Core values are critical to establishing a strong culture at your organization.
Why are they so important?
Core values communicate what you believe as a company and how you are working together toward a shared vision.
This concept is powerful. By articulating what you stand for as a brand, you can attract better employees and customers who share your beliefs.
In fact, one study shows that organizations with employees who have shared values are nine times more likely to have high customer satisfaction.
And another study found that differentiated values that were listed on a company website led to better financial performance.
Core values matter.
Without them, your organization will create a culture by default instead of one that is powerfully working to reach your goals as a company every day.
Characteristics of Strong Core Values Statements
However, simply having core values will not make your company stronger. You must have strong values that your company believes in and stands behind for them to stick.
Before you dive in to create a list of platitudes to post in your company break room, it will help to understand what core values statements should look like.
Your organization’s core values should be…
Core values mean very little if your team can’t remember them. They should be words or phrases that your entire team can easily commit to memory. Short, snappy phrases seem to work best. And although there’s not a perfect number of values, your list of core values shouldn’t be so long that your team couldn’t remember them. For us, five felt like the perfect number. I would suggest you likely don’t want more than 10.
Empty words or phrases will do little good for your business.
For core values to be a powerful tool for your brand, they should have deep meaning for your business. In other words, these should be things that you are willing to stand behind and fight for as a business. Your core values should be something you and your team are passionate about. In fact, the strongest values statements are ones that employees would be willing to adopt personally because they believe them so strongly.
Because core values should guide how your team works every day, each value statement should be an action word or phrase. For instance, using a word like “integrity” doesn’t mean much because it’s vague and doesn’t articulate well how someone should act. But, phrases such as “do the right thing” or “choose honesty” are actions that show integrity. Actionable statements give much better guidance on how your team can implement the values on a daily basis.
- Well-Defined. In addition to the values statement itself, it can also help to have anecdotes, explanations or bullet points that underscore each point. If you look at our values, each one has an additional sentence or two that brings the point home. For Buffer, they have bullet points to go along with each value to articulate how to apply the statement every day. Netflix created an entire Slidedeck that explains in full detail what each value means. In other words, your values statements shouldn’t be vague. Make sure they are clearly defined so people know what they mean.
This might go without saying, but your core values statements should reflect your culture and be unique to your business. Although there might be other businesses with similar words or statements, the entirety of the list should be unique to your brand. Don’t copy. Your core values should have your brand’s DNA.
Your core values should not change. And if they do, they should only change with a great deal of consideration. The idea of core values is that they are the guideposts for everything you do. That means that sometimes, it can be painful to stick to your core values because it means you will have to make tough decisions to adhere to them.
“But coming up with strong values–and sticking to them–requires real guts. Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain.
“ — Patrick M. Lencioni, Harvard Business Review
The Process for Determining Your Core Values
So, how do you determine the core values for your brand?
There are a number of ways to go about this process. Much of it will depend on the size and personality of your company.
For instance, if you’re a large corporation, the process will look much different than if you’re a startup with just a couple of employees.
But, to give you an idea of how to go through this process, I’ll share what worked for our team along with some ideas about how you can apply these ideas to your team.
1. Brainstorm ideas and combine into themes.
Since we are a small team, we started with a sticky note brainstorm session. We each had a stack of sticky notes, we set a timer and we wrote down answers to these questions:
- What do we stand for?
- What do we value most?
- What do we believe as a company?
Once we spent several minutes jotting down our answers to these questions, we placed our sticky notes on a white board so we can see what each of us wrote. From there, we began organizing the ideas into themes.
At the end of our brainstorming session, we had agreed on five key words or themes with supporting points for each. You can see Abby with our wall of sticky notes below.
If you’re a larger company, this exercise could still work really well. However, instead of involving your entire team, you could conduct this exercise with your leadership team.
And, if you want to ensure you get input from employees, you can ask these questions through a survey to get their input and use that to combine the values into themes.
2. Let the ideas sit and get feedback.
After our brainstorming session, we moved all of our thoughts into a shared Google Doc and we let the ideas marinate for a few weeks.
What we found is that some of the words we chose weren’t really ringing true. Instead, we paid closer attention to things we said as we were working with each other and with our clients.
We began jotting down new ideas to consider. Most of them were consistent with our original themes and ideas, but the language was stronger and better conveyed how we want to act.
If you’re a larger company, I would suggest finding ways to get feedback on the initial list of themes to see if it resonates with your team.
3. Refine the list.
When we went on our retreat, we brought all of our notes and ideas. We spent a couple of hours discussing each of our points, pruning our list and refining the language.
Once we had decided on each of the five values, we created definitions for each value to give our team further guidance how to live out the value on a daily basis.
Create Your Core Values NOW
There’s not a one-size-fits all process for defining your core values, but this approach worked well for our team.
The main priority is to ACT. If you don’t have core values for your organization, now is as good time as any to start.
We’ve already found that having core values makes our work more focused. And, when we hire new team members, we will do so based on these values.
Core values are meaningful for your business. They certainly have been for us. Don’t wait to do this exercise. You’ll find that it’s incredibly valuable for your brand.
Do you have core values for your company? If so, share them in the comment section! We’d love to hear from you!