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Core values are the foundation of any successful company. They provide a framework for decision-making, guide employee behavior, and help to create a strong company culture. However, not all core values are created equal. Some core values are rotten to the core, and can damage a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Here are five signs that your core values may be rotten:

    1. If the only way to divine a company’s core values is to read them on their website, then their core values aren’t core; they’re marketing hooey.
    2. When you say core values and their eyes roll, you don’t have core values; you have delusions.
    3. When revenue at all costs is your mantra and integrity is a core value, then up is down, and black is white.
    4. If you have 10 core values, then you don’t have core values; you have a shopping list.
    5. If your core values change annually, then you don’t have core values; you have a core du jour.

Core values don’t have value if they are empty words.  To be a core value, a value must be at the company’s very core…its very essence.

You don’t have to work for Apple, or read their core value statement, to know “We believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products” is a priority.  Nowhere in Nordstrom’s corporate literature is there a statement that superior customer service is a core value. Still, if you’ve shopped at Nordstrom, you know that customer service is a core part of their values.

These days, where companies no longer control their brand, core values are more important than ever. Social media has given consumers a voice; today, product management trumps public relations.  If your product sucks, you can’t press release yourself out of the dung- you have to manage your product out of it, and your core values define your product, service, and customer experience.

Core values are your culture, marketing, and all that is you.

So what are your core values?  Ask yourself this: If I asked my customers what my core values are, what would I want them to say? What would they say?  If there’s a mismatch, then you have work to do.

Don’t let this issue just sit there, ignored.  Get to work, and figure it out.  Write down your values. Develop a list of no more than five and no less than three.  Then use those core values as a lens to evaluate all that you do.  Ask yourself if your employees embody your values.

When you review your team, add to the ability to get raise their adherence to your culture. If teamwork is a core value and John does great work but doesn’t pitch in to help the team… he doesn’t exceed or meet expectations. His raise shouldn’t be the same as Judy, who does good work and goes over and above her to ensure her teammates succeed. Maybe John will get with the program or self-select himself out of the company.

Hire with an eye toward your core values.  Review and reward your employee performance based on their embodiment of your core values.  Live and breathe your core values, and use that core to create an intentional culture that builds a sustainable healthy company that won’t rot from the core.

Here are some tips for creating strong core values:

  1. Keep them simple. Your core values should be easy to remember and understand.
  2. Make them specific. Your core values should be more than just general platitudes. They should be specific behaviors that you want your employees to exhibit.
  3. Be consistent. Your core values should be reflected in everything that your company does.
  4. Communicate them clearly. Make sure that your employees know what your core values are and why they are important.
  5. Live them. The most important thing is to live your core values. If you do, your employees will follow your lead.

Leaders get the culture they tolerate. You can either design the culture, or gravity will exert its force to sabotage your business.

As an executive coach, I work with leaders who want to define, redefine and build a strong corporate culture of performance. If you’d like to experience working with an executive coach, you can schedule a complimentary one-hour coaching session here. I can ask you some clarifying questions, and maybe I can help you solve a pressing business issue.

Want to learn how to be and model the behavior of a high-integrity leader? Want to get more than you thought possible out of your team? You can check out my new book, Intentional Leadership, available on Amazon, in Hardcover, Kindle, or Paperback by linking here.