Why Do We Even Have Core Values?

Most organizations have core values. Somewhere anyway. They’re usually posted on the website and probably printed on a brochure somewhere. But do people talk about them individually? Does anyone know them? Are they specific and meaningful enough to make a difference?

At the end of the day, the organization is going to do what it’s going to do, right? So maybe a better question is: why do we even have core values?

We’ve probably all come across sets of core values that were easy to make fun of or were too vague to impact anyone. But well constructed, specific core values can add tremendous benefit both to organizations and individuals. In fact, here are three ways I’ve seen this happen.

Core Values Word Cloud

Drive Culture

Every organization is driven by a number of things. Hopefully there is a clear purpose that all stakeholders know by heart. Customer value creation ought to drive action. If your organization is a company, earning a profit ought to be at least one of the drivers. But none of these should come at the expense of core values. Each driver should align and core values should empower the organization to move forward.

Wouldn’t you prefer to work in a values-driven organizational culture? Imagine what could happen in an organization without values. A quick look at the news and you’ll see many examples.

Influence Mindsets and Behaviors

As most of us have observed, nearly every organizations have a set of core values. Sometimes they even get talked about, which a great step. But how often are they referenced or recalled? To take it a step further, how often do they invoke personal change?

If your organization has core values, they need to be part of the corporate conversation. Then you’ve got to relate them to the way people think and act in the context of everyday situations. Point out when the values were present. “Our team did a great job demonstrating ________.” Use values-oriented language to assess future work. “Here’s an opportunity for our team to demonstrate _________.”

Over time, common language begins to turn into common mindsets and common behavior.

Guide Decision-Making

In any organization, there are many leaders who operate at many levels. The temptation for new or risk-averse leaders can sometimes be to push the difficult decisions up to the next level. Once this happens enough times, the leaders at the top start wondering why they have to solve every problem and make every decision that comes their way. What’s the point of having leaders if they don’t take responsibility, they wonder.

That’s where organizational strategy comes in. That’s where training comes in. And that’s also where core values come in. These are the tools every leader ought to be able to use to make the decisions appropriate for his or her level.

Core values enhance leadership responsibility by helping to guide decision-making.

So the next time you look at your core values, ask yourself what difference they make in your organization. If that answer is “not much,” it may be time for a refresh. Or it may be time to simply speak up.

What difference do your core values make?

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.