Having core values that are clearly articulated sometimes means making difficult choices. It is about taking a stand and having conviction. When questioned about their core values, many people have difficulty responding. They either can’t pinpoint them or produce generic answers that are “nice” words and ones often used for the purpose of developing “core values”. But words mean different things to different people. Respect to some means tolerance. To others it might be more ego related.
When I work with clients on their core values, one of the questions I often ask is what really drives you crazy? What makes your blood boil? People seem to tap into what could be seen as “negative emotion” far more easily than positive emotions. These questions are by far easier to answer than “what gives you purpose?” “what makes your heart sing?”. If you are struggling to identify your own core values, try this reverse psychology exercise. It will give you useful and interesting clues.
Core values are inviolable. They are your filters and knowing what they are helps you on the process towards clarity. For business purposes, it determines your culture. When you work through the next step which is to determine how these core values are demonstrated, they become guidelines and boundaries for acceptable behaviour.
“Respect” as a core value rather than “providing good service” is far more powerful especially when its meaning is clearly articulated. I use “respect” as an example because it comes up in 9 out of 10 core value conversations.
An example of “respect” being applied:
Respect means listening to someone. Respect means returning calls. Respect means not keeping a customer waiting, or offering an apology if they have to wait etc. Respect means not being dismissive when someone has a complaint.
When you choose your core values, choose the words that have most meaning to you. Then elaborate as appropriate for your business. What does each core value mean in the day-to-day life of your business? How should it be embodied? If you have staff, these core values should form part of their performance appraisals.
I am very sceptical of processes that reduce core values down to acronyms, especially when they conveniently “match” the business’ name. It is a shame when a potentially powerful and important process is reduced to an exercise of creative semantics!
- The Path: Creating your mission statement for work and life (Book review)
- Business Planning – Core values are the foundation
- How to build a strong organisational culture