“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
So you and your leadership team have debated, agonized, edited and re-edited your company’s core values and you are ready to “roll them out” to your whole organization. Okay, now: What do you do with them? How do you reinforce them? How do you embed them in the fabric of your organization?
Core values allow you to be crystal-clear about what values your organization requires. My good friend Walt Brown explains them this way. “I define core values as the philosophy or attitude that shapes how team members treat each other, clients, and other stakeholders. Core values are the deeply held principles that set the organization apart and give it its unique personality and competitive edge. They are the cultural foundation beneath every meeting, memo, and water cooler conversation.”
When core values are implemented effectively, they crystallize a “precise understanding where malcontents and detractors will quickly self-identify. In other words, those who don’t embrace core values realize they will self-select and leave, or ideally never even join, your company.”
Make a consistent plan to define company culture by documenting and living your core values, and they will lead you to greatness. If you only mention your core values as an afterthought at your State of the Company once a year, they are sure to fall flat. Custer’s Last Stand would look like a victory by comparison.
When you make your core values stick, your organization will attract the “right people” and repulse the “wrong people.” Here are five effective strategies and five tactics to make this work.
Necessary Strategies: Build These Into Your Operations
- Build Interview Questions: Our version of “right people in the right seats” means that every person in the organization is a core values fit. When hiring new people, give them a list of core values. Ask them to describe a specific situation when they demonstrated or “lived” each of your values. If they cannot come up with a clear example of when they have “done the right thing” or “acted with integrity,” for example, they are not the right hire. (And in this scenario, you also may want to check if they happen to be a serial killer.)
- Strategic Training: When on-boarding your people, train them to regularly ask themselves Walt’s 7 Questions: “Do I share my work values? Do I have the skills to contribute to the overall good we are all working for? Do I belong as a member of this tribe; do I fit in here?” If the answer is no, that person will feel the chafing and can self-select out.
- Review for Fit: Make core values fit part of your quarterly conversations and annual performance reviews. When it comes to their role and company culture, people either “get it” or they don’t. When they don’t, you can feel it in your gut. Make core values a criterion in evaluating performance at all levels.
- Terminate When It’s Wrong: “Talented people who fit your culture stay to grow; people who do not fit your culture leave or are flushed out,” says Walt. Netflix believes in this so strongly that when someone does not fit their core values, Netflix immediately and politely gives them a generous severance package and looks for a better match.
- Encourage Peer Accountability: You know your core values matter to the organization when people hold each other accountable. Leadership teams should model how to do this. If a leadership team member violates a core value by arriving late, call them out: Rules apply to everyone.
Optional Tactics: Simple and Easy Add-Ons
- Reward for Core Values: One of my clients walks around the office and randomly asks people to recite all five of their core values. If they can do it, he hands them a crisp $50 bill from his billfold. This creates buzz in the whole office. People know that core values can produce a tangible reward.
- Core Values Shout-Outs: At weekly Level 10s or Quarterly Meetings, vocally recognize people who have been outstanding core values fits.
- Assign an Emoji (😀, 👍, 💪, 🤑, 🐳) to Each Core Value: In Slack, Asana, or other company-chat portals, create a visual reminder by assigning an emoji for each value. Then, use these to recognize people in conversations.
- Make Them Visual: We have a construction company client. The primarily-male team posted their core values above each urinal in the bathroom, where they knew people would stare at them multiple times each day… depending on how well-hydrated they were. This works just as well with office doors or walls.
- Rename Conference Rooms: Sprinklr made their core values everyday vocabulary by renaming their conference rooms “Honesty,” “Passion,” “Perseverance,” “1+1=3,” etc. See how it feels to walk into “Creativity” instead of “Conference Room B.”
Here is the bottom line: Consistency is key. Make a plan. Strategize. Follow through. When you do this, you will attract people who fit and repel those who do not.
“Just as a company needs a strategy to capture market share, a company needs a strategy to encourage actions that reflect their core values.”
– Neil Blumenthal