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Benjamin Drury - September 7, 2020

5 Reasons to throw away your company values

What do you mean I need to throw them away? I thought every company needed to be explicit about their values. I thought it was important to understand and live your core values.

You, the reader.

You’re totally right. Absolutely it is. It clarifies your team’s focus. It makes sure what’s important stays front and centre when making decisions. When under pressure it keeps you on point. An organisation’s core values are the operating principles that guide internal conduct and relationships with customers, partners, and shareholders. Core values define how a company and its people behave, but it has to be the right values.

How do you know you’ve got the right values?

Me, the writer.

My guess is you need to get rid of what you have at the moment and start again. I work with so many organisations that have started this process and not really delivered anything that adds value to the organisation. They have clearly defined company values, but they are not living and breathing them every day. They can’t tell me what they are without looking them up, without thinking for a while about them. Unless you can tell me what they are in 30 seconds and when you tell me you get excited about your work, then it’s time to throw them away and start again and here’s why:

1 They are symptoms not values

When originally defining your core values you haven’t gone deep enough. You’ve stopped at the ground floor, but often the ground floor is just the symptoms, the outworking of the true core values found in the basement. It’s like the difference between saying we like to laugh or we have fun. Laughter is a symptom of fun, but having fun is the core driver. You need to really go deeper until you have the fundamental, foundational values, not just the behaviours that are the outworking of those values.

Maybe you have reliability and honesty as values. I would suggest that those are symptoms of empathy with clients. You really care about solving client problems so you are reliable and honest.

Maybe you have professionalism as value. I would suggest that is a symptom of being experts in your field and seeking excellence and best practice.

If you have symptoms as your current value list, you need to go deeper. To know if you’ve got to true core values there is a simple test. Your values should clearly differentiate you from your competitors. If I can take your defined values and attribute them to your competitor and they not look out of place then you haven’t gone deep enough. Go deeper and find the values that truly separate you from other people in your industry, then you’ll have your core values.

2. The are boring not inspiring

Unless your values get people excited about coming to work because of the values that are being lived out and the behaviours that demonstrate those values, then get rid of them. True core values should connect with people deeply at heart level. They should inspire, challenge and drive them on. If yours are dull and boring, then start again.

3. There are too many

More than five is too many. Three or four is about right. People should be a be to remember them and should be able to articulate them without any effort. They don’t need to recite by rote, and everyone will use slightly different words, but they should be able to express the spirit of the values.

If people are going to live them out they should be able to bring them to mind quickly every day in meetings and with colleagues. They should be always front of mind, supporting and driving decisions and behaviours. If there are too many, that won’t happen.

They are not rules, they are are fundamental core values. Lines not to be crossed. If you have too many, then refer to number one – you probably haven’t gone deep enough.

4. They don’t help with decisions.

Core values are the behaviours which a company would go out of business to protect. The ones you would not compromise on even if it meant the end of your organisation.  As already mentioned, these are the behaviours and beliefs that differentiate you from your competitors.  The values are foundational to the organisation. 

They are absolutely non-negotiable, immutable and demonstrated day in, day out throughout the organisation.  They are values that customers would use as adjectives if they tried to describe your organisation.  They are clear to everyone both inside and out of the organisation.

If you are not using your values to help or focus when you are making decisions on a daily basis, then they probably aren’t core values.

5.You haven’t looked at them for a year

Be honest, did you write them and then forget about them? Are they involved every day in decision making and communication and creating marketing? If not then it’s time to start again. See point number 4.

If you want to rid your organisation of politics and hidden agendas, you need to be clear about what you will and will not do in pursuit of your mission and everyone needs to be behind it, every day.

To find out more about how to define and implement core values across an organisation, contact The Culture Guy for a free strategy call.

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