Lead with your Core Values

Performance

April 18, 2022

Tom Short

X min

5 min

Why values-driven organizations drive the performance that delivers results.

Woman stands confident with coworkers. She leads with her organization's core values in mind using Kudos.
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Table of Contents

Do you know your company’s core values? Do your employees? Do your clients? If you’re honest, I imagine most of you answered “no” to at least the last two questions. You might have also struggled to remember your core values. Am I right?

The reason for that is simple. Most companies treat core values like a task they need to complete when building their organization. They also don’t make their core values easy to remember, promote, reinforce, revisit, or celebrate. At best, most publish the core values on their website, in the employee manual, and only refer to them now and then in a team meeting or annual report. The sad truth is that most organizations and employees rarely give them a second thought, much less know how to identify them or apply them in their day-to-day decision-making and interactions.  

Organizations that are successful and do not have their core values at the center of what they do, often have an inconsistent corporate culture that differs by department, location, and manager. That is what we refer to as a culture by default, and that has many unintended and avoidable challenges. Does this sound familiar?

Organizations that are purposeful in their core values development, deliberate in the application, and dedicated to weaving them into every aspect of their operation have a culture by design. These organizations are much more focused, resilient, cohesive, successful, and, I would argue – happier. Is this where you want to be?

The seminal book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras started the core value revolution in 1994. They did a six-year study on organizations that they considered to be visionary. What set those organizations apart was their focus on being a core value-driven organization, and as a result, they outperformed their peers and the market by 16x over six decades. The primary item that differentiated these organizations from the field was not capital, markets, or products but company culture grounded in their core values.

More recently, in the book Start with Why, thought leader Simon Sinek focuses on similar immutable truths around purpose. His message resonates so deeply; it is today the second most-watched Ted Talk. In that talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” he focuses on “Purpose” or your “Why,” which is your personal vision and mission. Sinek believes the “How” is embodied in your principles, core values, and processes. Finally, he talks about your “What” or product or service. Unfortunately, the reality is that the “What” is where most organizations start and spend most of their efforts.

Sinek highlights how organizations we view as visionary achieve extraordinary success because they start with their “Why.” But truth be told, your success will depend on how you hyper-focus your “How,” putting your vision and mission into action, and using your core values to drive actions and decisions.

In both books, the writers highlight that all of the visionary companies they featured would have been successful no matter what they chose to do because they led with their purpose and core values. In fact, HP and 3M started their companies not knowing “What” they would do as an organization, and both continue to lead their categories today. Warren Buffett recently revealed his massive HP investment, and he is notorious for focusing on value, which is driven by purpose and core values. 

Why Core Values Matter

Collins and Porras defined Core Values as inherent and sacrosanct; they are not compromised for convenience or short-term economic gain. I would add that they are the ingrained principles that you live everyday. This is rooted in the shared vision, code of conduct, and ethos of a company.

Once you identify and define your core values, they should be at the center of your actions and decisions, from hiring to strategy. They should be expressed, captured, and shared widely and often to inspire, align, and attract employees and clients. 

The movie Jerry McGuire is a very entertaining but memorable way to see this in action. His infamous memo “The Things We Think But Do Not Say” was so important to him that he was willing to lose a lucrative career and leave a company he helped start versus compromise his values. While this is a fictional story, the movie then and today still resonates with many because that is the kind of company motivated people want to work for. The story demonstrates how living your values can guide you to success and the person you are meant to be. Google’s “Ten Things We Know To Be True” is an excellent example of sharing your vision, mission, and values in the real world in a similar but less rambling way. 

A great place to start your core value journey – developing, refining, updating, or discovering your company's core values is to think about your own core values and why they matter to you.

Discovering and Developing Your Core Values

 Your personal mission statement and core values should reflect who you want to be at your very best. Consider these things in a simple exercise by answering these questions:

  • What matters most to you? 
  • What makes you proud of yourself? 
  • What do you want to be remembered for? 
  • What do you value in others? 

Values can be aspirational, but they should be who you already are and what matters most to you to be truly authentic.

There are a few great resources to help you discover your core values. The Center for Value-Driven Leadership has resources and insights that are a great place to start. Other sites such as PersonalValues.es and Barret Value Centre self-assessment allow you to take quizzes to help you discover what core values already guide you.

