Can you remember your company’s Core Values and why does it matter?

October 30, 2022 Leon Mundey

With 11,000 startups launched around the world every hour, many cities have a robust startup ecosystem. What they lack is the infrastructure to turn those startups into scaleups. 

So many businesses tell us they have a set of Core Values, but when we ask the senior team to tell us what they are, we are often met with panicked looks across the boardroom, followed by fumbled attempts to remember what they might be, and someone slyly looking them up on their laptop. So why is this and why does it matter anyway?

According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their HBR article “Building Your Company’s Vision”, core values are “the handful of guiding principles by which a company navigates. They require no external justification…instead of changing its core values, a great company will change its markets—seek out different customers—in order to remain true to its core values.” Pretty significant stuff!

We believe that a company’s core values provide a vital yes/no decision making tool e.g. “does doing X align with our core values…yes or no?”.

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So, given that Core Values can be such a useful tool for businesses, why do so few people know the own core values? The answer is that most core values are compiled as a tick box exercise, often delegated to HR or worst still to the marketing function, and they bare no relation to the reality of the business today.

We have compiled our top 10 worst (and most often used) Core Values:

    1. Honesty
    2. Integrity
    3.  Growth
    4. Innovation
    5. Excellence
    6. Teamwork
    7. Quality
    8. Service
    9. Trust
    10. Tolerance

… recognise any of these? They come up time and again in so many businesses.

Take another look at the list. Are these truly core values or are they simply permission to play? i.e. if you didn’t do these you wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

Are the words open to interpretation and therefore too vague for everyone to get behind? What for example does “Quality” mean? Does EVERYONE in your business always behave with integrity and honesty?

Importantly can you give an example from the last 30 days of someone on your senior team (it starts with you) living each of your core values? If not, then they are probably not true values. Its little wonder then that people are cynical about company values, often seeing them as nothing more than a list of how the company wants to be perceived by the outside world.

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Core values should define your company’s culture. They must reflect the way the company is now, with all its uniqueness and character and they should be written in your own words not in corporate or HR speak. One of our favourite examples of Core Values is Atlassian, the Australian software powerhouse who include “Don’t #@!% the customer” in their values.

Values are tricky to discover and take a while to become proven, and once they are settled into your business, they must be used and remain alive day to day. Use them throughout your recruitment process to find people who are genuinely aligned to your values (ask for examples of when they have lived them in interviews); use them in your performance reviews and as a basis for your rewards and incentive schemes and empower your teams to use them when making decisions, avoiding the need to constantly defer decisions upwards.

The economy may be uncertain, but your core values should be strong and capable of guiding your business through the challenges and opportunities ahead.

At Scaling Up Coaches we help our clients discover their Core Values and effectively bring them to life in their businesses.

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