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How to Discover Our True Core Values

Posted by: Sandy Fekete | Posted on: June 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments

It’s no secret that core values are an integral part of each organization’s culture.  When truly ingrained throughout the company, values guide our behaviors and decisions. They represent what we stand for and believe in. We are followers of Jim Collins’ work, and his belief that core values should never change. Operating practices and cultural norms, on the other hand should never stop changing (case in point:  Nordstrom whose core value of exceptional customer service has never changed, but the delivery of it has evolved with the internet experience).Core Values sign

How do we uncover our core values? Start by gathering a task force of people who have an intricate and innate understanding of what makes the company tick.  These can be decision makers as well as people who influence decisions.  It can include the delivery driver who has been with the company 30 years interfacing with customers to the CEO and admin who has been through 5 CEO’s. (It is best to use a facilitator to keep the process on track and get the end result you want).

If starting from ground zero, it is helpful to have every team member complete a values worksheet so you can rank the values that make it onto everyone’s list. Here is a worksheet of values we use when we facilitate discovery sessions.

After you and your team identify the strongest values, you can test whether or not each one meets the criteria of a core value, and most importantly your core values. We find that the best way to do this is with Jim Collins’ core ideology work. He provides a “test” for each value, including:

  • “Would I continue to hold on to this core value, even if it became a competitive disadvantage?”  
  • If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core value regardless of the industry?
  • Would you want your organization to continue to stand for this core value 100 years into the future, no matter what changes occur in the outside world?
  • Do you believe that those who do not share this core value—those who breach it consistently—simply do not belong in your organization?
  • Would you personally continue to hold this core value even if you were not rewarded for holding it?
  • Would you change jobs before giving up this core value?
  • If you awoke tomorrow with more than enough money to retire comfortably for the rest of your life, would you continue to apply this core value to your productive activities?

Here are some best practices that have evolved from our experience helping companies discover their core values:

  • A good rule of thumb is no more than 5 and no less than 3. Zappos has ten core values, but everyone in the organization knows them, believes them, and lives them.
  • Define behaviors associated with each core value and establish performance standards (identify the person in the organization who best personifies a core value and have the team list actions and behaviors that support it).
  • Ask your customers what they experience your core values to be. Make sure they are in alignment with what your team believes.
  • Develop your recruiting website around your core values so you appeal to and attract individuals who share your beliefs.
  • Every performance appraisal should include measuring behavior against core values.

The best companies uphold timeless core values that impact their company culture.

Here is a look at 100 core values of 15 successful companies.  What core values did your organization uncover? Please share with us and comment below!

Comments (2)


  1. Greg Fehr - Reply
    February 3, 2014

    Hi. I tried to open/download your worksheet, but it wouldn’t open. Could you e-mail it to me?

    Thanks!

    • Mworks740 - Reply
      February 6, 2014

      Hi Greg, I’m not sure what worksheet you are referring to, but if you’ll let me know I can send it to you.

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