I write about organizational culture and core values quite often. One of my most recent articles on this topic was about whether or not employees believe in their companies’ core values. In that post, I shared this statistic from Gallup: only 23% of U.S. employees believe that they can apply the core values to their work, while only 27% believe in the values. That’s pretty dismal, and I think I know why that’s the case. When executives and managers don’t live the values, why should the employees!

Yes, just like with everything else in the organization – any changes, any required behaviors or actions, etc. – executives and managers are not immune. As a matter of fact, they are the role models. They must be the catalyst. When they do things right and do the right things, so will their employees. If executives exempt themselves, employees won’t take any of it seriously.

But what if the leadership team doesn’t understand the core values? What if they don’t even understand what is expected as a result of each core value? Remember, not everyone was around when the core values were first established. (Is it time to re-evaluate, to make sure they are still in line with how the culture ought to be?) Plus, many companies don’t incorporate core values into their orientation and training, sadly. And, finally, not many companies know that there’s an important exercise that must accompany core values development: they must define the behaviors that are acceptable for each value. In other words, they’ve got to provide examples of what each value means and how it is applied in business dealings day in and day out. This provides clarity and leaves no room to question what each value means.

Take a look at your core values. Brainstorm desired behaviors to be associated with each value: behaviors that you believe are in line with the intent of the value, behaviors that would make you proud to work for this company, behaviors that are deliberately aligned with the culture you are designing. For further clarity, you can even outline behaviors that are not acceptable as a result of this core value.

Get feedback from a cross-section of employees; this is a great exercise for your Culture Committee to take on. They can gather feedback from their respective departments. The more input and involvement you get now, the more likely people will accept, adopt, and align in the future.

An important next step in this exercise is to outline the (employee, customer, and/or business) outcomes you’ll achieve through these values and behaviors. Ultimately, what you’re going to end up with is a table that looks something like this:

values, behaviors, outcomes

Once that exercise is complete, you also now have a way to measure your culture – and measure employee performance against the values. These behaviors are likely measurable in some way, whether it’s a “didn’t meet/met/exceeded” scale or some other scale. Promoting and firing based on values is no longer ambiguous; everyone knows what the values mean and what to do or expect.

Next, you’ve got to tell the story of the core values: how they came about, what they mean, and how they should be applied by executives and employees alike in their day-to-day dealings. As you know, storytelling is a great teaching tool. Telling this story will be important to building the connection with – and teaching the importance of – these values to everyone in the company and to business outcomes. Don’t skip this step.

Finally, the values must be modeled, recognized, and reinforced. Executives must model the behaviors, not exempt themselves from them. And they must recognize and reinforce employee behaviors that are in line with the core values.

Only after all of this can employees believe in and apply the core values. It’s not as simple as coming up with a list of core values and hanging posters of them around the office!

Have you linked values to behaviors and outcomes in your organization? Share your experience with this or share some examples in the comments below.

Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones. -Benjamin Franklin

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