What are your company’s core values? If you can’t immediately reel them off, you’re not alone — too many organizations don’t have clearly defined and deeply felt values. Core values are the guiding principles of your organization. They explain why it exists, what it wants to achieve, and what the journey is to get there.
Sound challenging? It can be when you’re developing or refining your company’s core values. After all, they’re unique to every organization, so there’s no one template you can use to build your own. However, guidelines and strategic questions can help you build a clear and actionable set of core values for your company — and it’s all in this guide.
Understanding Core Values
Core values exist to help your company make big strategic decisions that align with the organization you are now and want to be in the future. A company without clear core values is like a ship without a rudder — you might still manage to get where you’re going, but it’s likely going to be a much more difficult and dicey journey.
While every company’s core values are different, there are certain common themes of core values that can help inspire your own. These include:
Commitment to customers
Why Core Values Matter
Strong core values help consumers identify with your company — and that bond makes them more loyal. Core values are critical because customers today aren’t typically looking for a simple transactional relationship, but rather to connect on a deeper level with companies that align with their own values.
Employees are looking for the same thing in their relationship with an employer, so those strong core values will also attract the right workers. They also offer a guide for what success looks like that can help everyone in your company make better decisions.
Of course, to reap the full benefits of strong core values, your business must also hold true to those values in action. Suppose you profess to value environmental sustainability, but a local news station unearths evidence that your “green” processes and packaging are harmful. In that case, consumers will see your business as inauthentic and dishonest. That’s why choosing your values carefully and adhering to them faithfully is critical, which brings us to our next section.
Developing Organizational Core Values
Now that you know how critical core values are, how can you start developing and implementing your own or refining the ones you already have? Here’s your four-step guide.
1. Talk to Your Leadership Team
Your leaders and founders drive your company’s strategy forward daily, so what do they consider your core values? Why do they think your company exists, aside from profitability? What problem or gap was it founded to solve? And what are the guiding principles behind their major decisions?
These big-picture questions will help give you some structure as you explore your core values now and in the future.
2. Listen to Your Employees and Customers
Your leadership team provides a great starting point — but your customers and employees will tell you how you’re delivering on your values right now. What do they feel your current values are? Do those align with your current or aspirational goals? What important values do they think your company lacks?
Sending surveys is a great way to get this feedback from employees. GoCo's Employee Survey workflow allows HR to gather feedback about how well employees understand and adhere to the company's core values, along with insights about whether employees believe their leaders adhere to those values. HR teams can use this feedback to ensure employees know what you expect of them to uphold the company's core values.
For customer feedback, surveys are also an effective option. It may also be helpful to run focus groups or hop on a call with individual customers to dive deeper and gain more context around their answers.
3. Implement Feedback
Once you’ve gathered your feedback, it’s time to act on it. Compare the insights you received from customers and employees and begin to look for patterns — are your customer service reps feeling unsupported by leadership, for example, while customers report poor customer service? There may be a chance to improve both spaces at once.
And remember, asking for feedback and then declining to act on it is frustrating for everyone. A willingness to make real changes goes a long way to show your commitment to their experience. Authentic core values help you gain buy-in from your employees so they’re excited to embody your values.
4. Consistently Live and Communicate Your Unique Core Values
Yes, this is a good time to write your mission statement to put those values into words! But core values go far beyond simply setting down a mission statement at a single point in time and letting them languish on a corner of your website. You must prioritize articulating and communicating your values to employees, customers, and stakeholders, while also living as an example of those values. More tactical steps for this come in the following section.
Examples of Great Organizational Core Values
Are you looking for inspiration to write your own core values? This list of more than 250 examples provides plenty of great ideas.
Communicating Core Values
Communicating your core values to your stakeholders is not a one-and-done email. It means consistently conversing about them with leaders and employees alike, incorporating them into town halls and all-hands meetings, and weaving them into everything you do.
It’s helpful to incorporate your core values into all your employee communications and touchpoints, so you’re subtly but regularly reinforcing them. You should also align your internal and external messaging so your core values are clear — your marketing and internal communications team should work closely together on that strategy.
Rewarding and recognizing employees for going above and beyond to fulfill your core values with an award or simply meaningful thanks drives home your company’s commitment to employees who embody your values.
Maintaining Core Values
While setting your core values can be an exciting and energizing exercise initially, keeping them top of mind in the long term can be a struggle. You must have a strategy in place to maintain the company-wide alignment with your core values and reinforce them.
That strategy needs to begin with modeling from the people at the top — your leaders. If your whole leadership team isn’t consistently upholding and modeling your core values, employees will notice that gap and often determine they don’t need to adhere to them, either. Saying one thing and doing another shows your leaders as inauthentic, which negates the benefits your company derives from determining your core values in the first place.
Other strategies for reinforcing and embedding core values into your company culture start at the beginning of the employee lifecycle — the recruiting and hiring process. Your talent recruitment strategy should clearly incorporate your core values to attract candidates who share them from the start. Your onboarding process for both executives and employees should also include a deep dive into your company's core values so new hires know them from their first day.
Your HR tools can help you with tasks like these. In fact, GoCo's Workflows feature allows HR teams to create custom workflows for onboarding, performance reviews, and other processes that are key to employee engagement. This ensures that everyone in the organization understands and follows the core values.
Of course, you should also make room for your core values to change over time as needed. If they stay stuck in the past and aren’t offering helpful guidance, don’t be afraid to use the same process outlined above to refine and refresh them to fit your company in the current moment.
The Key Place of Core Values in Your Company
Core values are central to your company’s success — they are a guide to better decision-making for your leadership, a more engaging work environment for your employees, and better service and products for your customers – if you implement them correctly.
Open dialogues with your key stakeholders, from leaders to employees to customers, will help you identify the core values you already have and the ones you need. While putting them into place takes real, sustained action from your leadership team over time, the results are well worth it.
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