Company culture is a topic that is vitally important to every leader running a business or managing a department. Companies with a healthy culture have deeper employee engagement and higher motivation, and they do better at attracting and retaining talent. Oh yeah, and they have a lot more fun while getting lots more work done! Creating a great culture is hard and often neglected, but the reward is more than worth the effort.
Building a great culture starts with building authentic core values. Core values get a bad rap. More than one person will tell you they’ve worked for a company that had prominent core values but didn’t live them. The core values may have been on display in big vinyl letters in a conference room, or they might have been tacked onto the About Us page of a website. They might have even been immortalized on a t-shirt — but they weren’t shared by all or truly lived throughout the organization.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles focused on creating a winning company culture. Blog author and Tigerpaw President & CEO James Foxall is a recognized thought leader and speaker on company culture. In addition to this series and numerous tradeshow and event presentations, James is in the process of writing a book to share his passion and knowledge about the topic in order to help other companies go through the transformative culture journey through which he led Tigerpaw.
If your company has official core values and they’re not shared and adhered to by all, you're worse off than not having core values in the first place!
Core values define the character of your organization — they are the shared norms of your organization. Authentic core values are the North Star of every stellar organization, guiding everything the company does. They are the litmus test for new ideas and the measuring stick used to assess potential hires.
Your core values need to be real — they need to reflect who you are, not who you want to be. Our first set of core values at Tigerpaw were the latter — they were aspirational core values. Aspirational core values are a culture killer because everyone knows that they’re not authentic; saying that you are something that you’re clearly not is disingenuous and breeds mistrust.
No matter where your company core values are right now, here’s a three-step guide on how to evaluate them and create company core values that are authentic to your organization:
Step 1: Identify your awesome employees
So how do you define authentic core values? A simple way to start is to have your leadership write down the top two or three people in your organization that they believe are the pinnacle examples of your company’s core values. You know, the people that employees love, their teammates love and who can always be counted on to help others and do the right thing.
This should not be a discussion — everyone should create their own list independently. Once they have their own list, then put all the names up on a white board. You’ll probably find two or three people that consistently make everyone’s list. Focus on them.
Step 2: Identify employee characteristics that make them awesome
Once you have two or three employees common to most lists, have each leader brainstorm six or seven adjectives that describe these people. Again, everyone should make their own list — no peeking!
Once everyone has their list, go around the room and have people share their list and write them down on the white board. If an adjective was already used, put a tick mark next to it rather than writing it twice. In fact, if you have duplicates, then you have a gold mine — you are closing in on your authentic core values!
Step 3: Refine your list
The next step is to drill into that list of adjectives. Ask questions like “what makes this person X?” or “why is Y important to us?” These adjectives and the people they describe are the basis for writing your authentic core values.
This phase takes effort and some wordsmithing, and you might not (read: probably won’t) get it right the first time. That’s OK. Be open-minded to changing your core values as you learn more, but always talk about them and always live them. You should consider all of your core values as you make business decisions.
Get to work
If core values are new to you or you are creating new core values, then you have some work to do to get everyone in your organization on the same page. I promise you that once you know and properly use your authentic core values, it will have a major impact on your company.
To help you get started, download this Creating Authentic Company Core Values Packet that includes directions and worksheets to help guide you.