The simplest way to define a core value is as an enduring, guiding principle that helps employees work together to achieve a common goal. These principles or beliefs help employees to make decisions in different circumstances that align with organisational policy and intent. Examples might be loyalty, resilience, inclusivity, honesty, humility, trust, excellence, respect, ingenuity, responsibility, and sustainability… the list of possible core values is a long one and while your core values don’t need to be unique, they do need to be authentic.
It is up to an organisation’s leadership to establish what is relevant and correct in terms of values and to ensure that those values influence decisions made throughout the organisation by all employees on a daily basis. When this is achieved, core corporate values move from directives on paper to principles in business culture and daily lifestyle.
Here are some ways that corporate values can remain relevant and understood in an ever-changing landscape.
Don’t create hollow value statements
For core values to be meaningful, they need to truly stand for something. Too many organisations hurriedly come up with what they call ‘core values’ purely because they believe they should display some on their website. These can be quickly exposed when decisions are made that are contrary to these values, which leads to a loss of trust and legitimacy.
When defining core values for your organisation, focus on fundamental beliefs that are congruous with the way the organisation does business and, above all, can realistically be implemented.
Clarity is key
As with all communication, core values should be communicated clearly so that they are easy to understand and there is no confusion. It doesn’t matter how profound and true your values are if people don’t understand what they mean or if they can’t remember them. Keep core values short and specific so that employees can understand and remember them. Also, explain why the organisation has picked these values above all others.
Embody corporate values
Communication should not be limited to the written word or even the spoken word – communicate with examples and actions. An action made by the CEO that embodies a core value is far more effective than yet another corporate email reminding employees or customers of the same value.
Examples should also be embraced when laying out a core value statement, to clarify their meaning to employees. Use written examples in core value documents and reinforce them through roleplay as well as stakeholder actions.
Relate organisation decisions to core values
A good policy is to regularly relate business decisions to the organisation’s core values, remind stakeholders of their importance and also to justify decisions. If employees have already bought into the core values, seeing them reflected in business decisions will help them to understand and accept these decisions. This is particularly relevant in terms of the employee lifecycle, from the hiring process to promotion decisions and termination of contracts.
Values in training
Employee training is a great time to communicate and explain core values, be it for new employees or old ones. This training can bring simple words to life through roleplay and case studies, putting employees in situations and helping them to make decisions that are in line with core values. Also give employees the tools and skills they need to be able to implement the core values – if ‘Teamwork’ is one of your core values, train employees on how to work in a team!
In training, it’s also important to understand how employees interpret corporate values. One word can have many meanings, some subtly different, so get feedback from employees as to what they understand that core value to mean. This is of particular significance in an organisation that represents multiple cultures and languages – the simple act of translation can create differences and misunderstandings.
Recognise and reward
Incentivise behaviour that is in line with corporate core values. If employees can see that good behaviour is being recognised and rewarded, they’re more likely to adhere to the espoused values. Employee recognition programs are more than rewards though, as they are also a constant reinforcement of core values and establish good habits that lead to the desired work culture. A 2021 Deloitte report established that organisations with recognition programs enjoy 14% higher performance than organisations without it.
Employee recognition can also be more than an official program and there is significant power in peer recognition. Create a platform where employees can promote a colleague’s behaviour or nominate them for significant performance.
Core values being followed, lead to a positive corporate culture, and this, in turn, affects the ability of an organisation to attract and retain top talent. Remember, recognised talent is less likely to spend their lunch hour looking for a new job.
Refer to them
When announcing a business decision that you’ve made, try to relate it to one of your core values. For example, if your organisation has introduced paternity leave for male employees, refer it to your core value of ‘Equality’ in the announcement. If you have decided to install a water-recycling plant on your factory’s premises, point out that this is in line with the organisation’s core value of ‘Sustainability’.
Make them visible
Internal communication of core values is vital and can be done through everything from emails to the company website, newsletters, town halls and even signage on the premises. Make time in meetings to discuss the core values and how they are being achieved or failed. Repetition reinforces the value of these principles, keeps them in people’s minds and reminds employees of the organisation’s mission.
Included employees are engaged employees, and engaged employees are productive employees. It may be necessary to change core values over time and so evaluation of the values and how they are perceived can be important. Use surveys and other feedback tools to give employees the opportunity to share their perspectives and ideas. You may learn that a core value simply cannot be implemented, or it is no longer relevant. Surveys also help to measure the success of a value and whether there is a gap between desired behaviour and real-world behaviour. More than anything, feedback boosts employee engagement.
Lead by example
The most visible examples of core values are the actions of senior management. If employees see that a senior manager is working according to the core values, they are more likely to buy into them themselves. Conversely, nothing erodes the power of a value more quickly than it being ignored by someone in a position of influence and leadership.
By disregarding an organisation’s core value, leadership is showing that the value is not important, giving employees tacit permission to ignore it as well.
Know your values
Finally, you need to thoroughly understand them – not just the words themselves but the meaning behind them and how they fit into your organisation, industry, and society. Spend time understanding them, researching how they could be interpreted by others, and how they benefit the organisation and your customers.
If your organisation would like to bring its core values to life, engage the help of the experts by saying firstname.lastname@example.org.
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