When you set out to develop your company's core values, they should be authentic, unique, memorable, and come from a small group of individuals, likely your founders and possibly a small group in leadership, representing what the company strives to be, and do. 

Creating values is not a consensus team-building exercise. That is a bad idea for two reasons. It will integrate suggestions from people that should not be at your organization and others that will not be at your organization in the near future. The median tenure for workers between twenty-five and thirty-four is 3.2 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018. 

The core values should be developed by a core group of people that truly know the organization's personality and what type of company they want it to be. They will be the ones who will be there to live them in the long term. They will be the ones that will use the core values to lead by example and use the core values to drive performance and make critical decisions. There should be little daylight between what leadership says and what they do for the core values to be successful and adopted companywide. There should be no "Say-Do" dilemma for your team.

The book The Core Value Equation by Darius Mirshahzadeh describes in great detail how to develop and employ your core values. He outlines four key elements of a well-designed and communicated core values:

  • Themes. Themes are core values such as integrity, caring, and customer service, which define the company’s personality.
  • Headers. Headers are memorable words, sentences, or catchphrases that are easy to remember that represent several grouped themes and sub-themes like “WOW Service.”
  • Descriptions. Descriptions are the four to eight sentences that are the nitty-gritty details that precisely describe what you expect and how your team should deliver on the themes.  
  • Policy/Producers. Your manuals and living documents outline how the core values are employed tactically in everyday processes and activities. For example, if one of your themes is “Default to Action,” explain that team members are encouraged to take the initiative instead of waiting for direction.

 Concepts to consider when you are developing your core values:

  • Core values don’t need to be generic or “nice.” Your values should make you unique, distinct, and attractive to your ideal employees and clients.
  • Make your core value themes/headers easy to remember. Following Miller’s Law, you should keep your core value themes and headers between five and nine words.
  • Leverage your subthemes. Subthemes highlight the more expansive qualities and behaviors that are critically important to defining who you are as an organization and how team members should act and interact.

Becoming a Core Value Driven Organization 

To become a core value-driven organization, you need to weave your core values into everything you do. Getting team buy-in and a commitment to live by your/their company’s values is critical and should be part of your processes or “How.” Everything from job postings and onboarding to recognizing team members and having team core values discussions, to individual performance reviews should be based on your process as outlined below:

  1. Hire people based on core value alignment. 
  2. Evaluate your team based on living your core values.
  3. Recognize team members regularly for living your core values.
  4. Communicate your core values to your team like you market your product or services to your clients.
  5. Celebrate your people, culture, and values at every opportunity. 
  6. Reflect on your core values when faced with difficult decisions.

The proof of being a core value-driven organization will be in several key measures that you should review monthly, quarterly, and annually. And if you take the time, you should be able to correlate company performance and profits to achieving high scores and participation using these three measures. 

  • NPS® scores. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) was developed by Bain & Company in 2003 to measure how well an organization treats the people whose lives it affects and subsequently how well it generates relationships worthy of loyalty. This straightforward question allows you to easily track clients (NPS) and employees’ (eNPS) sentiments towards your company. 

 Why is this important? Bain& Company proved a strong correlation between a company's growth rate and its NPS and eNPS score. 

  •  Q12® Survey. The Gallup organization developed the Q12 survey to give managers a framework to address critical areas directly correlated to employee engagement. The questions are written and ordered in a specific way that measures the essential elements that determine overall engagement. The results can help you narrow down critical areas in your employee experience that require improvement. 

Why is this important? Gallup was able to show through their research that organizations that consistently score high in the Q12 survey outperform their peers.

  •  Kudos®. Kudos’ social peer-to-peer recognition and company communication system allows organizations to keep their core values front and center. Every recognition message sent and received reinforces core values, qualities, and behaviors. The quantity and quality of the Kudos messages is a barometer of daily and weekly employee engagement levels. Kudos helps build a strong foundation for promoting and celebrating team and corporate goals. 

Why is this important? Kudos positively affect the organization's NPS, eNPS, Q12 scores, and Glassdoor ratings. That translates into better employee recruitment, retention, productivity, and overall corporate performance.  

For more insights and information on becoming a core value-driven organization and living your values, watch our Webinar – How to Drive Employee Performance Through Core Values.

I would love to know your thoughts, observations, and results if you put some of these ideas into practice.

You can find me on LinkedIn @wtshort.

About Kudos

Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce.

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