Your company’s core values are important to your brand identity. A positive culture has significant benefits, improving productivity and profit margins along with employee morale and retention.
Defining your company’s core values is a good first step toward creating a positive culture. But what are the most important core values—and how can you make them an integral part of your organization’s identity?
While every company is different, the 5 values below apply to organizations across industries, of any size, and at any point in their development. Let’s take a deeper look at these key values and how you can use them to improve your workplace culture.
Why are Core Values Important?
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the social and environmental policies of the businesses they patronize. Defining your company’s values in the public sphere is more important now than ever when you’re building your brand. This is one reason many companies are talking more about their values today than they have in the past.
If you’re doing things right, though, your organization’s values are much more than a marketing ploy. You can think of them as guiding principles that serve as a moral compass as you make important decisions. Along with your mission statement, your organization values are one of the most important things aspects of your long-term identity.
For those who are just starting a business or thinking about buying an existing business, the core values should be included in the business plan. These values are the framework around which you can build your company procedures and workplace culture.
Looking for more tangible benefits of implementing core values? Here are some ways they can help improve your business:
- You’ll have a more clearly defined identity —A unique identity helps you stand out in a competitive landscape. When you know exactly what your company stands for, it’s easier to position yourself in the marketplace both as a business and as an employer.
- Improved employee retention — Today’s workforce, by and large, wants to be employed by companies whose core values align with theirs. If your values are clearly defined, you’ll attract team members who want to support your goals and they’ll be more likely to stick around long-term.
- Faster decision making — Good leaders make decisive decisions. Having strong core values for your company gives your leadership team guidelines to follow so they can make the best decision without hesitation. This allows you to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
- It raises the workplace standard — Peer pressure is real, and it can be used for good as well as ill. When people see everyone around them working toward a common goal, they’re more likely to jump on board and hold themselves to those same standards. A culture with a focus on values encourages everyone to be better and that improves your overall efficiency and productivity.
- You’ll be more adaptable — Even when the circumstances around you change, your core values won’t. This gives you a launching point for pivots in response to a quickly-shifting world, something that’s especially important for businesses operating today.
Focusing on core values can be transformative. While the most important values to hold can vary depending on your industry and operation, there are a few that are universal. Let’s take a look at the top 5 in more detail.
1. Continuous Improvement
Tech companies talk about innovation and disruption. Successful entrepreneurs often emphasize the importance of a growth mindset. Both of these are ways to get at the same core value: always looking for ways you can be better.
Whatever you call it, a value of continuous improvement prevents complacency. You’ll never be tempted to look at your successes and call them good enough. Instead, each success becomes a springboard into your next goal, keeping your business moving forward so you don’t lag behind.
A growth mindset makes your company more adaptable and can have a positive impact on morale, as well. In a study that surveyed employees of Fortune 1000 companies, those that worked at companies with a growth mindset were more committed to their employers, felt more valued by their supervisors, and had an overall more positive outlook about their work.
Those at “fixed mindset” companies more averse to change were more worried about failure and more likely to cut corners or cheat to get ahead.
Trust is key in any relationship, and that includes the ones your organization has with its employees and customers. Withholding information about how you operate can be just as detrimental as outright dishonesty.
Transparency doesn’t mean you have to share all your trade secrets with the world. Instead, it means open, honest communication about how you make decisions at the operational level. This encompasses everything from how you recruit and hire staff to which manufacturers you work with.
Transparency also prevents favoritism and discrimination from taking hold in your organization. If your leaders know they have to explain promotions and disciplinary action, they’ll be more likely to make fair decisions. Honesty from management encourages that same transparency from the employees, who will be less likely to cheat and more invested in the company as a result.
When you create a culture of accountability, everyone in your organization takes responsibility for their own actions. If they’re assigned a task, they get it done by the deadline without making excuses. If someone makes a mistake, they own up to it and look for ways to fix it instead of blaming others.
It’s probably obvious how holding people accountable can improve your organization’s efficiency, but some people are surprised when they find out it can also have a positive impact on morale. Employees can focus on their work when they know they won’t be blamed for someone else’s mistakes. Accountability is also linked to increased commitment and better communication.
