Core values get a bad rap sometimes. I know they can be boring, and many are. I think it’s because companies get confused or just don’t know how to apply them. However, here are four factors that will make your core values work:
Factor 1: Core Values Are for Your Employees
First, core values aren’t meant for customers. They’re for your employees. Culture is everything, so you have to determine what great looks like inside your company, not outside. Once you define and get great people, your customers are rewarded. It’s not the other way around. Figure out the three to seven characteristics that define your culture inside.
Factor 2: Core Values Must Come from Leaders
Second, they have to come from the leaders. Sorry if I offended anyone. They have to come from the leadership team. The leadership team is defined by the three to seven leaders at the top of the organization. You don’t do your best work when we get a consensus. You don’t need buy-in from everyone. Leaders must set the standard; then, they need to retain and find them.
Factor 3: Everyone Must “Reek” of Your Core Values
Third, you have to reek of your core values. It’s a bit like eating a jar of garlic. And if you do, you’ll reek of garlic. For example, I was working with a company whose employees were always growing and learning. The company struggled with its core values until everyone decided to own them — to reek of them. That’s also when they decided to make reeking of their core values, a core value.
Author Patrick Lencioni in a Harvard Business Review article — “Make Your Values Mean Something” — says when people don’t reek of their core values, they don’t buy-in. Lencioni notes aspirational (stretch) values and so-called permission-to-play values like respect and integrity are too run-of-the-mill to impact anyone. In a nutshell, don’t try to be something you’re not. People won’t buy it.
Factor 4: You Have to Protect Your Core Values
Acknowledge people who exhibit your core values. Do core-value callouts in group meetings. Privately reprimand those employees who don’t. Dismiss employees who systematically violate your core values.
It doesn’t mean they’re bad people; they just don’t fit your organization. The worst thing you can do is let bad behavior persist. You’ll lose credibility while productivity and morale sink. And I’m sorry to say this; you’ll appear weak.
Yes, I get it, productive people who don’t share your core values are the hardest people to get rid of. However, they’re killing your culture as you read this article. Think of it this way; endure the 36 hours of pain from removing the bad apples, and you’ll see a tremendous change in your company. People will walk up to you and tell you how refreshing it is. Finally, when you do this the right way, your culture will benefit, and so will your customers.