Core values - what are they really?
Most importantly, are they attracting the people you want to join your team?
Because that’s the thing with values – what you say is what you tend to get. So if you haven’t defined your values well, you could be attracting the wrong people and making your recruitment policy a threat instead of an opportunity.
Getting core values right is the only way to create an employee value proposition (EVP) that resonates with the people you want to hire. It’s why it’s the first work you should do when evaluating your recruitment process.
So now we’ve understood the ‘why’, here are some more tips for how to develop a strong – and authentic – set of core values.
As the saying goes: the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best time is now.
Ideally you would have defined your core values at the beginning of your company’s life so they could act like pillars to build on. After all, it’s harder to add foundations once the roof is on.
But if you didn’t define your core values from the beginning, there’s still work to be done. Whatever stage your business is at in its growth, it’s never too late to define what you stand for.
When I see the same values coming up time and again (integrity, anyone?), all it shows me is that companies aren’t thinking clearly about the beliefs that are true for them. The whole point of core values is that they are unique.
So perhaps it’s easier to identify what core values are not. They’re not aspirational. Sure, it’s tempting to include those characteristics that you’d like to have as a business – agility, inventiveness, compassion. But are these core values? Can you see them lived out in your company right now? It’s great to define how you’d like your organisation to be, but these can’t form your core values, as you haven’t even got there yet.
Likewise, core values are not the minimum requirements for your industry or the basic social behaviours you’ll accept within your organisation. These are your ‘permission to play’ values – like integrity and honesty – and no candidate should be getting through the door without them. They’re important, but they’re not what makes your company unique.
And that brings us back to the ‘what’ of core values. They are, quite simply, the characteristics that the company, at its core, finds meaningful. They’re what drive you, the principles that can never be compromised – even for profit.
The short answer to how you create your core values is: authentically.
In other words, don’t just make up stuff that sounds good. Instead, think back to what made you start your business. What drove you? What felt important? How did you want it to be? And if you’re not the founder but you now find yourself in charge, what was it about the business that first attracted you? What felt good?
Some of these values might surprise you. You might be a logistics company run with compassion, for example, or a care home founded on tenacity. Don’t be blinded by your industry norms – be truthful about your purpose.
However tempting it is to involve the whole business in defining your core values, to ‘get something authentic’, they should always, only, come from the top.
Think about it – if you were to survey 1000 employees about what they find meaningful, you might have some interesting responses. They certainly wouldn’t all be the same. How could you build a set of core values that underpin your whole business from a survey of everyone who works there?
As Patrick Lencioni says, “Most executives understand the danger of consensus-driven decision-making when it comes to strategy, finance, and other business issues, yet they seem oblivious to the problem when it comes to developing values.”
Defining your values isn’t an exercise in employee engagement. It’s about imposing a set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs on the people at the core of your company – and holding them to it every day.