FROM THE BULL | When companies start talking about their core values I switch off. Mostly, they are trying to sell you something or convince you that they are better than they actually are. The same applies when they publish this stuff on their website or in their marketing material. In my experience if you feel compelled to describe your core values in a sales pitch then they are, most likely, not true.

Darth Vadar: Clear intentions. No doubting his objectives or mission.

Core values are not intended to be used as feel-good catch-phrases. Their purpose is to describe the collective behaviours of the organisation and what is important to it. They’re a lot more than words on a page.

One problem is that many companies construct their core values statements on a weekend retreat or during a two hour workshop. They then get hashed around by a couple of senior managers and approved by the CEO. Somebody then types them up, sticks them in a frame in the reception area and they are never referred to again. The problem is that they reflect the “rosy” view of 2-3 people at the top rather than the realistic view of the masses. They describe what the company WANTS to be, not what it is.

If companies were honest with themselves they would acknowledge that their true core values, evidenced through their behaviour, may be vastly different from what they purport them to be. It is human nature to over-state your core values and it’s very common to make them aspirational. The problem is that unless they’re actually true they’re no use to you.

Core values are the embodiment of the collective behaviours of everyone in the organisation. They are rooted in the day to day reality of how you do business and how you deal with (and treat) your partners, customers, suppliers and staff.

I operate my business interests based on three core values only. I have never written them down before nor have they changed in twenty years:

  1. We must continue to innovate even when there is no pressing need to.
  2. If we say we’ll do it, we do it
  3. We must be kind

I’m not perfect by any means and I screw things up regularly. What these core values do is help me to stay on track and to force me to regulate my behaviour when I need to.

Being kind is the least understood value on the list. It shouldn’t be confused with being nice. The difference is that kindness costs you something every time you give it; niceness rarely costs much. Kindness is about providing help even when there is nothing in it for you. Even when it is painful and it’s easier to just ignore the situation and leave it to someone else to fix.

Kindness can manifest itself in many ways. As an example, on a few occasions, I have been compelled, following exhausting all other options, to use brutal frankness to force much-needed change and to make people see sense. People don’t always like it and it is certainly not enjoyable to do it. It might even hurt a relationship for a while. Looking back it would have been easier to go along with the status quo and ignore the issue. Sometimes I wish I could do that but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that I can’t. In the end you have to live your values daily and if your motives are pure and your behaviour is consistent people will eventually (and sometimes grudgingly) have to concede that your actions were underpinned by kindness.

So how do you describe your core values – words on a page or a living, breathing representation of the collective behaviours of your organisation?

Have a great week…