creating core values

Creating core values that matter.

“Integrity.” “Efficiency.” “Quality.” These are the go-to words we often see in a company’s list of core values. While these values are important, they tend to be so general that often they lack real resonance with the people they’re meant to guide.

In our experience, the core values that have sticking power are the ones that people have always known are true, but simply haven’t memorialized yet. Below are our tips for creating core values that will serve as a lasting cultural framework.

Speak like a human.

Tapping into the words that are already part of the cultural vocabulary is a great place to start. For example, we worked with a large construction company that believed in the importance of true teamwork. But “teamwork” by itself only skimmed the surface. When we dug deeper, we realized that the company valued the team members who never felt a job was “beneath” them. So we re-defined “teamwork” as “everyone empties the trash” – a core value that tells a much richer narrative about the importance of everyone pitching in.

Get buy-in from the team.

Core values of a company should never come in from “on high.” In order to create a cohesive and meaningful set of values, it’s important that you go beyond the top leaders to hear from a multitude of voices about what makes the culture unique. When we created the core values for the same construction company, we gathered together 20 of their leaders and team members to hear their thoughts. The result? The core values were embraced right off the bat since so such a broad cross-section of the organization had engaged with the process in a meaningful way.

Get outside help.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re working on core values. Our suggestion? Get outside help. When you engage a group that’s smart and creative, but also has a different perspective, most likely this group will see things your team won’t. And if they know what they’re doing, this group will help you distill the input from your team into well-crafted values that everyone can get behind.

Don’t agonize.

There are important steps to arriving at your company core values. But at a certain point, you just have to hit “go.” If you spend too much time agonizing over final words, your culture will be like a boat without a rudder, creating confusion and even unintended consequences.

Be a “proud parent.”

Once you’ve decided on your core values, own them – and then plaster them everywhere. Going back to our construction company client, we worked with their internal marketing team to emblazon all ten “practices” in large scale letters around the office. We created a poster with the practices that hangs in all on-site trailers. And we helped them launch an employee spotlight program that celebrates the individuals who embody each practice in their daily work. Once you “activate” your core values in a visual and creative way, you’ll provide an easier path for everyone to get on board.

At their heart, core values are a hands-on way to help guide everyone through tough decisions and ongoing interactions with teammates, clients, and the community. If you follow the suggestions above, you’ll have the tools for crafting core values that will start conversations, providing toeholds for a larger sense of purpose for individuals and the company as a whole.