Business Planning – Core Values are your foundation

In a business environment, whenever core values are mentioned, there often seems to be a level of cynicism followed by comments along the lines of “another excuse for consultants to make a dollar”.  I think it’s a real shame but I’m not surprised.  That sort of response indicates some incongruence – where the values chosen bear no reflection on day-to-day reality.


Photo credit – Ram Karthik via flickr

 Issues with crafting core values

Isn’t it just another wishy-washy aspect of business planning?  No, it’s not, unless you make it so.  I understand the cynicism and the struggles but I’m a firm believer of core values being a foundational aspect of any business.

Aspiration vs Drivers, Values vs Goals

While it’s commendable to aspire to values that bigger, better, more admirable, I think that aspirational core values are problematic.  Your values should be “what you are, what drives you and what’s important to you”, less so “what you want to be”.  What you want to be would be better classified as a “goal”.

Personal vs Business

When business owners try to differentiate their personal values from their business ones, difficulties arise because they are often one and the same whether you are a small business owner or a CEO.  Even if they aren’t the same, they still need to be consistent.

Some would argue that your personal values shouldn’t come into it.  I would argue differently.  Values are personal whether you like it or not.  If you de-personalise them, values lose their meaning and you end up with values that don’t resonate with you or your staff, and are a complete waste of time.

Benefits of getting your core values clear

When values are clear, decisions tend to be easier.  At crossroads, values can be used as a filters.  If a particular course of action violates a core value, why proceed?

If things are going wrong, ask whether you’ve stuck to your values.  It’s much like having a set very important guidelines and boundaries.

Tips for articulating your core values

Don’t get fancy

Forget acronyms unless by sheer coincidence, it works.  It still amazes me that organisations start with an acronym and work backwards, and then wonder why there is no resonance!

Limit to three to five values

Brainstorm as many values as you feel like, then cull it down to no more than five.  Personally, I find three an ideal number.  One way to help this culling process is to think of core values as “deal breakers”.  These will be the values where they can be no compromise.  Core values cannot be violated.

Make sure each core value works in real life

For each value, find a word that represents that value e.g honesty, creativity, sharing etc., then describe what that word means in your day-to-day activities.

For each value, ask whether your business reflects it.  If the answer is no, then is there something in the business that you need to change, or is it because the value is not the right one?

Test the values for conflicts.  Some values may conflict with others.   “Innovation”  is often a big culprit, a value that is aspired to but the first to go when the going gets tough.


I once worked with a business that marketed itself providing cost-effective, timely solutions.  Their value proposition was that they’d been there, done that and therefore could do it more efficiently than their competitors.

Innovation was one of their core values but it actually happened to be a by-product.  They found new ways of being more efficient and therefore saw that as innovative.  But when it came to choosing between meeting a deadline and providing a solution that was unique and innovative, they chose to meet the deadline and provide a solution that was effectively run-of-the-mill.

So in this example, innovation was clearly not a core value.  When we drilled down, the real core value was accountability more than innovation.

 You can still strive for things are not necessarily core values.  If you want your business to reflect any of the values that you culled, perhaps describe them in your vision?

How do you know you’ve got your core values right?

You know you’ve got it right when someone does something or behaves in a way that is contravenes them.  When they are true core values, it will feel as if something is terribly wrong.  It will be upsetting.

My core values are personal –  Integrity, authenticity and commitment, and my business is run on these same values.  They give me clarity, purpose and direction.  And yours?

Related Articles in the Coach Mi Business Planning series

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Coach Mi

I'm a business coach passionate about helping women make the impossible possible! Do get in touch. I would love to have a chat to see how I can help.

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Comments 9

  1. Good post. I totally agree to have a holistic approach for your values. You are one person and values as you explained are not linked with what you do or circumstances but with WHO you are. We cannot build a successful business without building strong personal foundations first. That means knowing your strengths, weak points, your purpose in life, knowing what or who hold you back, getting clear of issues from the past etc. Building a business requires resilience and self-confidence, faith in what you do and who you are.

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  2. This was an awesome post. I agree that you need to know your core values and have them reflected in the way you do business. Mine are honesty, integrity, and professionalism. I choose not to do business with anyone who will cause me to step outside of those values. As a result, I attract clients who appreciate those values.

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  3. Thanks Mi (as always). if all strive for a meaningful life that supports self, family and others both emotionally and practically (funds for sustenance, food, shelter, leisure, etc.) I idealize that businesses would do the same (top down & bottom up). would really shake up the “legitimacy” of the huge pay gap between CEO’s and the talented folks who make companies run. Just a thought. Best, Peggy/Doc Peg

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  4. Hi Mi. I think core values are critical to a company. For one they help a company to draw employees that share those values. If the values are not stated, how do employees know what is important to the owner. In construction they stress SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY. They do that because otherwise workers will think to put profit first and they end up in an unsafe working condition. OSHA shows up and fines the company hundreds of times what it would have cost to work safe. Even worse are the cases when no one catches the shortcut and someone ends up injured or dead. Core values are absolutely critical to every company that wants to be successful, and that’s the real truth.

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      Hi Bill, thanks for your contribution. I agree that having your core values mapped out and communicated helps attract employees who share the same values. Definitely critical!

  5. As someone who has served most of his life in the military and in federal government service, I know from personal experience the important role core values plays in the success of any organization. Sound ethics and core values are essential to building cohesion and and a positive, respectful work environment throughout the entire organization.

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