Streetwise: The importance of Core Values

January 29, 2021

From our Friends at Eure Consulting:

The following thoughts are not about politics. They’re not about whether you are a conservative or a liberal or in the middle. I write to draw attention to the importance of creating alignment in your business with core values. Two great examples of this come from current President Biden and former President Trump.

President Biden recently said during an interview that there will be no room for disrespect on his team. Anyone that shows disrespect to someone else “will be fired on the spot.

President Trump was also willing to fire people for a lack of respect. In fact, he removed many people from his administration for their disrespect over the course of his four years in office. The difference is that Mr. Trump only ever cared if the disrespect was shown toward him.

And while the two don’t share much in common, they are both willing to remove people from their team that don’t fit the core values they hold. In both cases, the rules are clear: This is how we operate. And if you can’t get on board with that, then you need to leave.

These are examples of core values that are well defined and lived.

Core values are a company’s operating system. They define the way that you do the work you do. They let your employees know what sort of conduct you expect from them. And they lay out what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

This level of clarity serves to align your company at a level that nothing else can. Core values are the most important aspect of any company’s culture. They are the base upon which entire companies are built. Whether you’re aware of it or not, core values are there.

This can be the dark side of core values.

If you as the owner are not intentional about defining core values, your company will develop accidental core values. Values that you didn’t mean to create, but that took root in the absence of any other clearly defined values.

For instance, many small companies have accidentally developed the core value of waiting for approval. Often leaders of small companies like to control everything that happens within that company. They worry about mistakes and fearful of missteps (Not uncommon in smaller companies that are still struggling to make a profit, any misstep could be catastrophic). But, with this approach, the CEO unintentionally trains his staff to come to them for approval on every little thing. Which creates a bottleneck and makes progress impossible. This core value, though unintentional, has a very real impact on the day-to-day operation of the company and can become a huge detriment to growth if not identified and addressed.

Accidental core values are pretty common, especially in small businesses when the owner is just focused on keeping the lights on and making payroll. But, as the example above points out, they can put a real damper on your company’s growth.

To avoid the pitfalls of accidental core values, you should define your core values from the start. This important step becomes even more critical as your company grows.

When you’re small, you can share your company’s core values through osmosis. You as the founder convey them through direct contact – through the things you say and especially in the things you do and the way that you do them. You can lead by example because you’re interacting with everyone on a regular basis. However, as your company grows, the sharing of core values needs to be more deliberate and intentional.

Even if you’ve taken the time to clearly define your core values, if you do not take the time to clearly share them across the company, they’ll get forgotten and left behind.

Core values are not something you type up, share once in a company-wide email, and then forget about. They need to be lived every day by every employee. This is often where companies lose their way and run aground.

The first mistake companies make is not defining their core values, the second is not living them. Your company should be hiring, firing, rewarding, and reprimanding based on your core values.

Every potential employee should be evaluated on their match to core values early on in the hiring process. That way you don’t fall in love with a candidate because of their skills or expertise only to find out they aren’t the right fit. That’s when hiring mistakes get made.

And if you do make a hiring mistake, you need to be willing to admit your error and correct the situation quickly.

President Biden is willing to fire people for acting against one of his administration’s core values. You need to be prepared to do the same. Employees that are not a match to your company’s core values will inevitably do more harm than good. They have an uncanny ability to bring down the morale of those around them and to undermine the sense of camaraderie at your company.

Hire slow, fire fast.

Take your time to ensure that the candidate is the right person for that seat at your company. And don’t be afraid to remedy your mistake if someone that is the wrong fit makes it through the process. We are all human and mistakes happen.

Once you are hiring and firing based on your core values, you also need to be rewarding and disciplining based on them. There is no greater way to reinforce your core values and the resulting behaviors than by rewarding those that live out your core values on a regular basis. Put a system in place that will recognize people that go above and beyond when it comes to your core values. Show your entire company that living these values is just as important as hitting quotas or completing projects. Let them know that the way that they work matters just as much as the work itself.

That also means reprimanding those that do something contrary to your core values. When someone acts in a way contrary to your core values don’t hesitate to let them know. Explain why their behavior was unacceptable and let them know how you expect them to behave in the future. You can correct a misstep here and there, but a continued inability to live by the core values demonstrates someone who is not the right person for your company. As already discussed, you should let them find employment elsewhere.

Your core values are what make your company special.

They are what set you apart from your competitors and strengthen your reputation in your industry and your local community. They are the guidelines by which your team interacts with your customers. They are what endows your company with strength and what gets you through the rough patches. There is no more important aspect to your company’s identity. Everyone at your company must know them and live them.