Like all core values, accountability starts at the top. Managers have to lead by example, completing their tasks on deadline and taking responsibility for the success or failure of the team. This gives them the moral authority to call out employees who aren’t pulling their weight.
When employees don’t feel seen or recognized as individuals, workplace morale inevitably suffers. Often they end up feeling like “cogs in a machine.” This feeling rarely stems from the type of work they perform and is more about whether their company acknowledges and responds to their needs
Empathy as a core value encourages managers to focus on employee health and well-being as a priority. It clears the way for your company to take active steps to improve workplace morale.
This could mean tailoring employee benefits to meet the specific needs of your team or making changes to improve their work/life balance. An empathetic workplace recognizes the unique needs of their employees and strives to meet them.
Empathy has tangible benefits, too. When you take the time to understand and relate to employees you’ll be better able to match them to jobs and projects suited to their strengths. Employees can focus on the things they do well, ultimately providing more value to the company for the time they spend on the job.
Respect means paying attention to the feelings and rights of others and adjusting your actions accordingly. In an organizational context, being respectful is more than just being polite and non-offensive. Companies with respect as a core value acknowledge their employees’ abilities and recognize their achievements.
A respectful workplace promotes good employee social health and is a place people can collaborate and share ideas without fear of ridicule. It’s also a place where managers respect the time of team members, both at work and during their off time. When employees feel respected by their company and managers, that respect is given back in turn. They’re more likely to use their work time productively and follow the workplace policies and procedures.
Building mutual respect between your organization and your customers can also have benefits for an organization. People are more likely to spend their money with a company that responds to the individual needs of customers. Respect builds relationships, and that keeps people coming back to patronize your business.
Defining Your Core Values
Your organization has values even if you’ve never made them official. These are known as “accidental values”, roughly defined as values that arise spontaneously without cultivation by the leadership. Looking at which accidental values have taken hold in your organization can give you insight into the priorities and personalities of the team you have.
A word of warning: not all accidental values are positive. If your employees don’t seem too concerned with showing up for work on time, for example, you’ve cultivated a value of lax scheduling—not something you necessarily want to encourage.
While you don’t want to rely on accidental values, you can use them as a starting point for a clearer definition. The first step is an honest analysis of your current culture and identity. Once you know the values your company currently holds, sort them out into those you want to cultivate further and those you want to replace with something better.
Next, think about your aspirational values—in other words, what you want your organization’s identity to be as it moves into the future. What do you want customers to say about your company? How do you want employees to describe their workplace to friends and family? Identify the points at which this aspirational view differs from what’s happening currently. As you define your core values, seek out those that will best get you on that aspirational path.
There’s no perfect set number of core values for every company. For most, a list of 5-10 key principles is a good amount to give you a solid foundation. If you find yourself with a list of a dozen or more, try to pare it down to the key points or condense ideas into broader categories.
Keep in mind that values should be overarching concepts, not specific measurable achievements. A benchmark for improving sales or productivity is a goal, not a value.
Goals change as you reach them, but values are a permanent part of your identity. While they may shift over time, they should be applicable in the long-term. You should be able to express each value in a single word or short phrase, and it should be something that will be as relevant in ten years as it is today.
Once you’ve defined your organization’s goals, the next stage is implementation. Share these goals with your team, along with actionable steps you want them to take to shift the culture to follow them. These kinds of big picture shifts don’t happen overnight. Be open to feedback from your team members as you’re implementing your new policies, and be patient with your team while they’re adjusting, too.
One benefit of core values is that they strengthen the feeling of culture and community in a workplace, and how you implement them can go a long way toward establishing that you’re all in this together.
Embracing Core Values
Businesses that embrace the 5 core values above are more likely to succeed in the long-term. These values work in tandem with each other, as well. Both accountability and transparency make it easier to work toward continuous improvement, for example, as well as encouraging more mutual respect between team members at all levels. A well-built set of core values will have that quality, supporting each other, and helping you to achieve your goals.
These values can be beneficial for any kind of organization, from small community groups to multi-national corporations. Building a value-based workplace culture lays the groundwork for success for groups of all sizes and stages. If you’re looking for new ways to improve your business, think about what values guide your decisions and actions. A small shift in mindset can often lead to huge improvements down the line.