Over the years, I’ve had dozens and dozens of speakers, consultants, trainers, and lecturers tell me that establishing your company’s core values is a must. They told me, over and over again, until it seemed the most important thing a business could do was—not make a profit—but to create a list of values so central to our existence that we’d find some form of higher business truth.
Maybe I’m dramatizing a bit. But only a bit. In fact, these business experts seemed to make such a big stinking deal about the “process” of creating core values that I just decided to opt out—for 25 years!
Here’s a sampling of the steps I was told to follow in creating my company’s core business values:
- Get your employees together for multiple meetings, and make sure everyone contributes.
- Don’t rush the process; it may take six months.
- Conduct off-site retreats with your employees.
- You should only have three core values … no … seven core values … no … two core values.
- Use words, not sentences. Scratch that, use sentences. No, come to think of it, use phrases.
I understand why you make a list of your company’s core values: they provide a recorded, clear, and referable list of the values and beliefs that your business operates within. But when you’re a small business, finding the time to involve all your employees and reach a consensus can be daunting. Is the net gain really worth the price of the lost productivity?
Why I created my Company’s Core Values
I put the creation of my core values off for a long time, but, In 2013, I found myself wanting to tie some of my companies’ loose ends together. I had five business at the time—now all under the umbrella of Patriot Software—and we were going through a transformational change.
We were moving into a new office building, and it was a big deal. The office spaces that I’d used in the past were all, well, less than spectacular.
I started my company in the basement of a cold, wet, mouse-visited factory because the rent was cheap. Then we moved to an old building attached to a mental hospital. Occasionally the patients would escape!
Our new office was in an upscale part of town, open, airy, and new. I wanted to make it spectacular; a place that my employees could be proud of and envision a long and prosperous future. I wanted the place to resonate with my employees so that they all felt like they owned a part of a business that represented them. To do that, I needed to make it a temple of our company’s core values.
The trouble was, I couldn’t set up a series of meetings with my very hands-on leadership team, organize retreats, or shut the offices down while we hammered out a list of everyone’s values.
I decided that, because culture comes from leadership’s example, I would shoulder the great labor of creating the all-important core business values list myself. I started the company, after all, and I should set the tone.
So, I got a pot of coffee, canceled all my meetings, locked myself in my office, and braced myself for a mental workout.
Surprisingly, the whole event took me less than 20 minutes. Seriously. Had I known it would be that simple, I would have done it 25 years earlier!
Mike Kappel’s No-Nonsense Way of Developing Your Company’s Core Values
First, I made sure I was alone. I had no employee involvement. Now, I know that runs contrary to all the business advice I mentioned above, but I felt that I should take the first crack at it. After all, if I couldn’t live up to the values, then what was the point of having them?
Second, I wrote the following questions down and attempted to answer them.
Q: When I write about “us” in our company newsletters, who is us?
Q: Who are we?
Q: What is in our hearts?
Q: What are our values?
Q: How do we do our work?
Third, I thought about 12 of my individual long-term employees—my star performers. I wrote their names down, envisioned their faces, thought about their work ethic, their integrity, the things that they value, and some of the extraordinary things they’ve done for my business. Then I tried to encapsulate those feelings in a sentence or two.
With just these three steps, I was able to come up with a first-pass list of statements that I thought most of the individuals envisioned would wholeheartedly agree with.
Finally, I edited my list down into shorter, concise statements.
Core Value Statements:
- I am hard working, honest, and caring.
- I have integrity. I don’t lie, cheat, or steal.
- I always get the job done, no matter what. I do whatever it takes!
- I’m not a clock-watcher. I always give more of myself (and my time) than what is expected of me.
- I am very focused and use my time wisely.
- My work is accurate and thorough.
- I take ownership and pride in my work. For me, it’s not just a job, it’s my passion.
- I know that change is constantly happening in any progressive business. So, I quickly embrace change.
- I’m a thinker. I think things through as far as I possibly can.
- I’m a continuous learner. I regularly pursue new education and training on the job and also in my spare time.
- I genuinely care about our customers, and I want them to be successful.
- I always provide our customers with more value than they pay for.
- My coworkers are like family to me, and I am loyal and accountable to each of them, I honor them and treat them with respect.
- I’m friendly, cooperative, and easy to get along with!
- I try to remain humble. It’s not “about me” or doing things my way. It’s about the cause (the mission) that we are pursuing together. I’m an open-minded team player.
- I get results. Consistently.
How To Use Them Going Forward
Now that I had my company’s core values, what did I do with them? Well, in the years since I wrote them down, they have already proved to be useful.
Periodically, I discuss them in our company’s monthly newsletter. I used them in a speech while christening our new office building. I refer to them when doing branding initiatives and marketing materials as a guide post. They come up in human resource materials. And, maybe our most important application, they serve as a values checklist that we measure potential hires against. After all, now that we have a list of values, it’s important that we preserve them.