individual organization. So, when you start to have these daily discussions about decision-making and using Core Values to help make decisions, the language around those Core Values becomes a shared experience among employees and that builds culture really, really, fast. I know lots of great companies that aren’t very good at doing Core Values that have been successful. I know lots of companies that aren’t very good at doing core values that have failed. But, I have a really really hard time thinking of one of my peers or companies we’ve interacted with that are tremendously good at core values that aren’t performing well as a company. I think they give companies such a competitive advantage.
Just a couple quick rules:
- Core values, because they’re unique language, should be short, memorable phrases that are unique to your company. One word core values are not nearly as impactful as words well thought out, well-crafted, words that are unique to your organization.
- If you’re gonna go through the discovery exercise, it’s really difficult to figure out what your Core Values are. It’s a very intense process, thats 20% of the work. Make sure that if you’re gonna do that, that they become part of your DNA. And they are used on a daily basis, not on a poster or on the wall that no one ever really looks at.
I promise if you get core values right they’re literally like an accelerate for the company to achieve tremendous, tremendous results.
John Ratliff is a co-founder and partner of align5 and align.Space. Prior to founding align5, John was the President and CEO of Appletree Answers, a telephone answering service company he started in 1995 growing the company to 24 US- based locations and 650 employees before it was sold to a strategic buyer in June 2012. John is passionate about strategy, company culture and employee engagement.