One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a leader is the importance of core values. Core values are the foundation of how you and everyone in your company conduct themselves. They are the enduring things that would remain if you took away everything else. Core values require no external justification. They are not trendy; they are primary. They are not strategies or goals; they do not change every quarter. They are the filter through which you conduct yourself at work. They determine how you treat others and guide you through difficult decisions. For some, core values are nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Case in point: Enron. Enron’s values seem like a cruel joke now: respect, integrity, communication and excellence. How about Dell’s? In a nutshell the ‘Soul of Dell’ is advertised as: customers, teamwork, being direct, global citizenship, and winning. To me those values translate to hard work, long hours, high expectations, and difficult conversations. Even though they are called the “soul” they don’t feel soulful.
I’m especially proud of the core values we created at Girlstart, http://www.girlstart.org/values.asp They were the framework through which we treated one another and we made every decision. One of our core values is "No success at work is worth failure at home." How many people ignore this lesson? How many CEO's consistently expect their employees to put work over family? Another one of our core values that I am especially proud of is “Have fun and enjoy the experience.”
When do you need to start creating core values? As soon as you are ready to take your company to the next level. When your company is small and starting out, members' values and behaviors are affected through proximity to the leader. The need for articulating core values becomes increasingly apparent as you grow. Defining core values helps maintain the culture the company holds dear. Once defined, the values should be prominently displayed for employees and clients and reinforced through both the hiring process and in employee evaluations.
They should be short, enduring and memorable. More than 5 core values are difficult to memorize. Companies are wise to stick to 3-5 key values. Every company should reflect on them frequently to make sure they are living by them and check and see if they have changed so much as a company that a revisit is warranted.
The best leaders exhibit their values and ethics everyday in their leadership style and actions. If you don’t identify your values in the workplaces, mistrust follows. People don't know what they can expect from their leaders. If leaders have identified and shared their values and are living those values daily that visibility will create trust.
What does your company stand for? Are core values given lip service as marketing jargon or does your leadership live and breathe them?
Here's to keeping it meaningful-