How to Get the Most Value out of Your Core Values

01 Apr 2015
How to Get the Most Value out of Your Core Values
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Kelly Smith

Weak core values can hold companies back in the battle for the best people, minds, investors and brand enthusiasts. At LPK, we help clients uncover and articulate core values in a way that builds healthier organizations. Want to ensure you’re capturing the values that make you unique and that the best employees seek? Follow these 5 simple steps:

Ever since Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called attention to the importance of organizational core values in their book Built to Last, the world has rushed to fill the corporate walls with attributes, beliefs, quotes and any number of empty statements that might pass as a value. We’ve all seen them: honesty, authenticity, respect … the list goes on and on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We encourage our clients to push beyond generic language to words and expressions that leave no room for misinterpretation. Let’s use integrity for example. Integrity is an excellent trait. We believe all companies should fundamentally be built on a platform of people acting with some sense of integrity. If that’s true, and every company embraces it as a core value, how does one company differentiate their spin on it from another?

Therein lies the challenge, because synonyms for integrity include honesty, principle, sincerity, candor, goodness and righteousness, among others. So what do you mean when you list integrity as a core value? Do you want people to be honest, or sincere? To be good, or righteous? We’ve found that when the interpretation is left to the individual, the advantage almost always swings in favor of the individual.

We as individuals live our lives based on what we value, and we want our workplaces to operate the same way. As Jessica Amortegui points out in “5 reasons You Need to Instill Values in Your Organization,” “rather than get people to live the values, [organizations] should focus on the values that live in the people. This taps into the innate qualities that exist across mankind: human virtues.”

We regularly conduct one-on-one interviews with people across our clients’ organizations prior to developing core language. During these interviews it can quickly become apparent what values the company embraces, what isn’t working and what the top employees wish could be expressed. Once we’ve helped our clients discover the values that match their organization, we help craft language that will set them apart internally and externally.

Expressing core values uniquely matters immensely for a company. They serve as a tool for recruiting and as a barometer of sorts for existing employees. They can be a banner to guide desired ideas and actions, and a guardrail against unwanted behavior.

Write the way your company thinks, acts and talks. If your environment is ultra casual, feel free to express your values that way. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no one here is too good to take out the trash or sweep the floor” if that fits who you are. If your culture is more formal, you might try “Entrepreneurial Spirit—we expect everyone here to do the little things in order to help us reach our goals.” Stay true to who you are—and what you want to become.

How you introduce new values language to any organization is important. We caution our clients against rushing to print posters, mugs and t-shirts with the new values, which are often tied in with vision and mission articulation. It’s not that we have anything against t-shirts and mugs; it’s just that people tend to hate them in these circumstances. Seriously, hate them. T-shirts offered up too early in the process signify that a company is more interested in the organization than its people; and if the people don’t come first, that t-shirt will only represent how out of touch management is with those who make the company great.

We promote cascading communication—starting with the CEO and moving consistently through management—and management living the messages they preach well before they try to drive anything down into the system. A senior manager who cheats the system to get his way in front of his managers is going to have zero chance of getting his team to buy into anything he says about integrity as a value. Once managers consistently demonstrate, through their actions, that they buy into the new corporate language, the rest of the company can start to get on board—and then you can give everybody in the newly refreshed brand tribe a t-shirt to help celebrate.

Sometimes during the process of rolling out core values across an organization, companies find people who simply don’t or won’t embrace the new language. Let’s be clear here: the company carries the burden of first communicating any new cultural language to its employees and helping employees see the advantages of moving toward the new ideals collectively. But at some point, management owes it to the rest of the company to help the naysayers move on. It’s really hard to have a healthy organizational culture when most of the company buys into the values while a few negative outliers are allowed to passively or actively fight the system. Either people agree that the values matter and live them, or the values don’t matter and neither does the culture.

Core values are an important part of building healthy organizations and getting everybody on the same script. Most companies don’t have to look much further than their best employees to know what kind of culture they have and what they should celebrate. But the words you use to articulate your values, the way management lives them and the way you introduce the new language to the company can make the difference in whether the organization buys into the program or just waits until management moves on to a new topic.

Don’t let weak values hold you and your company back. Interested in learning more about how to uncover your company’s intrinsic core values and communicate them in a more meaningful way? Send me a note at or on Twitter at @thinkhaus1.

This article is an edited version of the original LinkedIn post 5 Easy Steps to Get the Greatest Value out of Your Core Values. Special thanks to LPK Copy Director Emily Kennedy for her contributions to this post.

As LPK Vice President, Managing Creative Director, Kelly Smith works across LPK’s portfolio, transforming organizations and building B2B and B2C brands—from small family-owned businesses to Fortune 50 companies. When Kelly’s not immersed in organizational change issues, you’ll find him buried in a business book, playing his guitar or chasing a triathlon personal record.