Why Core Values Matter (And How To Get Your Team Excited About Them)
By Brent Gleeson
Date Published: Mar 30, 2021
Sure, all organizational leaders understand the importance of core values - the guiding light that bonds a team with a shared sense of purpose for achieving common goals. But defining values is one thing. Deeply ingraining them into the culture for driving desired business outcomes is vastly different.
Simply put, organizational culture is the collective result of how people on the team think and behave, their shared values and how they react to internal and external stimuli. A company culture – and its corresponding set of guiding principles (core values) - are either decisively created and nurtured from the very beginning or - more typically - develop haphazardly over time through the beliefs and experiences of those on the team.
Leaders and managers must lean on the values of the organization to drive performance, especially during times of change. An organization's values should be the bedrock of why the company exists, how behavioral norms are defined, and how decisions are made in order to achieve goals and fulfill the vision. They must be authentic and relatively specific, so they actually resonate with the team.
This is just as true for an organization as it is in peoples’ personal lives. In fact, 63 percent of consumers say they want to buy products and services from companies that have a purpose that resonates with their values and belief systems. They will even go out of their way to avoid companies that don’t mesh with what they believe – which goes to show that a company’s values have both internal and external implications.
Why Core Values Matter
For an organization’s core values to really matter, it goes far beyond a simple list of guiding principles. Ideally, they need to authentically define how you and your team members (1) operate, (2) behave, and (3) interact on a day-to-day basis. They should be supported by accountability mechanisms so they can be easily integrated into performance management systems.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve Grau, founder and CEO of Royal Ambulance, whose company was recently awarded as one of Glassdoor’s 2021 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work For. Not an easy accomplishment, I can assure you.
He explained, “Your values and mission are what ultimately drive your team’s performance. When your core values are truly ingrained in your way of doing business, every decision will be made with those values in mind. This helps align every decision with your brand and what it hopes to accomplish. It creates accountability to yourself and others - and customers will see that in every interaction you have with them.”
And the careful integration of values with the strategy, mission, and goals have a direct and measurable impact on scalability and profit. In fact, one study found that brands with a high sense of purpose increased in value by 175 percent over a 12-year period — well above a comparable 86 percent median growth rate.
Sounds great right? But never underestimate that fact that values-based leadership and decision making isn’t always easy when it comes to people choices, customer decisions, and even revenue generating activities.
Defining Strong Values
It’s easy to come up with a list of generic corporate-sounding values, like “customer service” or “environmental impact.” But all too often, the vague nature of these statements makes them essentially meaningless to the organization and the people in it.
In my new bestselling book, Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to An Extraordinary Life, I emphasize the importance of living by a well-defined set of values. As Elvis Presley once said, “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”
Think about the things you value in your personal life. If prioritizing your family is one of your core values, you’re not just going to say “family” and leave it at that. You’re going to be specific and intentional in turning that value into action, whether by taking care of certain chores around the house or scheduling monthly daddy-daughter dates. Values carry little weight unless they are tied to measurable activities and behaviors.
Specificity is also key to honing in on strong, actionable values for your business. It’s one thing to say customer service is a core value. It’s another to say - in Royal Ambulance’s case, for example - that you will ease a medical patient’s anxiety by providing personalized attention and compassionate care.
The specifics guide actions and initiatives that are intentional in how they support the organization’s purpose.
How To Drive Team Buy-In To Your Values
As I previously mentioned, the core values should be the foundation of your company culture — but for that to happen, the entire team (or more realistically, the majority) needs to connect with them. One of the most important burdens of command as a leader is to systematically and consistently set the tone for making stated values a part of everyday life in the company. Both on and off the battlefield, so to speak.
Reminding team members of core values in meetings and conversations is a start. But living by the core values yourself will make these reminders much more impactful. And in a high-performance team, this responsibility doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of leaders, but everyone.
One of the best ways to motivate your team to live the values is to recognize positive examples of employees who have demonstrated them. Reward the desired behavior, and you’ll typically get more of it. Publicly sharing ways that team members have put core values into action will motivate the rest of your employees to do the same – which is why rewards and recognition programs must be based on much more than subject matter expertise and goal-achievement.
The Talent Component
Of course, part of ensuring buy-in from your team is making sure you hire the right people in the first place. Buy-in begins at the talent acquisition and on-boarding stage. In my experience, when we hire and promote purely based on “performance” – but those who don’t align with the culture - it never turns our well, costing valuable time, energy, emotion, and resources.
While certain values and beliefs held by individuals may change over time, your business’s core values should be strong and consistent. They should reflect principles that stand the test of time, even when the marketplace undergoes a dramatic shift. By staying true to your core values and getting your entire team to buy in to these concepts, you will build a powerful presence in your industry, navigate change more successfully, and maybe even dominate your competition.
So don’t let the values be an afterthought!
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