What are the core values that define your organisation?

8 October, 2019
Espoused values

5 steps to discover what beliefs underpin your organisation

A person’s core values determine their behaviours and responses to situations in their personal and work life. They provide them with an internal compass for what is right and what is wrong. Core values are developed through upbringing, learning and experience. In the organisational context, they define what the company stands for and act as a guide in decision-making processes.

Only when you understand what your organisation’s core values are can you align culture with strategy for sustainable success. This is because your core values are integral to organisational culture and the way things get done.


Discovering your core values

One mistake that many organisations make is trying to dictate their core values to their people. They create a set of core values – the beliefs that they think their people should adhere to – and try to adapt their organisation to them. This does not work. Core values must be authentic. They are already present. Your job is to discover them.

These five steps will help you discover your organisation’s core values.


Step 1: Create a core values team

Your organisation’s core values will be driven by your key players. These may be your senior figures, or in smaller teams could include other employees. You may decide to include people from across the organisation – decision-makers and high performers.

Whoever you decide to include in your core values team, they should be committed to defining the values of your organisation. They should be able to demonstrate these core values themselves, and be prepared to embrace consensus as they work toward a set of agreed core values.


Step 2: Hold a discovery session

Set a date in advance and gather the core values team for a discovery session. Share the context of what you are trying to achieve and why. Ask each to come to the session with ideas, and allow these to be discussed as individual values and expectations.

Create an environment where all values ideas can be shared in this discovery session and be prepared to share ideas of your own. For example, you may consider that clear communication is essential to engage employees, as well as keeping all employees involved with the big picture and future vision.

As your team vocalise their ideas, you will begin to get a picture of what is most important to them as a team.


Step 3: Establish a consolidated list of core values

Your discovery session is likely to have uncovered many ideas. The next task is to consolidate these into a smaller, manageable list of core values by amalgamating all those that are similar. For example, you may have several ideas that relate to accountability, being responsible for one’s own actions, not blaming others and how managers encourage others to be accountable. These ideas can be defined into a single core value, such as:

“Our people understand the organisation, our customers and the way things get done. They take personal responsibility for their actions and, in an environment in which managers encourage personal growth and development, they also align their personal accountability with that of their team.”

When composing your core values, avoid making the wording too ‘vanilla’. Each statement needs to reach beyond words. It must invoke belief and desired behaviours, and create a sense of meaning in the same way in which you develop your mission statement.


Step 4: Describe your core values so that your people relate to them

It is crucial that you describe your core values in words that resonate with your workforce. If you wrap them up in jargon, your employees will cease to be interested. They will be viewed as no more than corporate ‘mumbo jumbo’. For example, instead of ‘Take a customer-centric approach to achieve our product development and revenue growth objectives’, you might decide on ‘Focus on the user and all else will follow’ (from Google’s 10 core values as discussed in their ex-CEO’s Eric Schmidt’s book, ‘How Google Works’).

How you frame your organisation’s core values will depend upon its culture. Perhaps single words will suffice. Maybe describing them with a little humour would be best. The important thing is to describe them in ways that will be memorable to your employees and help them respond positively to them.


Step 5: Ensure your core values are complete

Before rolling out your core values, you must ensure that they incorporate your vision and business strategy. Ask if they are the values which you and your team can uphold. Remember that your organisation’s core values must be authentic – if not, they will fall flat.


In Summary

An organisation’s core values are those beliefs that they hold as most important to them. They determine personal and organisational priorities, support vision and strategy and will help define organisational culture. Your core values are effectively your identity – providing the foundation on which your organisational and operational principles and purpose are built.

To understand how the Learning Map could help give meaning to your core values, and how to onboard your employees with them, get in touch with The Big Picture People today.

(To see how putting people in the picture creates a shared vision and helps set a concrete destination, read this case study.)

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