Leaders today understand that a strong set of Core Values can be one of the most effective tools for creating alignment within their organization but they often feel overwhelmed when it comes to creating them. For those of you in this boat, I’ve come up with five tips to get you started.
1 – This isn’t a process that has to happen overnight. Did you know that it took Zappos nearly two years to solidify their first round of Core Values? And since Zappos and their CV’s are awesome, I’d say that’s a pretty good tidbit of ammo if your business partners are all, “oh my gosh we need core values tomorrow!” I’m not saying you should wait two years to start your core values. That’s not what Zappos did. They spent two years crafting the specifics, doing the research, getting ready to solidify them. So start now. Just don’t get overwhelmed by the feeling that they have to be perfected by tomorrow.
2 – Ask your employees for input. Chances are you already have a culture, employees who value similar things, and an idea of how you want to grow as an organization. Not only will getting your employees involved give them a sense of ownership over the final product but it’ll help you brainstorm all of the options and word possibilities. Ask them questions like, “If you could describe the values of this company in three words, what words would you use?” or “What are the values and characteristics that you most appreciate in a company like ours?”
3 – Be ready for fluidity. Life changes and so does the business landscape. Even after you’ve come up with your set of core values be prepared to re-visit them every few years to make sure they are the most important and relevant values for your changing organization. If there are certain values that employees simply don’t identify with any longer then maybe it’s time to change that value (or get rid of those employees…but that’s another post).
4 – Give them some personality. In the business world we sometimes feel pressure to use big words…you know, so we sound smart and professional. But employees not only relate better to a set of core values with some personality, they’re more likely to remember and repeat them.
5 – Don’t be afraid of touchy feely values that speak to ethical codes of conduct. Years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a core value that talked about trust, friendship, ethics, or volunteerism but I truly believe these are some of the most important ones to include. At Rackspace we had a value that was, “Treat fellow Rackers like friends and family” and it was always one of my favorite. It was a constant reminder (our core values were pained on the walls, printed on mouse pads, graffitied all over bathroom stalls, and talked about every single day) to Rackers that above all else we were on the same team.
It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to see grown adults whose teams were at odds (even the best families have some dysfunction) point to that value and say, “Listen, what just happened was not treating fellow Rackers like friends and family”. And because core values were coveted at Rackspace that statement alone was enough to get teams in the right mindset to move forward. Talking about the Rackspace core values brings back such a sense of nostalgia because that is one organization that nailed it. Their core values were solid, well constructed, clearly articulated, and absolutely lived by every single Racker. I hope that in your quest to build your own values you have the same success they did.