Executive Education

Your Company’s Core Values Are BROKEN (And Here’s What To Do About It)

Core Values. Chances are, your company has them. Maybe you or a predecessor created the list of Core Values and now they are proudly displayed on your company website and perhaps even embossed in glass in the entrance of your headquarters.

And why wouldn’t you be proud of them? They were probably carefully crafted after weeks or months of effort, and polished to shine as they embody all of the qualities and characteristics that your company stands for.

Problem is, Core Values rarely work (at least, the way most companies do them). In fact, they’re downright broken.

Want proof?

Go ask one of your seasoned employees to recite the Core Values to you.

Go ask one of your brand new employees which Core Values convinced them to work for you.

Go ask one of your managers which Core Values they use to guide their decision-making.

Go ask one of your customers to recite the Core Values that helped to sell them on buying from your company.

Go ask one of your executives to recite the Core Values to you.

Heck, why not sit down yourself with a pen and paper and try to write out your company’s Core Values word for word.

Are you starting to break out in a cold sweat as you second-guess the power, effectiveness, and “memorableness” of your company’s Core Values? Most CEOs reading this probably are. Most CEOs reading this probably recognize that employees, customers, and even executives could list only a quarter or a third of the state Core Values (and probably not verbatim).

Here’s Why Most Core Values Are Broken

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Core Values. I believe every company should have them. They tell employees and customers what you stand for.

The problem is with how companies create and deploy them.

Most Core Values are written with lofty language of the aspirational qualities that your company strives for. And, most companies simply create too many Core Values because they want to be thorough and all-encompassing.

As a result, employees feel a disconnect between the company’s Core Values and their daily work, and even if they did buy into the Core Values, it’s hard to remember 8, 10, 12, 20 (PLUS!) Core Values.

Oh, and there’s one more problem: Most Core Values are so generic that your competitor could steal your Core Values and put them on THEIR wall and no one would notice because they’d be just as applicable to your competitor as they are to you. (Try it out and see for yourself: could your Core Values also accurately describe your top competitors?)

Here’s How To Fix Your Core Values

Practically speaking, think of your Core Values in the following ways:

  • As a decision-making framework through which every employee makes choices about the actions they take each moment of the day.
  • As a recruiting tool to help you attract the right employees and repel the ones who would not be a good fit.
  • As a marketing tool to help position your company with the very best customers, setting you apart by supporting your brand promise and Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

Core Values should provide an at-a-glance bullet point list of the few qualities that your company treasures, to act as a “sorting mechanism” for actions, new hires, and even customers.

Therefore, Core Values should be aspirational, reflecting the best qualities that your company should strive for. However, they also need to be easy to understand and memorable, which means they need to be written with approachable language and there should only be a few of them. And, your Core Values need to be laser-focused and unique to your company alone.

As an example: my company’s competitors wrote 10-12 lofty, complicated Core Values and their teams (and even the creators of the Core Values) couldn’t remember many of them. Meanwhile, I wrote just 4 Core Values, in plain language, and made sure that every single team member could recite them at the drop of a hat.

Accessible Core Values make a critical difference:

  • When your team can recite your Core Values, those values become easier to use as a decision-making framework.
  • When your Core Values are easier to understand, prospective employees can easily see if they fit in your organization.
  • When your Core Values are short and manageable, they can be put everywhere so that customers can see just how truly important they are to you.

Don’t worry that your Core Values are not all-encompassing or poetically written. It’s better if they are focused and practical, explaining the few things that your company truly values.

Here’s What The Best Kind Of Core Values Look Like

Core Values do not need to be long or complicated (even though that’s the way most companies create them).

Instead, a simple Core Value could be, “We value safety. Our employees will always choose the safest way to do their work.

It’s plain and simple; memorable and practical. Create three more like that and you’ve got a set of Core Values that will actually be useful.

Every Core Value should have two pieces:

  1. A very, very short title of what you value (“We value safety.”)
  2. A simple 1-2 sentence follow-up to elaborate (“Our employees will always choose the safest way to do their work.”)

When space is at a premium, the title alone can be published on some things (I even had them embroidered on company uniforms at my company); when you have a bit more space, you can include both parts.

When you have fewer, shorter, simpler Core Values, it becomes much easier to put them everywhere:

  • On posters
  • On printed material
  • On web content
  • On recruiting material
  • On the back of business cards
  • On uniforms
  • On company vehicles
  • You name it!

This creates visual reinforcement of far more memorable and useful Core Values—ultimately, the kind of values you truly want at your organization.

If your company has Core Values, there’s a very good chance they’re not working for you in the way that you hoped. But, with a few changes to what your Core Values state, and how you deploy them in your company, you can transform their value to elevate the work your organization performs.

There are not many companies with truly useful Core Values. But you’ll see a difference when you join the unicorns who know that a few simple, clear Core Values are more effective.

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MIke Agugliaro
Mike Agugliaro is the “Business Warrior” and founder of CEO Warrior, a business consulting, training and mentoring firm, providing tested and proven methods to defeat the roadblocks that prevent small to mid-sized businesses from achieving their ultimate success. He has played a key role in building and selling Gold Medal Service, New Jersey’s largest and most respected home service company.