Core values are traits or qualities that are not just worthwhile, they represent an individual's or an organization's highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and core, fundamental driving forces. They are the heart of what your organization and its employees stand for in the world.
Core values are intrinsic to form the vision of your organization that you present to the world outside of your organization. Your core values are fundamental to attracting and retaining the best, most contributing employees.
Core values define what your organization believes and how you want your organization resonating with and appealing to employees and the external world. The core values should be so integrated with your employees and their belief systems and actions that clients, customers, and vendors see the values in action.
For example, the heart and core value of successful small to mid-sized companies is evident in how they serve customers. When customers tell the company that they feel cherished by the business, you know that your employees are living your core value of extraordinary customer care and service.
Core values are also known as guiding principles because they form a solid core of who you are, what you believe, and who you are and want to be going forward.
Core Values Form the Foundation of Your Organization
Values form the foundation for everything that happens in your workplace. The core values of the employees in your workplace, along with their experiences, upbringing, and so on, meld together to form your corporate culture.
The core values of the founder of an organization permeate the workplace. Their core values are powerful shapers of the organization's culture.
The core values of your senior leaders are also important in the development of your culture. The reason? These executive leaders have a great deal of power in your organization to set the direction and define daily actions. The executive leaders and the managers who report to them set the tone in establishing the quality of the work environment for people.
This work environment reflects the core values of all employees, but the core values of senior leaders who walk their talk are overreaching. Additionally, your leaders and managers have selected employees who they believe to have congruent core values and fit your workplace culture.
How to Identify Your Core Values
Your goal, when you identify the core values of your organization, is to identify the key core values, not a laundry list of cookie-cutter values that you copied from another organization's list of core values. An organization's employees would have a hard time living any more than 10-12 core values (at a maximum). Four to six is better and easier to hold front and center in everything you do.
Core values are made accessible by translating them into value statements. Value statements are grounded in values and define how people want to behave with each other in the organization. They are statements about how the organization will value customers, suppliers, and the internal community.
Develop Value Statements From Your Core Values
Value statements describe actions that are the living enactment of the fundamental core values held by most individuals within the organization. For example, a nursing group of employees identified caring service as one of their core values. When they wrote their value statements, one was, "We will respond to all customer calls within one minute." Another value statement was, "No patient shall ever run out of medication from the drip line."
Values play a defining role in employee motivation and morale. An organization that has identified and examined the values by which employees want to live is a workplace with motivation potential. Values such as integrity, empowerment, perseverance, equality, self-discipline, and accountability, when truly integrated within the culture of the organization, are powerful motivators.
They become the compass that the organization uses to select staff members, reward and recognize employee performance, promote employees to more senior roles, and guide interpersonal interaction among staff members.
5 Examples of the Real World Impact of Core Values
If you work in an organization that values empowerment, for example, you are unafraid to take thoughtful risks. You are likely to identify and solve problems. You are comfortable making decisions without a supervisor looking over your shoulder.
Employees who thrive in this empowered environment will do well. If you like waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you will fail if empowerment is the expectation and value of your organization.
In a second example, if you work in an organization that values transparency, you can expect to know what is happening across the company. You will know and understand the goals, direction, decisions, financial statements, successes, and failures. You will hear about client and customer success stories and employee contributions.
Employees who don't want all of this information may not fit the organization's culture or meet the expectation that, if they have the information, they will use it.
In a third example, if integrity is valued in your organization, employees who believe in being honest, open, and truthful will thrive while others who want to play politics, hide mistakes, and lie will not thrive.
In fact, they may find that they don't fit in with the culture of the organization. They may find themselves unemployed because of the lack of compatibility with an important organization value.
In a fourth example, if your organization values a high level of teamwork, they will ask employees to work in teams, develop products by teams, and think of departments as teams. Additionally, because the organization values relationships and a cohesive approach to working together with employees, it will sponsor employee activities and events for employees and for employees and their families.
This approach fosters even closer relationships among employees. However, if you're a more introverted person who wants to work alone in your cubicle, you are not likely a good fit for this work environment.
Finally, a work culture that values responsibility and accountability must hire employees who are willing to be responsible for their output and outcomes. It doesn't need people who make excuses, finger point, and fail to hold each other accountable. It needs people who are willing to call coworkers out for such problems as missing deadlines, coming unprepared to meetings, or spreading misery and negativity.
A person who is unwilling to demonstrate responsibility will demotivate the employees who do. This leads to a vicious cycle. Nothing hurts employee motivation more than the perception that some employees are not doing their jobs and that management is not addressing the problem.
So, to keep employee motivation intact and increasing, employers must deal with their problem employees up to and through employment termination. And, the employer will need to take disciplinary action quickly to prevent the non-performance from impacting the morale of the organization's good employees.
The Potential Downside to Identifying Values
The downside to identifying values occurs when an organization's senior leaders claim to hold certain values and then behave in ways that are contradictory to their stated values. In these workplaces, values deflate motivation because employees don’t trust their leaders’ words.
Remember that employees are like radar machines watching everything you do, listening to everything you say, and watching your interaction with customers and their coworkers. They see your values in action every day at work—or they do not.
The Bottom Line
Employees want to work in a workplace that shares their values. They want their overall work culture to promote being a part of a whole system that is much bigger than themselves. They experience motivation and engagement when their workplace exhibits their most important core values. Never underestimate the power of core values in creating a motivating work environment—or not. Your choice.