Core Values

16 Feb How to Craft Award-Winning Core Values

Your core values are the bible of the behavior of your business. How you act and how your employees act should be a reflection of these values. What guiding principles, philosophies and virtues do you consistently practice? Think about this and ask yourself if you are trickling these down the chain of command.

Officially defining your corporate core values can be a fun, collaborative activity among you and your employees. It’s a great way to encourage engagement and get to know each other better. Here is how you can do this:

Create your springboard list

This list will be comprised of the answers you receive from your key employees to questions that are meant to act as a catalyst for unearthing your core values. First, jot down your own answers to the following questions, and then add on all the employee responses.

  • Describe our corporate culture.
  • What behaviors and skills should employees have?
  • What type of behavior(s) would you like to see more of?
  • What behavior(s) would you like to see less of?
  • What code of conduct do you practice daily?
  • What code of conduct does the company practice daily?
  • What are the greatest strengths of our company’s behavior?
  • How do you think our customers would answer that?
  • What values do we exercise as a company when faced with challenges?

You can do this in whatever way you are comfortable. For instance, you can have your employees anonymously email their answers to you (that being said, one of your company values is undoubtedly not transparency, if this is the case). You can whiteboard it out; however you feel you’ll get the most creative and honest results. Bring everyone in or just bring in team leads for efficacy.

Now take your aggregated list and come up with a set of categories to group each of the answers in, eliminating redundancies and dupes. Once this is done, look for patterns to tie categories to specific virtues — thematically. Try to get this list as whittled down and refined as possible. Now get your best thinkers, partners, VPs and stakeholders in a room together to work through the list.

The takeaways from this meaningful discussion should include:

  • As CEO, or an invested stakeholder, what was the vision that drove you to found the company or to see potential in the company?
  • Why is your culture unique and what values back this up?
  • What values would you like to see more of practiced consistently?

You’re ready

What should your core values look like? We can tell you what they are not. They are not taglines or slogans. Also, if you are doing research on core values, you’ve probably come across a lot of confusion. Some companies will itemize values in one-word lists, like, for instance: integrity, transparency, creativity, innovation, etc. Then, in the very next article, the author will mandate that you shouldn’t just create a one-word list. Some will present a formula you can use to arrive at your core values that involves using action words as the very first word, and other similar ideas.

Conflicting points of view aside, we don’t think there is really a wrong way to craft your core values. But we do think you can make them more meaningful and memorable the more thoughtful they are. For instance, you can avoid clichés and overused platitudes. Strive for originality of phrase. You may want to break out the heavy artillery and bring in your most creative wordsmith for this. Some companies will bring in a consultant to lead this entire process — not a bad idea if you have the resources for it.

Once you have your core values in place, you’ll want to share the final result with your entire company and instill the virtues in them by making sure the values are always visible and available. Tell the backstory on how it came to be so highly regarded that it made the final cut and then provide examples of how it is being used now and how it can be used in the future. Make use of available media to effectively get the point across – for instance, you could create a quick video clip or a slideshare with the story of these core values and how they align with the company’s vision. Emphasize the importance of adopting these behaviors in the day-to-day and doing internal self-audits to ensure all team members are acting in accordance with these core values.

You can share your vision by developing the core values into a mission statement and other key differentiators that make your business stand out and your offerings unique. It can be part of your core brand messaging and duplicated across print and digital channels. When you are happy with its positioning on your website, and as your company grows, you should attract top talent that is also aligned with these guiding principles, which is a positive perk that typically results in having clearly defined core values.

Not all core values look the same

To illustrate how core values can vary in presentation, we’ll show you two examples from the banking and financial services vertical of two successful global entities:

Example 1: Bank of China

Social Responsibility—We care for and contribute to our communities
Performance—We measure results and reward achievement
Integrity—We uphold and reward achievement
Respect—We cherish every individual
Innovation—We encourage creativity
Teamwork—We work together to succeed

Now take a look at the core values of the Agricultural Bank of China. Note how they have crafted their values to incorporate more emphasis on their impact on outside relationships and they have moved from the list of virtues (with the quick and dirty explanation as seen in the example above) to a more strategized and focused version – neither is wrong, they are just different:

Example 2: Agricultural Bank of China

Our belief: respect for individual, teamwork synergy, proactive thinking and mutual development.
Our efforts: delivery of highly professional, efficient and flexible services and achievement of “win-win” situations with our customers and business partners.
Our target: one of the best overseas strongholds of Agricultural Bank of China and the efficient bridge between China and overseas business.*

As you see, the format can change, but the idea is you want to start by amassing that great list of answers to the aforementioned questions and take all the steps to get to the nuts and bolts that are at the core of your company’s internal and external conduct. You’ll want to uphold this set of guidelines and see that it sticks. One final thought: as you begin your discovery process, keep in mind you’ll want your core values to be timeless – are they realistic and will they be easy to uphold throughout your years and years of success? If so, roll up your sleeves, you’ve got work to do.

*Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China core values from: The Power of a Vision, Mission & Core Values; slides 4, 6

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