The term “Core Values” has been so overused that it has almost become meaningless. But the reality is that a handful of timeless, fundamental principles of behavior tell everyone in your company what it means to be part of the organization. These principles are the foundation of your company’s culture – the shared understanding of who we are as a group of human beings, and what’s most important to us.
Take a look at the following set of Core Values, which come from a wildly successful San Francisco-based maker of ‘green’ cleaning products called Method.
- Keep Method weird.
- What would MacGyver do?
- Innovate, don’t imitate.
- Collaborate like crazy.
If you’re like me, as soon as you read them, you knew immediately whether you would fit in this company or not. And if you went to work there, you would have clear guideposts by which to steer every day.
Great Core Values (which Method’s certainly are) help everyone know what binds them together as people. They usually tell us nothing about the industry the company is in. They set the most important standards for how people are expected to operate in the company. If you get your Core Values right, they will attract the right people to the company and repel people who aren’t a good fit. Additionally, they will help your people make the right decision when things are unclear.
Who wouldn’t want that? The question is how to make it happen. To make your culture come alive, follow these four simple (but not easy!) steps:
1) Figure out what your real core values are — the principles of behavior that will get you fired if you violate them. They already exist in your business – you just need to uncover them.
2) Get rid of the motherhood, the apple, pie and the aspiration. Values like honesty and integrity are table stakes. You don’t need to articulate them because every company shares them. Likewise, claiming values that you wish your company had, but that it doesn’t have today, will tell your people that you are not sincere. People can smell the lack of authenticity a mile away. It disengages and even alienates them. Make sure your values are both differentiating and real.
3) Communicate your Core Values clearly, consistently, and often. Use every opportunity to ensure that everyone knows what they are and understands what they mean. The best way to do this is by telling stories about situations in which someone did a great job living a particular value.
4) Make your Core Values the first thing that you consider in every people decision you make – hiring, firing, promoting, rewarding, and recognition.
The benefits of “Getting your culture right” are enormous. Your people will be more engaged and will naturally row in the same direction. In turn, this means that the amount of managing you do will decrease. Your people will trust each other more, which will lead to faster, better decisions. Those decisions will be focused on what’s best for the company, not on politics and hidden agendas.
These four steps are simple. That doesn’t make them easy. But if you follow them, I promise that your culture will become clearer and stronger, and soon will be a powerful asset that propels your company toward the achievement of your dreams.
Dan Wallace is a founding partner of Tailwind Discovery Group, LLC. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, Dan has served as a strategy consultant, investment banker, and as a counselor and adviser to many business owners. He also has successfully run three businesses. He helps business owners and leadership teams put in place tools and processes that create a solid foundation for effective leadership, management and success.