Through my travels and tenure with businesses over the past 30+ years, I’ve heard core values -- the principles and beliefs that drive the behaviors of all members of the organization -- discussed at length. Now more than ever it seems, the importance of company core values is emphasized. Companies spend days deliberating their core values and lots of money designing modern wall art to display those values. It’s really a great thing to see because, without clarity on core values, companies struggle in a constantly reactive state, as their employees lack purpose and direction.
Yet, for all the great strides companies make in setting their core values, too often they struggle with actually “living” them -- bringing them front and center to convert them into specific behaviors. That’s because setting core values is only half the battle. Where so many companies fail in the “living” of core values is in the rollout of those values and in the consistent reinforcement of them every single day. It’s like they lose their compass in the hustle and bustle of the everyday tasks.
To bring core values to life, you must model and reward behaviors that demonstrate each value. In doing so, employees will be constantly reminded of what your company stands for and how to better work by your core principles.
Years ago, my (still favorite) boss welcomed me into her office. Tucked away on a corner shelf was a gorgeous crystal hand grenade. Neither of us mentioned it, but I already knew what it meant. That Waterford crystal grenade was legendary, and I was lucky enough to already know the story: that the company awarded crystal grenades to a very precious few in the company who had “jumped on the grenade” on behalf of our associates and customers. I immediately straightened up because I knew I was in the presence of someone great.
“Welcome to OUR company. We’re glad you’re here," she greeted me.
She quickly moved to a topic sacred to her and to the company: core values.
“We stand for 3 things: 1) Do the Right Thing, 2) Teamwork & Trust, 3) Have a Passion for Winning – in that order.”
This wasn’t marketing gibberish. These were expected & rewarded behaviors here.
She continued, “My job is to make sure the CEO knows who Gary Frey is. Your job, once you’ve built your team, is to make sure I know who your stars are. Hire your replacement, and never be afraid to hire people smarter than yourself.”
Servant Leadership: She didn’t just talk about it. She LIVED it. She led by example, and her peers and the CEO recognized and rewarded her for it. The crystal grenade was proof.
My years at that company were some of my best, and it’s because of the way core values lived at the front and center of everyday life.
Bottom line? Don’t let organizational values wither on your company’s career page and in the new hire handbook. Bring them to life. Here are four tips to get started:
- Make your core values stick.
Your company’s core values should guide all aspects of your business, from the decisions you make to the talent you source to the way you engage with your customers. Everyone in the company, from the CEO down, should know them and apply them. To do that, they’ll have to remember them.
Keep your core values at the forefront of everyone’s mind by displaying them prominently within the workplace -- the conference room, the break room, in each office, and so on. The website and handbook aren’t enough; employees don’t look at those on a daily basis.
At BGW, we have our values posted in various ways throughout the office, along with our logo, to serve as a constant reminder to our team. As a reinforcement, our values are communicated by firm partners on a regular basis.
- Hire according to your values.
Building a team that lives and works by your company values starts with hiring people who share those values. Therefore, every question you ask a candidate should assess their character and cultural fit with your organization.
For instance, one of our core values at BGW is that we are relationship builders who will defy the passive, reactive, and transaction-focused stereotype of accountants. Asking interview questions related to a candidate’s ability to make deep connections with our clients is essential. It’s how we identify people who have the principles and tendencies that will match our passions.
- Become a model.
The best way to bring organizational values to life is to model them by living, working, and playing by them on a daily basis.To support our value of community investment, for example, we give employees hours of paid time off each year to volunteer. We often do service projects together which further serves our team dynamics.
Actively model your values by aligning them with company culture activities, such as taking time off to volunteer together or creating opportunities for team bonding. Most importantly, lead by example. Show employees how it’s done by using company character to guide business decisions and empower them to do the same.
- Reward behaviors that promote your values.
Never hesitate to publicly reward someone for exhibiting behaviors that are in line with the company’s character. Not only does this make the individual feel good, but it also pushes the rest of the company to follow suit. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant gift like a Waterford crystal grenade, but do take the time to go the extra mile and recognize values in action, even when you’re busy. Making individuals “employee of the month,” featuring that employee in the company newsletter, blog and/or website, or just giving them a simple pat on the back are all inexpensive ways to promote and reward great behavior.
The best companies take their core values to heart, challenging themselves every day to ensure they are truly living their values. Likewise, the companies that have core values but don’t focus on them often find themselves struggling financially and culturally. It’s time you start living your values.
How does your company bring organizational values to life? Share in the comments section below!