Use this guide to learn how to identify core values for your organization and use them to your advantage. You’ll also find a downloadable worksheet to help you and your staff identify core values.
Core values have become a powerful tool for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. While they can be an effective way to bolster your company’s brand, they’re more valuable when it comes to creating internal unity and setting expectations for your employees.
Because of the huge difference they can make in a company’s culture and performance, every organization should commit to a set of core values. If you’re ready to do so, here’s a guide on how to identify core values for your organization (and use them to your advantage). You’ll also find a downloadable worksheet to help you and your staff identify core values.
Before we dive in, we’ll start from square one: what are core values? Understanding the meaning will guide you toward choosing the kinds of values that will help your company succeed.
Core values are tenets that your company finds foundational to everything you do – how you interact with associates, how you communicate with customers, and even how you make hiring decisions.
And each one of them should count. If it’s a no-brainer in your organization to treat others with kindness, then “Respect” shouldn’t be a core value. Instead, choose a value that will challenge your organization to improve.
Core values provide clarity to the organization – they give employees a set of expectations and act as a guide for decision making. They help managers navigate behavioral issues. And, when you have everyone acting in accordance to a set of behaviors, it becomes much easier to work toward a singular goal.
It’s important to organize a companywide effort to determine a representative set of core values. No matter how many employees you have, you can scale the process to work for your organization.
1. Determine who will be included.
For the most effective results, make it a participative process and include people from all areas of the organization. If you’re a smaller company, invite everyone to join in. For larger companies, use focus groups to achieve representation instead.
While your core values will mainly come from the larger group, you’ll want to gather a small committee to lead the charge, make final decisions, and implement an action plan for socializing your core values. If possible, try to include leadership in the committee (this will go a long way with getting companywide buy-in).
2. Host a workshop.
Invite employees to a workshop to discuss their core value ideas. To keep it under an hour, ask attendees to do some homework prior to the workshop. We’ve provided an Identifying Core Values worksheet that you can download and send to your employees to gather their ideas. Each person should come up with a list of behaviors that they believe represent what it means to work for your company.
Here are the prompts that we included on the Identifying Core Values worksheet:
During the workshop, have each employee share their list of values and their definition of what each value means. As you go around the room, take note of any emerging themes. You should start to hear repetition and similar ideas.
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3. Choose 4–6 core values.
After the workshop, your committee will choose a set of core values based on the ideas shared by employees. Aggregate four to six words or phrases that resonated most with your team members and accurately depict how your company strives to operate. It’s important to arrive at a common definition for each value, since different words can mean something different to every person. Providing behavioral examples is also a great way for your employees to understand how your values can “come to life.”
If your employees’ feedback doesn’t seem to have common ground, you may have a larger cultural issue at hand. However, determining a set of core values could be a step in the right direction for getting your organization on the same page.
If you want your core values to benefit your organization, you’ll need to get your employees familiar with them and work toward integrating them into company culture.
1. Share them.
After you announce your core values to your organization, put them on posters where your employees will see them on a regular basis (e.g. your lobby, meeting rooms, and common areas). Include them in your onboarding materials and internal communications and encourage leaders to use them when they address their teams.
You should also post them on your company’s website and social media pages. The more you share, the more likely you are to achieve.
2. Encourage employees to engage with them.
Come up with creative ways to drum up conversation about your core values and incentivize your employees to follow them.
For example, highlight one of your new core values each month and ask employees to discuss them in team meetings. Or, develop a program that allows your employees to recognize each other for demonstrating core values. Incentivize the program by giving a prize to whoever receives the most recognition.
When it comes to socialization, leadership buy-in is key. If your leaders aren’t demonstrating your core values, your employees aren’t going to take them seriously – they’ll immediately lose their impact and your leaders will lose credibility. A good way to ensure your leaders are all in is to include them in the process of identifying core values for your company.
3. Introduce them into your performance management tool.
As you know, management isn’t just about evaluating technical skills; it’s also about addressing behavioral challenges. Core values can be a powerful tool for your managers to assess performance (and for your employees to assess themselves) on a more subjective level. Educate your managers on what it means to demonstrate each core value and introduce a way for them to evaluate their employees based on these expectations.
Yes, but you need to have a really good reason. For example, over time you may find that one of your values is no longer aspirational (i.e. your employees consider it second nature). In that case, consider retiring it and introducing a new one. Or, if your company is undergoing a major cultural shift, you may benefit from indoctrinating a fresh set of values and expectations for your employees. However, if you’re changing your core values often, you risk their credibility and lose engagement.
Core values have the potential to solidify a behavioral code among your employees and drive the success of your company. Now that you know how to identify core values for your organization, you can begin integrating them into your culture, creating opportunities for your employees to engage and connect with them, and teaching your managers how to use them as an asset. Don’t forget we’ve included a downloadable Identifying Core Values worksheet to help your associates brainstorm and refine their ideas.