Creating Core Values that Actually Stick

Company core values. On paper, they are a set of words or phrases that embody who you are as a team. They have been hailed as a “company’s DNA”, “the culture of the organization,” and the “best kept secret of true high performance.”

By definition, core values are the fundamental beliefs of a company.

Is it all true? Are core values really the heart and soul of an organization. Or are they hype?

The truth is, core values are often hype and serve no real value. Too often, teams write a list of idealistic words on a page and then forget about them.

Core Values Gone Wrong

I was part of a team years ago that had core values; we formed them together. We dutifully wrote them down and painstakingly word-smithed each one until we got all six values “just right.” We then rolled them out to the whole company and people cheered! We were thrilled. We had done it. We created a set of core values and rested easy knowing we were destined for great things.

And then, those core values sat on a shelf. Once in a while someone would mention one. Not a single person could recite all six of them.

A year after these core values were created, we discovered one of our clients was a clear values mismatch. An employee brought this to the attention of the leadership team and the CEO shrugged it off. He chose to take the short-term financial gain over protecting the health of the company.

Unfortunately, these core values were hype; they didn’t carry any real weight. When push came to shove, they were meaningless.

Core Values That Boost Success

Fast forward to today. My current team has core values. We formed them together and wrote them down, just like my last team did.

However, the core values that I have today truly boost success. In fact, I credit them for a large chunk of our success. What’s the difference that sets these core values apart from others I’ve seen fail?

It’s not the value itself. It’s not the wording or the choice of value that matters.

The only way that core values boost success is if the team is willing to:

1. Lose money over it

2. Fire an employee or customer over it

Core values must guide you on what not to do as much as they guide on what to do. We have fired clients who do not align with our core values. We analyze every employee on each of our five core values and if any employee does not consistently uphold a core value, they are given feedback, and may even be fired or demoted.

Core Values Should Never Be Static

The best way to ensure your core values continuously boost success is to treat them as living, dynamic things. The concept that you ought to finalize core values and never update them is outdated. Our core values are written in a Google doc. As we learn and get deeper in our company’s journey, we edit the descriptions if needed. Core values aren’t a set of empty promises that make you look good — they are a set of real beliefs. If the company matures or changes and its belief system changes, the core values should be fluid alongside the evolution of the business.

Originally posted on Inc


Creating Core Values that Actually Stick was originally published in NewCo Shift on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.