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Company core values: From words to practice


Business leaders often spend a lot of time and effort creating their mission, vision and company core values.

But what tends to happen next? Business leaders type these words up and send them out to employees – but then they fail to put those values into practice, people forget about the values over time and all that work goes to waste.

If you’re not going to back up words with action, your company core values may become meaningless jargon that no one pays attention to.

Letting this happen could cost your organization in significant ways.

What happens if there’s no clarity among your stakeholders about what your company believes in?

  • There’s no shared consensus about what it means to be a part of your company, the preferred way to interact with others and how to complete tasks. This can influence your workplace culture and employee retention.
  • Managers and employees may start operating according to their own values and priorities, which may not align with yours. This could impact your reputation, productivity and overall quality of work.
  • You may have a difficult time recruiting the caliber of employees you want. It’s important for many job candidates, especially younger Millennials and Generation Z workers, that their company exhibits values that align with theirs.
  • As your company grows, it may be more challenging to assimilate new team members and establish consistency across the organization.

Getting started

Now, you might be wondering:

  • What are company core values?
  • How do I select company core values in the first place?

First, ponder the mission and vision of your organization – your purpose and the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

Then consider your company core values, which are:

  • A set of ethics and principles that govern every action your company takes and every decision your company makes
  • The behaviors you and your team exhibit as you work toward your mission and vision
  • The character traits by which external parties know your company
  • The cornerstones of your company’s foundation and the guideposts that keep you on track – especially when your company is under pressure and facing challenges

Everything you do is tied back to your values.

As you consider what your values are, ask yourself:

  • What you believe in
  • Which values seem to be most commonly shared and expressed across your company
  • The type of people you want to work with now and in the future
  • The sort of environment you want to spend time in for the long term

The values you select should be consistent across your entire company, whether it’s the finance department, sales, customer service or operations.

Additionally, values should be carefully thought out in advance and chosen with intention. They shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to current events. They should be steadfast and unyielding.

Essential company core values to consider

Here’s a list of values that any company can use as a starting point:

  1. Safety. This is a basic promise to everyone that hey’ll work in a secure, supportive environment.
  2. Respect. Every individual is important and priceless. People can disagree, but there’s no reason to judge or condemn.
  3. Pursuit of excellence. Perfectionism may be unrealistic and therefore unattainable, but you can still strive to go above and beyond in all you do and deliver high-quality products or services.
  4. Integrity. Be honest about your work and align your words with your actions.
  5. Creativity. Do your best to stay innovative and look for opportunities to make a difference.
  6. Servant leadership. This means that you, and all of your managers, seek to understand employees’ perspectives and consider how you can help them succeed so they can accomplish company goals. Build a culture of positive influence in which you ascertain employees’ strengths and develop them – not a culture of power, which is really more about instilling fear and anxiety in people.
  7. Responsibility. Your ability to respond to issues or challenges and decide how to best serve customers starts with you. Resist the it’s-someone-else’s-fault mindset.
  8. Determination. You and your team should have a resilient, never-give-up attitude.
  9. Community service. Consider the unique ways in which your organization impacts and benefits the larger community around you. Are there any special areas of interest to you? Which community causes are most relevant to your organization and its mission?

How to put your company core values into action

1. Choose values that you and your leaders not only believe in, but are willing to personally live by.

Model these values from the top of your organization. One of the great things about running a business is that you can choose to create a culture that you believe in and look forward to experiencing. It’s essential to choose values that are realistic, achievable and that you can exhibit on a daily basis.

This way, you can be more consistent in demonstrating these values. The more consistent you are, the more your employees and the people around you will recognize what matters most and will model your behavior.

After all, great leaders don’t just tell people what they value – they demonstrate it through their actions. Some leaders make the mistake of thinking their employees don’t know what they’re doing most of the time. The reality: Employees know what their leaders are doing all the time.

So, if you’re not careful and become lax in exhibiting your values, your values will say one thing – but your employees will see something completely different coming from leadership.

2. Hire employees who share and embody your values.

Your values pave the way for your company to become a best place to work. In turn, this helps your company to grow, attract top talent and expand into new markets.

