Core values can be described as the essence of the company’s identity – the principles, beliefs, or philosophy of values that your company holds. Most companies struggle to find their core values because it is not a simple task to discover what are the unique values that form the foundation of their businesses. Core values are not one-size-fits all; you cannot Google what your competitors believe in and use the same ones. People often pick generic values only for the sake of having them. They do not realize that having unique company core values can be a competitive advantage. For example, Gen Y employees are researching more about a company’s mission statement, culture and core values to see whether their values align with that of the company before deciding to apply for a position.
Many articles will describe core values as beliefs that you will never change no matter what your company goes through. In reality, I think that this guideline is over simplistic. The business world is dynamic. Your product may change according to the current market needs. You may find yourself hiring new employees with different values and beliefs to support the demand for your business. I believe that when you hit these milestones, it is a good time to re-evaluate what your core values are. Some may argue that you cannot change the essence of your company’s identity every time you hit a hurdle. However, a business is like an individual. You grow, you learn from your mistakes, and you discover new things that may alter the way you think. Organizations need to embrace these positive and constructive changes.
In Aligning Action and Values, Jim Collins explains two processes to rediscover your company core values
- Identify and realign your misalignments.
Create new alignments.
To identify misalignments, a good exercise is to ask your employees to write down daily tasks that are not consistent with your company core values. For example, if one of your core values is ownership, you may find out that your employees have to always ask their supervisors for permission to execute a strategy. You should then decide on whether you want to give the freedom to your employees to own the business by making decisions without approval, or to not put “ownership” as one of your core values. Many companies tend to have a long list of core values to start with as they want to portray themselves in the best light possible. However, as their businesses grow, they discover that they cannot deliver on some of those. By taking some time to reflect on the misalignments, you can narrow down your list to the core values that are fundamental to your organization. It also allows you to re-evaluate your current business strategies to see if they are aligned with what your company beliefs are.
For bigger organizations, ask each of your employees to choose 5 people in the organization whom they think represent the company’s core values the best. One thing to remember is that your highest performers are not necessarily the best representatives. Next to the 5 team members they have identified, write down the values that they demonstrate which are aligned to your organization’s core values. Ask the questions: “What is unique about their characteristics?”, “What are the behaviours they exhibit that are aligned with their beliefs”, “What do they bring to the company?”. The answers collected will allow you to discover which values your employees are demonstrating that are at the heart of your organization. Remember that this process is not a popularity contest. Do not just pick the core values that the employees have the most consensus. You need to evaluate what they have chosen and put it in the context of your business and your industry.
If you are a smaller company, you can still do the same exercise by applying the same process to who you want to hire for your company. Ask yourself “What do I want my team to look like?”, “What are the values that I would want each of my employees to demonstrate”. Core values are important regardless of the size of your organization. You want to ensure that as your business grows, you are recruiting people who not only have the technical competencies to perform their job, but who are aligned with organization’s core values. If you are struggling to find what your company’s identity should be, evaluate your own personal core values. Think about what you truly believe in and what values and beliefs make up your own identity.
Determining what are your company core values is a lengthy process. Many companies skip it altogether or they pick from a list of the most common core values successful organizations have. Your core values are part of your competitive advantage. It is an excellent opportunity for you to separate yourself from your competitors by sharing values and beliefs that are unique and fundamental to your business. The process of identifying your misalignments and creating new alignments is also an opportunity to increase employee engagement. By involving your whole organization in finding what your core values should be, you are giving your employees a voice in shaping what your companys identity should look like.
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