What Are Your Core Business Values?

Most business owners claim that their businesses operate on cvaluesa set of core values. Many of these same business owners will claim, and even boast, that these core values guide every aspect of the business. However, when I performed an assessment of many of these organizations, it quickly became obvious that the “real” core values were significantly different from the published core values posted in the lobby, framed proudly in the boardroom, or appearing prominently in the annual report.

Why is this?
The biggest conflict I find between businesses successfully implementing and executing their core values consistently is a function of the, “Do as I say, not as I do!” attitude. Listing a set of desirable core values is easy to do and there are many sources for developing core values appropriate for your business and industry. However, some core values may prove to be a major obstacle to business success.

To be successful it is necessary to apply these core values in your own behavior as an example to your executive team and employees. Expecting compliance by employees with a set of core values at work and then to demonstrate contrary behavior in your personal life creates a major conflict for those around you. You need to walk the talk to be a convincing leader!

It is easy to say what you are, or stand for, but for the core value to be recognized in how the company conducts its business, it must be lived out each day, at all levels of the organization. This where a conflict may occur between what executive leadership desires and how they conduct themselves, personally and professionally, on a daily basis.

What an owner or CEO asks the company to live up to is not necessarily how they personally operate or conduct themselves. If employees see the company hierarchy not reinforcing the core values of the company, then they are less likely to take it upon themselves to do more then what they see management doing. They may be in compliance to avoid insubordination and meet the minimal needs of the position, but their heart and soul are not in it.

Accountability, for example, is selected as a key core value for many businesses. Every customer wants to do business with a company that is accountable. Wanting and running a business that projects accountability are two different conditions. It is easy to want or desire that a business live, breathe, and project accountability. The key obstacle that must be overcome is how to implement, execute and “walk-the-talk” on accountability throughout the organization, and more significantly, to the customer.

Sample Core Values
The table below lists core values that many businesses want to emulate and project to their customers. The first column represents a Generic set of core values and the others are core values of a few prominent business that are successful in their respective industries.

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The core values of each company listed above have been instrumental in their success. You will notice that core values vary from company to company. What is important to one company is not necessarily important to another. For the most part, core values do not change, but may be improved or restated as a result of the changing character (age, professional and culture) of employees, management and ownership, and customers.

How do you select core values?
Selecting your core values starts with what you stand for. These may be your personal values or values that you admire. They represent what makes you who you are and why people turn to you and accept your leadership. Involve those who you surround yourself with, your key employees, and get their input to make sure that values important to them are not over looked. If you want your key employees to adopt your core values, then they need to be a participant to forming and discussing them. These values are then used to recruit future key employees to make sure that they can accept the core values selected. If a potential key employee candidate cannot agree with your core values, you do not have a suitable key employee and need to look for someone else.

You then need to ask what your market or customer expect of the company that produces the product or service that they buy and, in some cases, rely on for their personal safety (i.e. Boeing). Your core values can often become what the customer buys in terms of the long-term relationship, trust, reliability, or service.

Your list of core values should not be a laundry list of 10 to 20 items. As you can see in the above table the list of core values for each company consists of 5 to 7 values. If your list is too long, then you have a problem communicating, and executing them, and ultimately recognizing them in what the company does every day. Ideally, you would want a list of core values that every employee would be able to identify with and, in their own words, express how they apply them to what they do.

How are core values implemented?
Implementing core values begins with what the executive team does on a daily basis and when they are challenged, how they handle emergencies. Does the management team work within the core values or abandon them for expediency?

Adoption of the core values across the organization is a different matter, more training and explanation will be necessary to help employees understand the meaning of each core value and how it applies to their area and work product. This is particularly necessary in global organizations, where multiple cultures are present.

Core value compliance needs to be reinforced in performance (formal, informal) reviews. An excellent method to emphasize core values is through recognition of employees that have demonstrated one or more core values in how they perform their jobs. This should be encouraged to occur at every level, so that there is continual emphasis and a reminder of the importance of the core values.

The biggest impact is how senior leadership conducts their dealings with each other, within the company, with suppliers and ultimately customers. They have to “walk the talk” each and every day. An incident where performance is not consistent with the core values, will require a significant amount of effort and time to overcome.

Violating core values when an emergency occurs, because it is the expedient path to dispensing with the issue or avoiding publicity, can be catastrophic to the confidence of your customers and employees in the management of the company.

How do I monitor core values?
The best way to monitor how well the company is projecting its core values is MBWA (Management By Walking Around). Cross the levels of your business, engage in discussions with employees and listen for indicators that tell you that people understand the company core values and are applying them in what they do. This can be particularly revealing when visiting customers and discussing their relationship with the company and how the last contact or order was handled.

Use of periodic surveys is valuable, but the results should always be reviewed with the participants. The challenge surveys is that if it reveals a weakness in the use and execution in your core values then you are obligated to initiative a corrective action process to deal with the deficiency and publish progress and results to employees. Some businesses stumble in this area and slow walk or lose the results of an unfavorable survey.

Authorizing partial or full assessments (audits) of your organization performance and compliance with your core values can be very effective at discovering short comings in core value understanding and execution. Internal or external resources can do this. This can be a very effective exercise for an internal team consisting of cross-discipline staff with the assignment to analyze one or more operations of the company and their compliance with business processes, company practices and core values.

Summary

Core values should not be casually selected. Core values, either yours or, by default, of each employee, will set the tone for how your company will operate. If left up to the core values of each employee, you will not have a consistent or predictable way of conducting your business. The outcome will not intentional, but accidental and unpredictable.

Core values carefully selected, modeled by executive management and effectively implemented, will lay a strong foundation for each employee to conduct their daily work, which ultimately serves the customer. To achieve the desired outcome the implementation, adoption and execution of your core values must be an intentional effort throughout the organization led by executive management.

The strength of he commitment of a company to its core values begins with the owner or senior executive. This cannot be subjugated to the next level of management or a third party consultant.  Each employee is aware of how committed the senior executive is to how they “walk the talk.”  If you are passionate about your core values this will not be a problem.  If you take your core values for granted, you will find yourself exposed,with everyone watching and critiquing your every move, as if you were living in a fishbowl.

Don’t live in a fish bowl, be passionate and live out your core values every day. You will be amazed at the impact it will have on the success of your business.

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