One of the greatest attributes of having your core values embedded into your day-to-day operations is bestowing a sense of security onto your employees. For them, it’s much easier to refer someone to your workplace when your employees know exactly what the company values and how those values are put into action.

And don’t forget that like-minded people tend to attract others like themselves. When you create a best-place-to-work culture, those people will look for others who will continue to carry on those values.

A workplace that emphasizes certain values, such as integrity and respect, is going to attract a higher-caliber employee – people who care about these values, too.

3. Emphasize values from day one of each employee’s tenure.

Don’t miss the crucial opportunity during employee onboarding to introduce new hires to your company core values and set expectations for their workplace conduct. Their first weeks on the job can get them aligned with your values and set them up for success.

4. Incorporate your values into employee rewards and recognition.

Align employee rewards and recognition with the values you most want to see in your team members. For example, if you want your employees to show respect for others or a capacity for innovation, periodically recognize individuals who demonstrate this quality at an outstanding level.

Promote these rewards and recognitions within your company so that people understand their expectations and know what to work toward.

Use both peer-to-peer and leader recognition.

5. Incorporate values into performance evaluations.

As you review employees’ performance, grade them on how well they demonstrate your company core values. This not only reinforces how seriously your company takes adherence to values, but ties it to important incentives such as:

  • Salary increases
  • Expansion of responsibilities
  • Promotions or movements into new roles

6. Use values as a tool for handling interpersonal conflict.

One of the great things about values is that they help employees arrive at a consensus on how to treat one another. If there’s a dispute between employees, you can always point them back to the core value instead of putting yourself in the undesirable position of being a judge or mediator.

For example, let’s say two of your employees both feel as though they’ve been treated unfairly by the other. Communication has broken down and trust is at an all-time low, but both want to be heard. Simply point them back to your company core values and have them explain to their colleague what it would be like if those values were put into action in their interactions with each other.

You can ask each of them:

  • How would they like to be treated?
  • What does teamwork look like to them?
  • How would they like to be communicated with?

This helps to create a more positive environment, and it gives employees a plan of action to which you can hold them accountable.

7. Discuss company values with your team on an ongoing basis.

Two-way communication is essential to avoid misalignment between what you envision and what employees actually experience.

For example, you may believe that respect for the individual is a core value, but how people perceive the value in practice is vital.

As part of a group exercise or discussion, take any of your company core values and ask employees:

  • What does the value look like to them?
  • What does the value sound like?
  • What does the value feel like?

This gives everyone an opportunity to understand each value according to a common definition, and alert you to potential issues you may have overlooked.

8. Lean on your values during challenges.

The real test for your company values happens when things aren’t going well. Do you stick to your company core values even when you’re not getting the results you want? Even when external pressures weigh you down?

Or do you fall prey to this type of thinking: “This is what we have to do to get ahead. I don’t care how you do it – I want to see these specific results.”

Prioritizing results (the ends) over values (the means) sends a clear message to employees that values don’t matter as long as you’re getting the results you want. If your employees aren’t clear about what you value, and if you prize results over the manner in which people achieve those results, that’s when you’ve compromised the foundation you’ve built.

Questions for leaders to consider during tough times:

  • What causes a company to lose sight of its values?
  • What can we do when that happens?
  • How can we simultaneously meet goals and live by our values?

9. Make your people feel valued.

Treating people well is the foundation of so many basic company values. If you do this, many good results will follow.

Over the long term, people go – and stay – where they feel understood and prioritized. Each person has a set of strengths and gifts that benefit your company. There is nothing worse than an employee doing a job that doesn’t leverage their greatest attributes or having a manager who doesn’t support them.

Summing it all up

Don’t become lax about your company core values, assuming employees will absorb them and take the desired actions on their own. You need to show your people how important values are.

To recap, here’s how to actively put values into practice:

  • Set the example and be consistent.
  • Surround yourself with people who share your values.
  • Treat people well.
  • Engage in two-way dialogue with employees to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Don’t ditch your values at the first sign of a challenge.
  • Incentivize employees to consistently exhibit values.
  • Leverage values to resolve conflicts and challenges.

Want to learn more about developing a positive workplace with strong, ever-present values? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to being a best place to work.