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How to Link Core Values and Culture

Core Values are one of the cornerstones of a strong, healthy organizational culture. Their importance is often underestimated, even though they can change your business from being a place where people just “turn up and check out” into a dynamo where your people are energized by their contribution.

The process of creating them is an exercise which adds value in it’s own right. But having them doesn’t mean you’re getting the best out of them. Use every opportunity to bring them to life and you can change your culture for the better.

In her HR.com article “How Company Values Drive Employee Engagement,” Beth Armknecht Miller writes that, “A personal Commitment to an employer’s core values is number one out of ninety-one drivers of employee Engagement.” And Dale Carnegie found that companies with engaged employees outperform others by 202%

That’s because Core Values need to be lived. When they represent who you are as individuals and as a team, they become your guiding light. Decisions come much faster and easier when you make them based on your guiding principles.

As Roy Disney, the former Vice Chairman of Walt Disney, put it, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."

Both Ends of the Spectrum

Let me give you two very different examples so you can see how this happens.

I once consulted with a business that builds infrastructure for laying fiber and electricity cables to homes.

Think about the guys on the crew. They operate a variety of machines, they lay pipe, they climb poles, they feed hundreds of meters of cable, they bore through walls. They’re not the types for ‘fluffy’ management talk.

Yet introducing core values changed the way they worked.

Management knew that generic ones like "integrity" or "honesty" wouldn’t cut it. Those are table stakes and too broad to be meaningful. Creating values that their crew could use was critical.

We changed everything with this one: “See it, Do it.”

The crew adopted it immediately. If you see some equipment dropped where a member of the public could trip, pick it up. If there is a pile of dirt at the end of the day, clean it up. 

Soon the guys were picking each other up when they walked by or dropped something they shouldn’t. A sense of pride in the cleanliness and safety of their site became part of who they were and who they wanted to be. Competition developed for picking each other up on behavior, and the resulting sense of pride in a job well done became a critical part of who they are.

“See it, do it.” Simple, but culture changing when you live it.

Same goes for businesses at the other end of the spectrum.

Build a Bear Workshop lets customers create their own teddy bear, and the company embraces the teddy bear concept from top to bottom.

At quarterly meetings, managers from individual stores nominate staff for "Atta Bear" awards. Their values include "Di-bear-sity," "Colla-bear-ate," "Cele-bear-ate."

CEO Sharon John says, "These are life values as well as company values. They are unifying for our organization."

Values Do More Than Inspire

You get the idea. Your Core Values need to speak to who you are. If they do, then they will speak to the company you created, and to the people who work there.

Those organizations that outperform their competitors by 202% have a leader who is deeply involved in recognizing and acknowledging those who exhibit the company’s values. Strong leadership creates the tide on which others will rise.  

In his much read book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Louis Gerstner describes in detail how moving IBM to a new set of values was essential to creating an organization that was capable of the change it needed to compete in the new world that was developing around it. 

Gerstner summed it up succinctly: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

There is no room for being half-in.

Leadership Is Everything

At RESULTS.com we talk about our values every day. We formalize sharing Core Value stories in our weekly meetings. They’re the last item on the agenda, so everyone leaves the meeting fully engaged with them.

We have some rules which can be hard to stick to when you’ve got a team who frequently go above and beyond the call of duty. We aim to nominate just one person each, and not to nominate teams. 

Living our values is so much a part of who we are the hardest thing is usually deciding who to leave out. We think carefully about who exhibited our values beyond achieving the duties of their role. Making a sale isn’t in itself a core value story – but creatively providing for a prospect during the sales process would be.

Our CEO, Ben Ridler, is always particularly pleased when every one of our values is recognized. That means that, across the team, we are living them all.  By recognizing and encouraging this, Ben reinforces just how important Core Values are to our culture.

Our weekly share encourages us to reflect on the great attitude of those around us. It leaves no room for doubt as to the kind of people we are. And it makes RESULTS.com one of those dynamos whose people are energized by their contribution. How else could we become one of the World’s Top 50 Start-ups, recognized at the Silicon Valley Tie50 Award?

Winning companies create a culture where "fitting in" means "living our Core Values."