Have you ever worked at a place that has core values ?
Were they dead or alive?
Did you have a poster on the wall, a postcard on your bulletin board, or a business card with them listed? But after the obligatory roll-out session, where the executive team told cute anecdotes about each one, did you ever hear about them again? Well, may they rest in peace because the only thing worst than not having core values is having DEAD core values. Bringing core values back to life is not impossible, but it’s much harder than giving birth the first time.
Birth = Discovery
Core values that are alive and noisy are an important and necessary ingredient in a company’s success. The truth is all companies have core values, it’s just that some companies have captured and published them. Just watch and listen to the leadership team – I’ll bet after a while you will be able to discern a few of their values.
Looking for a way to give birth to yours ? Well, discovery is probably a better term for this step. Here’s an easy approach – Imagine you have to leave your current company and start a new company but you can take any three people with you to help start over. Who would you take ?
Now list the three people on a piece of paper and start to capture why you choose each of them. The words you use to describe these people are candidates for your core values – the qualities you cherish and respect in the people that surround you. Once you decide what the 5 – 7 top values are, set the bar – define the minimum acceptable level of performance you expect from each and every person. For 5 core values, a good rule of thumb is that 3 of the values should always be exhibited (+) and 2 should usually be exhibited (+/-). Resist setting the bar too high – no one is perfect!
Keep’em alive and healthy via regular exercise
If you have already given birth, perhaps you need to get your core values in shape. For core values to stay alive you must exercise them – regularly. Do you interview new hires? Do you find out about their core values during the interview? Do you find out if they can/will embrace yours? You probably check their references, do you ask the references to describe their values?
What about reward and recognition? When employees exhibit a core value, do you acknowledge and appreciate that behavior? Call them out for it! You might be surprised how little this costs in $, but how much it pays back in motivation.
What about performance reviews? (You do perform regular performance reviews, right?) It’s a great time to review core values. Use a simple scale: “+” = always exhibits that behavior, “+/-” = usually exhibits that behavior, and “-” = rarely exhibits that behavior. Let them know how they measure up with respect to “the bar”.
Flat lined? Try shock therapy…
If your core values are already dead, there’s still some hope – perhaps a little shock therapy can resurrect them. You’re going to have to be open and honest to your team about their death, what happened, why it happened, what you learned and why you want to try again. And prepare yourself, they aren’t likely to believe you. They believe what they see, so in order to change their minds you must lead by example – which is kinda your job anyway…
With proper care and regular exercise, your core values should live a long an healthy life, just like your company. Perhaps even longer !