It can be easy to see core values as feel-good corporate jargon that has little impact on a business’s bottom line or daily operations, but the truth is, defining and sticking to corporate core values can be one of the most important factors in a business’s long term success. In this post, we’ll break down why establishing core values is so important and offer some tips for defining and implementing core values in your business.
Why Does A Business Need Core Values?
Jay Steinfeld, the former CEO and founder of blinds.com is such a believer in core values that he wrote a book about them: Lead From The Core: The 4 Principles For Profit And Prosperity.
Jay points out that “… a core value helps define the attributes and approach to how you will reach your goals. Core values are what your company culture is based on and what helps create synergy across your company.”
1) Personal Alignment
Every person you encounter in life is guided by a set of values whether they have clearly defined them or not. When you start a business, it’s important that your business is a natural extension of your personal core values. If your business doesn’t align with your personal core values as a business owner and leader, then it will be difficult to impossible to run that business in a way that is sustainable, enjoyable, and profitable long term.
Therefore, establishing core values early on that you identify with will help you to build a business that you are proud of and passionate about long term.
As a business grows and becomes more than a one person show, having defined core values will allow a business owner to know when the business is drifting away from its core values, and help hire people that align with the company’s core values.
If you can articulate your company’s core values to potential hires and gauge their interest and alignment with those core values, it will help your business hire the right people, and reduce turnover from hiring people that don’t have the same mindset as the business.
If employees have set core values to guide them in uncertain situations, it can take the guesswork out of what to do and help them to make better decisions, eliminating the need to micromanage every activity so that you can trust your employees to handle situations the same way that you would.
4) Better Feedback and Accountability
When a business has defined core values that everyone in the company is aware of, it makes reviewing employees performance and providing constructive criticism much easier.
For example, at the Sign Brothers one of our core values is “Help your fellow man.” If one employee in the business is working on a project and needs help, and a second employee ignores them saying something to the effect of “that’s not my concern.” It’s easier to point out that their behavior doesn’t align with our core value, than to say that we simply want them to do more, or help more because we personally value that. It doesn’t take much thought to see the connection between a generalized core value and a specific situation and apply that feedback appropriately in future situations.
If there is no defined company core values, it’s easy to take feedback as a conflict between two people’s personal values. An employee might think or say something like “of course YOU would do that because you’re the owner” instead of understanding their role in implementing a company-wide value system.
This is not only helpful in situations where employees fall short, but also when employees go above and beyond: recognizing and rewarding an employee’s ability to exemplify a company value is a great way to increase morale, set an example to other employees, and keep your company aligned.
Here’s Sign Brothers cofounder Justin Seibert’s perspective on how defining company values has helped the business:
“For the first 7 years we were in business, our culture was a product of the people that we hired. The dynamics shifted as personalities came and went. We established our core values in 2016 as a way to intentionally create the culture and environment that we wanted The Sign Brothers to embody. That is when everything changed! We began using our core values during the hiring process to find people that aligned with the type of culture we were trying to create. Each employee is expected to memorize the values and is reviewed on their alignment to the values twice per year. I’ve always said,’If you can’t tell me what the core values are, then how can you possibly know if you align with them?’”
How To Define Core Values
1) Take Inventory
In order to define effective core values, you need to understand your personal values well and why you started your business. If you are the only person in your business, take some time to reflect on your goals and personal values. If you aren’t sure you’re being honest with yourself, run your thoughts by someone who knows you well and that you respect and trust.
If you have other people in the business already, make sure to include your other decision makers in the process of creating core values. If your leadership isn’t bought into your core values, then they aren’t company core values, just personal core values.
2) Keep It Simple
Once you’ve taken time to explore and write down your personal values and business goals, it’s time to consolidate them into core values. Can you put your thoughts into 1-7 actionable values? Shoot to create values that can be summed up in one simple word or phrase.
Implementation: make them visible
Core values are easy to create and forget. Once core values are defined, it’s important to make sure everyone in the company knows what they are, buys into them, and that you are using them to give employees constructive feedback and positive reinforcement. An easy way to make them unforgettable to your team & your clients: create a visual display that highlights each core value. Prominent placement in your workspace will reiterate to your team the importance of these values.
Here’s more from Justin on implementing core values effectively:
“Having core values is important, but it only matters if you put them into practice and celebrate alignment. We look for opportunities each month to recognize examples of our people demonstrating our values. In front of the whole company, we share details of the person’s behavior and reward them with a prize. It may not sound like much, but regularly acknowledging these behaviors has really reinforced their importance and our culture is strong and thriving as a result.”
These are a few of the ways that defined core values can help your business become more efficient and effective. In following posts, we will be discussing Sign Brothers’ core values, where they come from, and how they affect our day-to-day operations.