Many companies don’t take their core values seriously. It’s a shame. Even if your company’s core values are not original or cool, they express important decisions about how you are going to work together, get the job done, and present yourselves to the world.
How do you get your employees to take your core values seriously? How do you manage your values so they add meaningful value to your employees and your business?
Here is a list of suggestions for nurturing and managing your core values. This is just the tip of the iceberg but hopefully more than you need to take your practices up to the next level. Note: many of the following tactics can also be applied to your core competencies.
In general, for your core values to be genuinely valuable, you have to be talking about them and you have to do something with them—you have to actually use them to do good work.
The following list of tactics includes examples of (i) communicating the values, (ii) using the values, and (iii) anchoring the values in culture with organizational systems (OD):
Define them clearly so they can serve as concrete standards of performance; clear expectations for behaviour; a clear guide to action and excellence.
Communicate your core values to your employees: tell, sell, and explain. Use stories and examples; keep them visible.
Discuss them with your employees. Communication must be two-way—a dialogue: “What do these really mean; how can we apply them on our team; how can they help us do a better job?”
Discuss the stakes and metrics with employees: “What are the benefits of doing a great job with this core value; and what are the potential costs, risks, and consequences of doing a terrible job of this core values?” (Instructions for facilitating this discussion here.)
Lead by example: Model desired behaviour; set a good example; show the way. As a leader, be transparent about your agenda and process.
Appreciation, recognition, and reward for employee effort and achievement in living the core values. You can use both formal and informal recognition; a sincere thank you cannot be underestimated.
Feedback and coaching: Teach employees how to do a great job of the core values; how to practice them and achieve excellence.
Continuous improvement: From time to time step back to ask: “How are we doing with this core value; do we need to adapt; how could we do it better; and to what end?”
Celebrate successes and share best practices across the organization.
Planning: Refer to your core values when goal setting and planning, e.g., how your core values will contribute to success.
Decisions: Consult them when making decisions and setting priorities, i.e., use them like a compass, and to remind yourselves of the stakes—the potential costs and risks of non-compliance. You can also refer to them when explaining decisions and priorities—line of sight to the big picture, alignment, and for justification.
Debriefing: Assess them when debriefing your projects: “How did our core values contribute to our success; how could they have contributed even more to our success?”
Training: Some core values can be taught like competencies, e.g., customer focus and collaboration / teamwork. Offer training programs so that your employees can be highly skilled in those areas.
Hiring: Consider core values when hiring, i.e., build them into your hiring criteria. Hire for “fit” as well as for skills and performance.
Orientation: Build them into new employee orientation; make sure all new employees know what your core values means and how important they are to the company.
Job descriptions: Append your core values to all of your organization’s job descriptions. This ensures everyone knows what they are and it sends the message that living the core values is part of the job.
Accountability: Hold employees accountable for living the core values: build them into your PM system and 360 degree feedback for leaders, and use them as criteria for promotions.
Audit: Ensure you are living your core values at all levels of your organization and with all of your external stakeholders. Confirm that your core values and brand are aligned with each other—in theory and in practice.
Partners: Seek business partners and suppliers that have similar values. You can sometimes nurture your values in your supply chain partners.
When managing core values, it is important to align these various practices with the big picture, i.e., with your vision and strategy. Core values should drive, reinforce, and support your strategic agenda.
It is also important to align the various systems and practices with each other. Here is a famous example: If you are training people to be team players but giving them bonuses solely on the basis of their individual achievements, then your compensation system is undermining your training. It doesn’t matter how good your training is if other OD systems are encouraging them (paying them) not to use their new skills.
Think holistically about your OD and talent management practices (see here).
In business, you have a much better chance of success if you do the right things and do them well. As leaders, we should never be shy to talk about what “doing it well” means. Make it normal and OK to discuss what excellence looks like; how the work should get done; how you want to work together; and how you want to present yourself to the world.
This is the exciting part of using your core values. The real challenge and the big value added comes from figuring how they apply in each unique situation, using them well, getting the most out of them, and being innovative with them.
Many of the suggestions in this blog are more like practices than tactics. That is, they must be practiced over time, you need to be consistent, and you need to step back regularly to reflect on your practice: “What is working best; what is not working as well, and how could we do it better?”
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