The biggest mistake most leaders and companies make is they mimic the core values that their competitors have or they define core values they think their clients and employees want. These artificial values then hold no substance. For example, a company might define transparency and communication as two of its core values but keep employees out of the loop of what’s going on internally. Additionally, when interviewing, candidates might ask questions about the company such as salary expectations only to find the company avoids or ignores the question. The consequences of this are that candidates and employees becoming increasingly frustrated and lose trust in the employer. This results in poor online reviews through Glassdoor or Indeed as well as discouraging others to apply through their frustrated complaints.

Employees look to you as their role model. As a leader, you’re the one who sets the example for them. If company core values are to be taken seriously, they must be applied to everyone at all levels and be at the core of every decision. Otherwise, your culture will turn toxic and you risk destroying your reputation or becoming the next Enron. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, co-founded a company called LinkExchange, which was later sold to Microsoft. Hsieh said LinkExchange lacked core values or any strategy for the culture, therefore, he lost all motivation to show up to his own company because the culture had gotten out of control and wasn’t at all what he wanted. This is a prime example of why defining a set of core values is crucial as they act as the guardrail for everything you do and every decision you make. 

If you’re struggling to determine what your core values are, this blog post will walk you through the process.

Brainstorm To Gain Clarity

Without core values, you have no boundaries. A lack of boundaries means everyone does their own thing and it leads to a lot of unethical decisions and toxic cultures. To avoid this, take the time to reflect on your personal values, your business’s purpose and what the vision of the company is. If you have employees already, which ones are your star performers? What characteristics do they have that make them stand out?

Some examples of my core values are communication, integrity, transparency and impact. While these aren’t all of them, I want to share a bit more about how they tie into my business and my personal life.

Communication: I’m always talking about the importance of communication in not only my life but my personal and professional relationships. I firmly believe communication is at the center of everything we do. Regardless if it’s verbal or non-verbal.

Integrity: I’m not afraid to turn down people who aren’t aligned with my values and I’m okay with losing out on opportunities and relationships that would require me to bend my values in some way. I believe in acting with integrity and doing what’s right even if it means that the outcome isn’t that beautiful. You are the company you keep and I expect this same mindset with my clients, friends and my team.

Transparency: I believe in sharing the ups and downs of my journey. While my openness might repel some, it has attracted the right ones. I’m a domestic violence survivor turned mentor, a travel addict, a workplace bullying victim turned activist and so much more. I’m human and I believe sharing about the struggles I face with a grandparent who has dementia or the stresses I go through helps people understand that my life isn’t perfect but I’m always growing and figuring out a solution.

Storytelling is an essential ingredient in business today. When you’re clear and genuine with what your core values are, it makes it easier to tell your story and invite others on your journey. The more authentic you are, regardless of how imperfect it is, the more relatable you are. People invest in people that are like them or they aspire to be like. Remain true to who you are and people will come. Trust me.

Actively Involve Others

Getting the buy-in of your employees is crucial. By engaging them in the process, employees can offer their perspective and experience of what they believe is or should be the core values of the company. They see and experience things those in upper management don’t. Furthermore, when employees are hands-on, they feel a sense of purpose and are more likely to identify with getting onboard in living out the values.

Living out core values is a daily process that takes work. Having the support of employees, who are aligned with those values, makes it easier. Whereas, trying to work against them makes it more challenging. Truly get everyone involved by asking for feedback on sample behaviors and working with employees to thoroughly define each core value to its entirety so there’s little to no grey area. Zappos’ core values are a great reference point, not to copy, but to look to for inspiration in terms of expanding on each individual value.

Embed In Every Decision, Process And Discussion

The moment leaders start straying or overlooking a core value is when the culture of the company becomes doomed. A strong set of core values repels the wrong people and behaviors and attracts the right ones. Sometimes it requires difficult conversations or turning down opportunities. In the short term, it might be tempting, especially for struggling companies, to say “just this once”, but “just this once” is never a one-time thing.

Revamp your employee handbook to include the core values as well as all the new hire, training and onboarding materials. When recruiting candidates, make sure to design the job description, application and interview process around the core values to weed out those who aren’t a fit. Oftentimes, hiring managers are blinded by a candidate’s experience and overlook their personal values. This almost always results in a poor hire due to misaligned values. Likewise, if an employee, even at an executive level is violating a core value, they deserve the same consequences as if an entry-level employee were violating them. There is no special treatment. If a core value is broken, that person is showing they’re not aligned with the culture of the company.

Be Loud And Proud

There’s no such thing as over-communicating when it comes to the values of a company. Again, the goal is to repel those who aren’t aligned and attract the ones who are. Share them in your marketing, social media, when recruiting new people, training tenured ones and at town hall events. In addition, share them in your newsletters, bring them up in meetings and performance reviews, post them on your website and across all digital platforms. Be loud and be proud!

I walk my clients through on how to discover and define their core values so there’s no room for misrepresentation. From there, I help them infuse their core values into everything they do. Additionally, I help HR create marketing strategies so they can actively promote their culture and demonstrate who they are. This helps attract the best talent that is fully aligned with the values while turning off candidates that don’t relate to their values at all. Want to learn more? Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation call