Defining your organization’s core values is an essential step in the development of a healthy culture you believe is required to successfully execute your mission and achieve your vision.

Core values are defined as the required behaviors of an organization’s workforce and its leaders and are used as a guide when selecting and executing key actions and interacting with others.

Unfortunate, when leaders select their core values, they frequently do not align and directly contribute to the achievement of their strategic goals and objectives critical to the success of their organization and they do not align to the execution of key work processes.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve developed a simple, four step system, based upon proven best practices, to assist leaders identify core values that are meaningful and directly contribute to quickly achieving the outcomes they are accountable.

Four Steps to Identify and Write Your Core Values

Identifying and writing core values that align to and assist in the achievement of your mission and vision can be accomplished by following these five steps.

Step 1 – When identifying your core values, its best to have in place your mission and vision statements, and your strategy scorecard, which includes your key strategic goals, strategic objectives, performance measures, and target levels. To learn more about these performance excellence tools, click the title of each above.

Step 2 – Using your strategy scorecard as a guide, begin brainstorming potential core values within each of your strategic goals to ensure you have a balanced set of required behaviors for your workforce and leaders. For example, let’s say you have four strategic goals: Exception Customer Service, Operational Excellence, Engaged Workforce, and Fiscal Sustainability – you will want to identify core values aligned to each, again, to ensure you have a balanced set of values you believe are required to achieve the key objectives within each.

Step 3 – With a draft list of potential core values aligned to each of your strategic goals, next is to combine as necessary similar core values aligned to each of your strategic goals and prioritize to only two or three per strategic goal.

Step 4 – With your key core value identified by strategic goal, next is to begin writing them. Core values are commonly written as a single word noun. The challenge with this approach, is it’s difficult to clearly describe and communicate the specific behaviors required of your workforce and leaders to achieve key outcomes.

For example, let’s say one of your values is innovation. Using a single word does not provide enough context for your team members to know the specific behaviors you expected of them. A better method is to state the core value, then describe the specific behavior that is expected, regardless of their position, or processes they are responsible for. Below are some examples for you to consider.

  • Innovation – Always look for a better way.
  • Integrity – Always tell the truth.
  • Compassion – Always be kind and caring.
  • Efficiency – Eliminate costs without sacrificing quality.
  • Effectiveness – Identify and eliminate non value actions.

Writing your core values using this four-step system will help you achieve the outcomes you are responsible for, because you have identified a balanced set of core values, and you have clearly communicated the required behaviors and actions of your workforce and leaders.

Examples How to Use Core Values

A common mistake leaders make after identifying their core values, is not actually using them. Here are four examples of key organizational processes you should consider incorporating your core values into your daily operations to assist you achieve the outcomes you are responsible for.

  • Hiring and Promotion Interviews – Share with potential new employees and leaders your core values and ask them to describe their experience modeling the behaviors where they have worked in the past. For example, if one of your core values is efficiency, you might ask the following question – We expect team members and leaders to continually seek ways to eliminate cost without sacrificing quality. Can you give me two examples of how you have improved efficiency by reducing cost recently?
  • Employee Training & Development – You will want to ensure your workforce and leadership development training opportunities addresses each of your core values. For example, if one of your core values is innovation, determine what specific training is required to achieve the key organizational outcomes for both front line team members, supervisors and managers, and senior leaders.
  • Employee Evaluations – When conducting regular employee evaluations through monthly, quarterly, semi, or annual conversations and meetings, you will want to include feedback how successful their actions and behaviors have aligned to each of your core values. Again, using the core value of innovation – provide your team members direct feedback how they have successful at implementing process improvements within their area of responsibility, both positive and coaching. Team members who can objectively demonstrate how their actions and behavior related to the core values of innovation should score higher than an employee who has contributed nothing.
  • Recognition Systems – Develop employee and team recognition system that is aligned to each of your core values is an excellent strategy to communicate and reinforce their importance throughout your organization. The secret to doing this well is only recognize core values behaviors that also resulted in improve performance. And when publicly recognizing your team members to also share the specific strategic goal and performance measure(s) that improved performance.

Common Leadership Mistakes When Selected Core Values

When identifying your organizations core values, there are five mistakes’ leaders frequently make and you should try to avoid.

  1. Too Many – Identify too many core values makes it difficult for employees to remember them.
  2. Not Balanced – When selecting your values, consider using strategic goals as a guide, and select values that are aligned to each.
  3. Not Actionable – Core values are frequently communicated as a single word, making it hard for employees to know the exact behaviors that are expected.
  4. Not Aligned – Rarely are core values used in conjunction with key organizational processes, such workforce and leader’s performance evaluations, hiring and promotional processes, and when selecting key organizational initiatives or actions.
  5. Not Enforced – Core values are rarely or inconsistently enforced when an employee’s behavior and actions violate one or more of your values.

Core Values Vs. Core Competencies

Leaders are often confused as to the differences are between workforce competencies and core values. Competencies are the required skills, abilities, and experience, by position type, required to successfully achieve an organizations’ strategic goals and objectives.

Values on the other hand, are the specific behaviors, how your workforce and its leaders should act, when applying the required competencies to successfully achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

Additional Resources

Below are additional resources to assist you in your leadership development and performance excellence journey. Just click on the links to access them.