Defining Your Company’s Core Values (And Why It Matters)

Defining Your Company’s Core Values (And Why It Matters)

8th-roast-signWhen I walked into my favorite local coffee awhile back, I spotted this lovely little sign at the counter.

I mentioned it to the baristas and they said they’ve had the sign for months, but the reposition it throughout the shop so people get a pleasant surprise when they discover it.

I love that.

It’s little touches like this that make the shop special. Not to mention, their amazing coffee and personable staff.

But more importantly, the shop knows who they are and EXACTLY who their customer is — people who care about quality coffee.

For instance, the baristas mentioned the shop contemplated getting a machine to make frappuccino’s last summer. But the idea was strongly vetoed because it completely goes against their focus of serving and educating people about high quality coffee and different brewing methods (hence their slow pour bar).

As the baristas quipped, “if you want a Frappuccino, go to Starbucks.”

And, hence the shop’s tagline — “Coffee. Inspired.”

That, my friends, is what strong branding looks like. It’s drawing the line in the sand for what you believe as a company and standing by it.

In other words, it’s developing a set of core values around what you believe as a company.

8th & Roast believes in sourcing quality beans and small-batch roasting to create an experience around a high-end, quality cup of coffee. And, it’s why they don’t use syrups for their lattes — everything is made fresh, by hand.

It’s also why I don’t write marketing proposals and we emphasize marketing strategy first with all of our clients.

It’s why Zappos focuses on delivering incredible service for customers.

It’s why simplicity rules above all else at Basecamp.

It’s why Southwest emphasizes their heart (and now even has a logo to match).

Why are core values important?

I know what you might be thinking. The concept of core values is just a bunch of hooey that matters very little to your business.

But, defining your core values might be one of the most important things you can do as a company because it explains why you exist as a company.

Core values drive your company’s culture and ultimately, how you do business. When implemented well across your entire brand, it should be evident in your company’s interactions with customers and in decisions you make as a company.

And, from a marketing and business perspective, your core values can help attract people to your business.

Perhaps the best way to explain this concept is to show you this TedTalk from Simon Sinek. He talks about the power of “why” as a business driver.

“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek

If you’ve never seen it, I strongly suggest you take 18 minutes to watch it. It’s well worth it. Or, here’s the transcript if you’d rather read it.

How to Define Your Company’s Core Values

So now that you understand the importance of defining your company’s core values, how do you go about it?

Here are some questions to help you define it:

1. What does your business stand for?

In other words, what’s important to you as a company? Or, as Simon Sinek said, “what do you believe?”

For example, responsiveness is a core value for a law firm client we worked with. They believed that every client and prospective client deserved an attorney who was attentive and responsive.

That’s why they guarantee to call people back within 24 hours and clients get communicated with regularly. Every attorney at the firm promotes this and it’s evident through their testimonials. Almost every client talks about how they quickly responded to phone calls and emails and how important it was to always know the status of their case.

Their belief as a firm in how their clients should be treated is huge driver to their success. See how that works?

2. What change do you want to see in the world?

One of the ways you can help define your core values is by looking at things in your industry or the world that you don’t agree with.

What do you want to see changed? What are the problems in the world that keep you up at night? How can your company address them?

Answering these questions can help you define why you exist and what you want to be known for as a company.

For instance, 1907 Apparel exists to inspire hope in others. Their apparel is geared to help people tell their personal stories, while also lifting up people in need by giving a portion of proceeds to non-profit organizations in the areas of education, poverty and agriculture.

Here’s what they say on their site:

“All of our core values point to the overarching belief that we were meant to use what we have to help other people….We believe, at the heart of our core values, that everyone is entitled to the chance to broaden their mind, to work in dignity, and to eat three meals a day. These are basic human rights, and it is our responsibility to see to them. When you shop at 1907 Apparel, you enable other people to experience the hope you experienced by allowing us to lift them up through these programs.”

This is a fantastic example of how the desire to create change in the world can fuel a company’s core beliefs.

3. What do your employees value most?

Although you don’t want to create core values by committee, they also shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum. It’s important to know what your employees believe too.

Your employees don’t just want to come to work everyday — they want to work at a place that aligns with their values. They want to work at a place that gives them meaning. When you do this, you attract better people and they stick around longer.

Ask your employees about their personal values and see if there are any common themes.

I love this example from OfficeVibe, a company that focuses on employee culture and engagement. So, it’s fitting then, that their core values are fueled heavily by what their employees value.

For instance,
 their first core value? “Without fun, it sucks.

 And all of that goes back to their core mission “to build the most epic place to work, have fun and innovate.”

4. What matters most to your customers?

This question may very well be answered through the other questions, but it’s also important to consider what matters most to your customers.

Although you may think that speed or price is the most important thing, you might discover that what they really value is quality and reliability.

Take the time to understand what is most important to your customers. What problems do they have that are not being solved? What do they care about in a vendor partner?

Getting answers to these questions can help you refine why you exist as a company.

This isn’t an easy process, but it’s a highly valuable one that can make a huge impact on your business.

What do you think?

Do you have core values as a company? What are other examples of core values you would add here?


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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

5 replies on “Defining Your Company’s Core Values (And Why It Matters)”

It’s all about the WHY. ITA on looking inside to employees, and as part B of #4 – what matters most to vendors, investors, other key stakeholders. Customers may see have one take but analysts, Wall Street, the media have their.

An issue I’ve run into over the years: for a local and/or small business, this doesn’t scale well. Out in the real world, most people aren’t working their passions; they find a job or build a company b/c that’s best they can do. When you get to a small biz w/ 14 employees and 2 top dogs, they may ‘talk’ wanting to do more or be better, but their ‘walk’ – and moreover their culture – is all about sales and money in their own pockets. IDK it’s why I’m getting out of SMB, want to get back to a larger brand – that bigger picture vision. FWIW.

Interesting, Davina!

Real talk: My experience has been very opposite. While there are so many talented, passionate folks working for big brands, it’s also easy for the middle managers to lose sight of the “why” when they are just focused on executing their piece of the puzzle.

I feel like small business folks, while they have their challenges, are more “hungry” and connected to the purpose of the company, even if it is easy to lose grasp of that from time to time as well.

Overall, this stuff is challenging for sure, big or small company!

Honestly, I think that this is problem for companies of all sizes. As Danielle mentioned, many smaller companies seem to still have the spark about why they started the business. Oftentimes, that tends to deteriorate as companies grow. The bottom line is that it’s important for companies at all sizes to understand WHY they exist. If they don’t, it will be hard for them to grow.

When our company read “Traction” by Gino Wickman and underwent all the exercises therein, one of these included identifying our Core Values (along with Core Focus, Market Niche, 10-Yr Goal, etc.)

From the book, “Core Values define your culture and who you truly are as people. When they are clear, you’ll find they attract like-minded people to your organization…When your people don’t embrace your Core Values, their actions hurt your cause more than help it. By not defining what your values are, you have no way of knowing who believes in them and who doesn’t.”

“One important thing to understand is that Core Values already exist within your organization– they’ve just been lost in the day-to-day chaos. Your task is merely a matter of rediscovering what they are and instilling them as the rules you play by.”

“In short, it doesn’t matter what your Core Values are as much as it does that you’ve clearly defined, communicated, and are living them as an organization. Only then can you truly surround yourself with the people who will prepare your organization for growth.”

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