Organizations of every size should periodically examine their Vision and Mission statements to ensure they are properly aligned with the work that enables achieving both. Most organizations also have Core Values defined. It takes discipline and traction to make those Core Values live. As leaders, we owe it to our team members and customers, to ensure Core Values are not just a onetime exercise or something found only in an employee handbook or poster on the wall. Let’s take a closer look at Core Values and why they should be a living entity that permeates throughout your philosophy, processes, communications, and interactions.
I have been fortunate to have been a member of great organizations that have implemented their Core Values in a fashion that positively impacted excellence and success. Fyndera founder, Steven Bennett, and I, both grew exponentially while a member of Universal Underwriters Group (UUG). The presidents during our tenure, Ken Goldstein and Steve Smith would periodically work our Core Values into the message being delivered to all employees. There was a sense that company’s leadership wanted the Core Values to be integrated into decision making and especially how we took care of customers. As a department head, I looked to those Core Values as a guide to drive delivery of organizational excellence.
The second organization, and most recent, was Rottler. They are doing it right. Rottler’s Core Values truly “live” and impact all facets of their success. My supervisor was a champion of the Core Values. He ensured three things on a continuum: 1) holding himself accountable to be congruent with each of those Core Values; 2) holding superiors and subordinates accountable to work within the Core Values; and 3) working Core Values into team meetings and performance reviews. We talked Core Values often. They were held up frequently and literally, aided in decision making. Sometimes they served as a compass navigating difficult decisions.
It is my belief and opinion that organizations can instill and maintain a culture of excellence their Core Values are best suited for long-term success and consistency.
Here are my Top 5 considerations regarding Core Values:
1. Find a champion and hold them up!
2. Work it into daily dialog
3. Use them in performance discussions
4. Empower all levels to be a part of checks and balances
5. Incent the behavior you want
FIND A CHAMPION AND HOLD THEM UP!
As I mentioned, I worked directly for a champion who embodied the organization’s Core Values. Leaders should obviously do a mirror check to make sure we are a champion first and foremost. The team will adopt the culture we instill and focus on the priorities we make apparent, spoken or not. Within the team, seek out the individual who lives to those Core Values most consistently. Have increased Core Values discussions with them. Celebrate how they work within the Core Values to the team and ensure your supervisor is aware of their adoption and use of them. Reward them. Implement a Core Value award that is significant. Working closely with a champion of the Core Values and sharing how they can be used to guide daily activities, where the rubber meets the road. Ultimately, your champion’s attitude and posture will be contagious and will ensure your culture is in step with the Vision, Mission and Core Values.
WORK IT INTO DAILY DIALOG
My boss would ask “what did you do yesterday that is an example of ________________?” Insert whatever Core Value you want. Team members had it in their forethoughts. Everyone understood that they were going to be called on to provide a testament to how they delivered on expectations. Dialog drives attitude. Attitude drive behavior and habits. Behavior and habits drive results. Dialog takes Core Values off the page and makes them a living facet of the business.
USE THEM IN PERFORMANCE DISCUSSION
When we speak about performance at the individual, team, or organizational level, we tend to focus on measurables like profit and loss or widgets or some objective thing. Implement Core Values directly into the measurement and assessment of performance. We should be able to articulate how each level is operating within the Core Values by holding up examples of where success and failure occurred.
There is a beautiful thing about using Core Values in performance correction. When the issue and discussion are grounded in a violation of the Core Values, it defuses any argument that issue is anything other than exact that. I’ve seen this work wonderfully to keep high performance teams achieving remarkable results.
EMPOWER ALL LEVELS TO BE A PART OF CHECKS AND BALANCES
Something powerful occurs when a team member can trust that their leaders and teammates are equally accountable to upholding the Core Values. Make it OK for anyone who feels or thinks a decision isn’t grounded in the Core Values to have a conversation about it. Managers and supervisors in one-on-one dialog with team members should solicit feedback on how they are upholding the Core Values. If something requires clarification or follow-up, deliver it with priority. The more dialog that occurs where everyone ends up on the same page, the merrier. Everyone should be providing feedback up, down, and laterally.
It boils down to culture. If the culture of accountability to your Core Value is created, promoted, maintained, and refined, it will become institutionalized and integrated in every aspect. It becomes a culture of consistency and focused on the things that make your business great.
INCENT THE BEHAVIOR YOUR WANT
Rewarding the behaviors and habits that are consistent with the Core Values, again, drives culture. Every organization wants a winning culture.
Psychology Wiki had this in their explanation of Core Values:
Three criteria distinguish a Core value: (1) essential, (2) universal, and (3) personal.
They are essential because you cannot live without them. For example, if honesty is one of your Core values and you are told that honesty will never happen, ever, you would say, “Then what is the point of life?” It is so fundamental that life would be meaningless without it. This does not mean that it happens all the time, or that you even act consistently with it all the time. Simply said, you cannot imagine life being worth living without it, or at least the possibility of it.
Universal means that your Core values apply everywhere, all the time. This is true whether you are at home, at work, or in line at the movie theater. Let’s say, for example, respect is one of your Core values and you are in a movie line, and someone cuts in ahead of you. You will notice it and it will bother you. Depending on the relative importance of the movie, you may or may not take action. At the very least, you will feel bothered. This is an indication that a Core value is being affected.
Core values are personal because they are grounded in your life experiences. This only means that if you and a co-worker both have a Core value of trust, you may describe it differently. Underlying the descriptions is the same essential value. For a value to be a Core value, it must meet all three criteria.
For Fyndera, Respect, Integrity and Making a Positive Impact represent essential aspects in our culture. We understand that the critical nature of each and how each impacts our success. In today’s market, respect, integrity and making a positive impact are quintessential. Customer service and customer engagement has never been more important than now. Customer and employee retention is more important than ever. Leaders who use Core Values to navigate these challenges will win. The winning culture you instill can and will be a separator from the competition. Investment in the time and energy to make your Core Values live, will pay dividends. Let them live!
If your organization could use a hand in planning and implementing a Core Value driven culture, try using a professional change management and strategy development consultant or firm. Sometimes, an outside agent can get you where you want to be without business interruption easier than using internal resources. We are one that specializes in the cultural adoption measurement, monitoring and improvement.