(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL)
Whether you know it or not, your company functions with a specific set of core values. These fundamental beliefs seep into company culture and decision-making at all levels of the organization.
The ability to identify and articulate your core values will make a huge impact on internal affairs and provide guidance for your employees as they work to achieve their goals. Plus, core values can serve as a great branding tool! Core values also set the tone for the working relationship you will have with new employees and clients from day one.
The most important reason to define your core values, however, is that these beliefs can be used as a compass for every business decision you make. If you are ever in a tough situation, turn to your core values for direction. Your employees, too, can look to your core values while making project-based decisions on behalf of the company. Overall, core values can streamline business processes and bring your team together to work as a unit.
When outlining your values, think about the moral code you follow in your own life. Many core values stem from the types of lessons you learned in kindergarten:
- Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Act honestly.
- Be a team player.
- Give back.
- Love your neighbors.
- The trick, then, is making these values unique to your company.
Consider the main functions of your business. Do you serve clients? If so, dedicate one of your core values to the way you expect all employees to treat your clients. At my company, REED Public Relations, we selected “Measurable Results” and “Action-Oriented” as two of our core values. Though simple, our clients know that our team will be proactive and will share data-driven results regularly. There is no guesswork about how we approach our client relationships.
Next, think about the culture you have cultivated at your company. What makes your organization stand out from the crowd? What kind of language do you use when recruiting new employees? Do you provide a unique benefit that is worth mentioning? Identify your company’s differentiators and convert them into core values. At REED, our “Give Back” value encompasses our Be The Good program, which funds mission trips (including for our employees!) around the world through a portion of revenue from our clients. It’s our way of giving back.
As a general rule of thumb, three to six core values is ideal. If you find yourself with more than six, try to consolidate. Too many core values will be difficult for clients and team members to remember. If you have less than three, reach out to a few trusted colleagues for their opinions on what makes your company tick.
Once your core values are set, you have two tasks: express them to clientele, and implement them in everyday business.
It is important that clients new and old are aware of your core values. Consider sharing your values in a visible location on your website and working them into all marketing materials. As you court new clients, share your values upfront. In my opinion, this is the best way for a potential client to understand your company and the type of work you do. We include our core values in our pitch deck, and we spend at least a minute with each prospective client going through the values to ensure they align well with their company.
As you roll out the values internally, it is equally important to make them visible. Paint the values on a wall in a common room, or commission printed posters to be hung throughout the office. Share the values via email, and include them in your email signature. Continue to work them into meetings and communications regularly. Brand updates can take up to a year to stick, so do not pull back on communication efforts until you feel the entire company is on board.
Consider working with HR to recognize an employee that exemplifies your organization’s core values each year. Also, make sure HR highlights the values during new employee onboarding. If a new employee’s values do not match those of the company, you can save yourself a headache down the road.
Think of core values as the sun, or the center of your business’s universe. Every function of your business, from marketing to accounting and beyond, circulates around this set of beliefs. These values are connected to everything the company does and embody the essence of the organization. If your team, clients and leadership are all focused on abiding by the same set of values, you can be confident that your goals will be met and your business will make a positive impact.