Why are core values so important?
Research has shown that a strong set of core values actively lived by an organization significantly improves performance. Particularly in today’s labor marketplace, employees are looking for a sense of purpose in their work and for strong teamwork. Successful teams share values because shared values mean there will not be discord on the fundamentals that define the group. The core values result in a common reality about what is important and that common reality improves communication, cooperation and the ability to problem solve.
How to Get There
First, have the discipline to get the core values right. Simply selecting catchy or powerful words and slogans on paper won’t get it. You have to dig deep for these. You have to limit yourself to 3-5 values of each and every employee that you can’t do without. It takes time and can be frustrating, but getting them right pays off in spades.
Second, be sure to define each core value. Stating a single word, such as integrity or innovation, won’t capture your troops. You have to define the behaviors or rules of the road. What specific behavior is really important to always or never be? Those become your core.
At PGS, our core values are:
- Client success: Partnering for remarkable results
- Being ethical: Always being honest with ourselves and our clients, honoring agreements and doing what is in the best interest of all parties affected
- Striving for excellence: Continuous attainment of new knowledge, abilities, methods to enhance performance of ourselves and our products
How to Use Them
Those of you who employ our Vision Navigation® strategic planning system know that we place the core values on your plan chart and recommend that you display your plan chart prominently. This will reinforce the values. Each year, as part of the internal assessment portion of strategic planning ask yourself whether the core values are stronger, the same or weaker than they were last year. Why do you judge that this is so? What samples would you cite? As a management team, do the same assessment of yourselves as a team.
Next, I recommend that you weave discussing core values into regular meetings you have with your direct reports on performance and how each can take steps to improve their performance on the core values. I use a three level rating system for this:
- Exemplary means that this employee during the period you are discussing has been an example for others to follow of living the core value. Cite examples that led you to this judgment.
- Adhering/Living means the employee is living that core value and has done nothing to demonstrate otherwise.
- Still Striving means the employee is still working on adhering and being an example to others. Again, be specific here.
The reality is that if you have an employee who is not living the core values, then they are like a square peg in a round hole. This needs to be reversed or they will find themselves on the outside of the group and ultimately out of the group.
How do you begin?
If you don’t have any core values in place, begin a conversation with your leadership team and staff on the core values they hold to in their personal lives, and what they feel are the essential values the organization must uphold. Look for common thoughts and ideas, then pull leadership together to finalize the list. Post it for all staff to see and make sure that you, yourself, are upholding them in your work!
If you want help with how to best set the stage for conversations with your employees on values, particularly the difficult conversations, consider checking out Creating High Performers: 7 Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports. In it I discuss how to prepare for and conduct conversations with your staff on what is important, what is missing and what you both can do to fix it. This will help you get into the conversations you need to have about core values and performance.
And, as always, get in touch with us if you have questions or would like some help in creating your core values. You can reach us via email, and we will get you the help you need.