Most companies implement core values for their business, but few have ever experienced the anticipated positive and lasting impact.

When asked, people can’t remember their company’s core values, and have to physically look them up. That’s a clear indication that the core values are not alive, and neither are they actively lived out.

They’re just empty, meaningless words which have been framed and stuck up on a wall somewhere in the office, showing that this particular organisational task has been executed. It’s extremely sad to see this, but you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s more the norm than the exception. If you don’t want to take my word for it, the Gallup Survey in 2007 revealed that 27% of employees believe in an organisation’s values, and only 23% apply them in their daily work tasks. This means that employees only align 27% of their decisions with their company’s core values, and the remaining 73% on their own personal values, gut feelings, or common sense. I’m not sure how you feel about that, but as a business owner I think that’s a high risk factor.

What are personal core values?

To make sure that we all understand what core values are and how they come about, I’m going to take some time to explain them. Values are things in our life that we find important, and those that we want to invest time and energy in pursuing because they provide us with meaning and fulfilment. Values are our internal guiding compass that show us what is morally right, good, important, and appreciated, thus supporting us to make decisions.

Living by your values means being authentic and true to yourself, and not behaving like you think you ought to be. It’s the person who freely chooses their values based on what’s significant to them, as well as the needs that ought to be fulfilled.

Practically speaking, though, our values can never be fulfilled or attained, and, as such, values serve as intrinsic motivators that shift our behaviour towards continuous striving. Our core values develop during our lifetime, and change depending on what’s significant, important, and meaningful to us at that particular time. They’re formed through a combination of what we value in our life, as well as through past life experiences. Most of us are aware of what gives us value, and understand that the lack of it causes emotional, physical, and cognitive distress. When you live your life according to your core values, you’ll feel fulfilled, authentic and satisfied; your life will feel as if it is in true harmony

What are organisational core values?

Organisational core values are no different to personal values; however they develop differently, and have distinct objectives. In an organisation, it is customary for the executive leaders to design the mission and vision statement which explains why the company exists, and what fits unique offering is. Based on these two things, the core values are designed to show how decisions will be made, as well as how people are expected to behave towards their colleagues, customers, and when completing work tasks.

Organisational core values are timeless, and apply in any economic situation as well as in any business cycle, be it a growth or a downsizing one. Think about it for a moment; you don’t change your personal values based on your life circumstances. If a situation causes you distress, you do your best to change it.

How organisational core values can be your competitive advantage

In any company, core values are the personality, the philosophy, the beliefs, and the way people behave internally. It really is about the interior heartbeat, and the culture. In today’s times, potential employees will go through your values on your website and establish whether there is value congruency between your and their personal values. They’ll research reviews written by your customers and how you responded to them. But it doesn’t stop there! A potential new recruit will do their own analysis of your organisational core values when they come for their interview. Also, your existing and potential customers will do the same thing; they’ll establish whether your values align with theirs.

The underlying reason is that our core values signal to others how we’re likely to behave, act, and make decisions; establishing if we’re reliable and trustworthy. This factor predicts future behaviour, and minimises upcoming disappointments, risks, and financial losses. Your core values are alive inside and outside your company, and with continuous focus and attention, you can implement something fairly easily so that it’s easy to manage and control it to your competitive advantage.

Ensuring that core values are alive and honoured on a daily basis are signs of a healthy company. Don’t be misled by financially successful companies who display their technical advantages, but don’t mention their human inner core values. These companies will rely heavily on procedures and processes that appear impressive from the outside, but result in bureaucratic red tape and an internal culture that’s stressful, toxic, and laden with conflict. I’m sure you’ve had the pleasure of dealing with this kind of company – they leave you feeling empty and at as a customer because there’s no customer care or connection.

The values best practice

If you want to give your organisational values an overhaul and make sure that they come alive, and aren’t just empty words hanging over the reception area, here are ve quick and easy ways to get started.

  1. Ensure that your values are determined by your employees and not your executive leadership team. As paradoxical as it may sound, staff live them every day and they want to have the autonomy to set and understand them.
  2. Values are behaviours that result in actions, and actions can be measured. Measure your values and establish which ones are being upheld all the time, which ones aren’t, and start to tweak them.
  3. Honouring and living organisational core values applies to everybody. The leadership team especially has to proactively model and demonstrate the core values all the time.
  4. People remember stories, so the best way to reiterate and emphasise core values is through sharing stories where a person in a team lived out a particular value. People will identify with the behaviour – perhaps they even witnessed it – and so they’ll remember it and will do their best to behave like that themselves.
  5. Reduce or minimise value incongruence by ensuring that your people’s personal values align as much as possible with the company’s. Have one-on-one conversations with people where you sense incongruence. Value incongruence is a key reason for people to leave companies, because they can no longer tolerate the working environment, the decisions made, and the ethics. This is always more expensive, both nancially and productivity-wise, than you assume.

In closing

Organisational values have – unjustifiably – received a bad name, not by their doing but ours. As leaders we haven’t given values enough attention, and simply hope that, once named, they’ll form themselves.

Start today to take one of your core values and conduct a proper analysis or survey and establish whether it’s relevant to attaining the mission and vision statement. Is it actively lived out, is it clearly defined, and does everybody know how to behave?

As always, if you’d like us to perform this analysis for you, please contact me.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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