How to Determine Your Company’s Core Values (and Why They Matter)

Posted on March 23, 2020 by in Business |

How to Determine Your Company’s Core Values (and Why They Matter)

Your brand identity isn’t complete without core values, and your work culture may be muddled as well. When you know your company’s core values, employees can stay focused on the brand while working on various projects. Plus, employees who feel they’re serving a purpose at work are more likely to stay in their current jobs rather than seek employment elsewhere.

A 2016 survey by Imperative found that 73% of people who are purpose-oriented are also satisfied in their jobs. The report also says, “A purpose-oriented professional prioritizes work that matters to them, their company, and the world – over money or advancement.” For their research, purpose-oriented employees were defined as “people who see work as about personal fulfillment and helping other people,” which is in contrast to people who think of work as a means to income or status.

There’s more good news: even though purpose-oriented employees care less about income than they do about personal fulfillment, your bottom line can still increase. The survey also found that 58% of companies with a clear and understood purpose grew by over 10 percent. Furthermore, 42% of companies that were not purpose-driven dropped in revenue.

The takeaway is that defining your core values and making them part of your workplace culture can improve everything, from employee satisfaction and retention to your profit margin. Here’s how to hone in on the values your company stands for.

Choose Your Company’s Core Values

Your company probably has a ton of values, big and small. When choosing your core values, though, limit the list to five, at least for now. Here’s an easy step-by-step for this part of the process:

  • Refer to a list of values, like the one below or this one from Carnegie Mellon.
  • Write down every single value that relates to your brand. Don’t over-think this step, just choose. And if you think of something that’s not on a list, write that down, too.
  • Group similar values together. For example, “honesty” and “truth” can be grouped together, and so can “accountability” and “responsibility.” Nobody’s going to grade this, so just group them in whatever way makes sense to you.
  • Narrow down your list of groups to five. If you have more than five groups, either move values to other groups or cut out groups that include the least important values.
  • For each group, choose the one value that best defines it. Highlight that value.

You now have the top five values that your company should prioritize. Keep that original planning sheet, though. As you define each value, you may find that a different word or phrase better represents your purpose.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are a selection of core values that your company may relate to:

  • Accountability
  • Adventure
  • Boldness
  • Citizenship
  • Commitment to customers
  • Constant improvement
  • Continuous learning
  • Diversity
  • Empowerment
  • Fun
  • Growth
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Loyalty
  • Ownership
  • Passion
  • Poise
  • Quality
  • Respect
  • Self-respect
  • Simplicity
  • Teamwork
  • Trust
  • Wisdom

Define Your Company’s Core Values

Listing your core values isn’t enough. For example, let’s say your company believes in honesty. That’s great, but what does that mean, exactly?

Google does a great job of defining their core values. First, they expand on basic ideas. Instead of saying, “Quality,” they say, “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.” Google words the value in a way that’s reflective of the company – youthful and casual – and they communicate their value of quality in a way that connects more with the user.

They also explain how they practice their values, not just what their values mean. For example, their #4 value is, “Democracy on the web works.” In the explanatory paragraph, they say, “We assess the importance of every web page using more than 200 signals and a variety of techniques, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, which analyzes which sites have been ‘voted’ to be the best sources of information by other pages across the web.” Together with the rest of the description, you know what the value is, why it exists and how it’s practiced.

Write out why each value is important to your business, how you practice that value on a regular basis and specific examples that people can use as proof of your commitment. For this type of writing exercise, free-writing may be best. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write whatever comes to mind. Then, edit what you wrote for clarity and conciseness. Don’t worry about being creative – being clear is more important.

Practice What You Preach

Defining your company’s core values is about so much more than gathering a few buzzwords that you think customers or employees want to hear. You have to know that you can follow through on your promises.

For example, if one of your core values is “continuous learning,” you may communicate that to your customers by showing how your company’s leaders attend quarterly conferences. Internally, though, you don’t allow employees to take advanced training courses or learn about anything above their current level. This type of discrepancy is bad for morale, and if an employee decides to post a Twitter storm about internal failings, it can destroy your reputation with customers.

If you don’t feel you can follow through with the core values you choose, then reword them to be more realistic or focus on other values that you know you can abide by.

Give Examples of How Your Company Applies Its Values

There are a lot of ways to illustrate how your company applies its core values:

  • Post value-related stories to your blog every week or month.
  • Send out customer or employee stories in your newsletter.
  • Post positive feedback you receive from customers on your website or social platforms.
  • When you communicate with customers in a public place online, like Facebook, make sure to follow the standards you’ve set yourself.
  • If you’re interviewed, tell a story instead of just restating your company values.

This Forbes interview with Raymond Joabar of American Express is a great example of showing, not telling, how they prioritize customer service. He talks about the time an American Express merchant who managed a hotel café accidentally sold the display cake, which has harmful chemicals in it, to a customer. The American Express team took all the information they could from charge card records and tracked the customer down before they served the cake.

Coca-Cola incorporates examples right into their values page. Their first value is, “We value diversity and inclusion.” If you click that “Explore” link under the description, you go to a Q and A with the company’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, where she talks about the strategies she uses to create a diverse and inclusive work culture.

company values

Revisit Your Values Every Year

While your core values may not change, your commitment to them and how you practice them can always improve. For a few years, James Clear, an author in the productivity and self-improvement niche, would conduct a personal Integrity Report. He’d ask himself how he was currently following the standards he set for himself and how he can do better in the future. Companies can do the same thing with their brand’s core values. Here’s how:

  • List your core values, then list three questions for each that will help you dig deeper. For example, for James’ “growth” value, one of his questions is, “Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?” Sit down with the team (or just yourself if you’re a solopreneur) and have an open, judgment-free conversation about the questions.
  • For each core value, list your company’s successes. What have you done over the past year that shows your commitment to the value?
  • The last step may be the most difficult, but it’s also the most important. Take each value and determine where you can improve. Create a new, attainable commitment for each value, and consider changing the official description of it to reflect your new goals.

Final Thoughts

By discovering and publicizing your core values, everyone, from entry-level employees to top managers, will know and be able to work toward the purpose and goal of the company. New companies have an edge when it comes to values because they can establish them from the start, and nobody will be able to point to a time when they didn’t practice those values. However, even established companies that haven’t established values or have failed to meet them can undergo a values makeover.

Determining your company’s core values is only one part of branding. For help with the rest, here’s our simple guide to creating a brand identity kit.

Featured Image via bearsky23 / shutterstock.com

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