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Core Values

They are non-negotiables. They define you. They set the boundaries. They are the filter for admission into your organization. They are the basis for accountability. What are they?

They are your core values. They communicate what is acceptable and unacceptable; your rules of the game. These values are the “heavy” in the organization. If you are weary of parenting and babysitting employees, and long to see accountable team members that take ownership, then clarifying, establishing and communicating core values is essential.

How do you clarify, establish and communicate core values? Gino Wickman, in his book “Traction”, proposes the following process:

  • Schedule a two-hour uninterrupted meeting with the key members of your organization. Ask them to write down the names of individuals, past and present, that best represent who you are as an organization. Who are the individuals who truly get what you are all about at a heart and spirit level?

  • Once everyone has their list, then have them write down the reasons they chose these individuals. What do these people display that inspired them to choose them as a great representative of the organization?

  • List all these characteristics on a white board, and then go through the list and choose 3 to 5 core values. Only keep the ones that everyone agrees truly represent the organization. Combine values that are similar into the one value that best states that characteristic. Less is more. Continue to eliminate and combine until you have three to five values.

  • Once you have them, work on creating bullet point descriptions and stories around each value to communicate and share them with the rest of the organization.

Here are a few examples of core values: Hard Work, Integrity, All In, Happiness, Grit, Perseverance, Solidarity, Customer First, Kindness, Candor, Positivity, Professionalism. You get the idea.

Once you have clarified, established, and communicated your core values to the organization, you have a basis for transforming your organizational culture. With the agreement that your core values are non-negotiable and absolute standards, they become the foundation for all team recruitment, advancement, and dismissal. This all happens in the context of conversations.

A major component of your recruitment process is to discern the response of the candidate to your core values. You are looking for alignment and excitement with your core values. If the candidate truly resonates and is in sync with your values, they will be a great team member. If they don’t value what you value, you will have a mediocre employee at best, which is unacceptable for an organization pursuing excellence. A key in interviewing candidates is questions and company stories. Stories illustrate core values in relatable terms, and the questions draw the candidate into the conversation. You want them to relax and express what really matters to them. For example, if one of your core values is kindness, you want the candidate to provide examples of how they have expressed kindness in past situations, and the relative importance of kindness in their life and work. You want to share stories of how your organization and team members show kindness, and how important that is to your organization. As you share those stories and ask those questions, you are listening for either agreement or apathy. Does this individual have similar values to our organization? Do they get it?

Core values are also an essential component of team evaluation and feedback. When team members fail to express a core value, that demands a conversation and coarse correction. Core values serve as our agreement and the heavy. All team members agree to a mutual accountability to these values. They have an agreement to welcome any questions or concerns about the failure to uphold and demonstrate these values from any team member. There are also regularly scheduled conversations about these values to focus on how each team member can improve in their demonstration of the values. These non-negotiable values, not the manager, become the “heavy” in the conversations. Team members are in essence accountable to the values, not the boss. If a team member is unwilling to embrace and demonstrate the core values on a consistent basis, they can no longer be a member of the organization.

Finally, core values are the context for the communication of organizational mission and purpose. Mission is what you do, vision is where you are going, and core values are your company DNA. Core values are not merely aspirational words; flowery motivational phrases to hang on the wall. If they are truly the core values of the organization, they will reflect the passion, heart, and spirit of every team member. They are the basis for organizational identity, culture and behavior.

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