Bring Company Core Values to Life – from Poster to Practice

April 13, 2021

This post was written by  Pete Hinojosa from Village Sponsor, Insperity.

Companies often spend a lot of time and effort creating their mission, vision and values. But too often they take all of that work, put words on a poster, place it in front of their employees – and miss the opportunity to put those values into practice.

The last thing you want after working on your values is for the poster’s content to become meaningless, something employees ignore while they grab coffee or heat up their lunch in the breakroom.

Yet so it goes at many organizations.

When it comes to posters about safety procedures, complaint-reporting processes or government notices, there may be possible legal ramifications for not putting the poster’s language into practice.

But what about another favorite poster topic: Company core values?

While there may be no legal problems associated with ignoring these ideas, doing so could cost your organization in other significant ways.

What happens if there’s no clarity among your stakeholders about what your company believes in?

  • There’s no shared idea about what it means to be a part of your company, the preferred way to interact with others and how to complete tasks. This can influence your workplace culture and employee retention.
  • Managers and employees may start operating according to their own values and priorities, which may not align with yours. This could impact your reputation, productivity and overall quality of work.
  • You may have a difficult time recruiting the caliber of employees you want. It’s important for many job candidates – especially younger Millennials and Generation Z workers – that their companies exhibit values in alignment with their personal ones.
  • As your company grows, it may be more challenging to assimilate new team members and establish consistency across the organization.

Getting started

Now, you might be wondering:

  • What are a company’s core values?
  • And how do I select my company’s values in the first place?

To discover the answer, ponder the mission and vision of your organization – your purpose and the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

Your company’s values are the behaviors you and your team exhibit as you work toward those goals as well as the character traits that external parties know you and your company by. Your values are the cornerstones of your company’s foundation and the guideposts that keep you on track – especially when your company is under pressure and facing challenges.

Everything you do is tied back to your values.

As you consider what your values are, ask yourself:

  • What you believe in
  • Which values seem to be most commonly shared and expressed across your company
  • The type of people you want to work with now and in the future
  • The sort of environment you want to spend time in for the long term

The values you select should be consistent across your entire company, whether it’s the finance department, sales, customer service or operations.

Additionally, values should be carefully thought out in advance and chosen with intention. They shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to current events. They should be steadfast and unyielding.

Company core values to consider 

Examples of basic values that a company can use as a starting point:

  1. Safety – This is a basic promise to everyone that they’ll work in a secure, supportive environment.
  2. Respect  Every individual is important and priceless.
  3. Pursuit of excellence  Perfectionism may be unrealistic and therefore unattainable, but you can still strive to go above and beyond in all you do and deliver high-quality products or services.
  4. Integrity  Be honest about your work and align your words with your actions.
  5. Creativity  Do your best to stay innovative and look for opportunities to make a difference.
  6. Servant leadership  This means that you, and all of your managers, consistently seek to understand employees’ perspectives and consider how you can help them to succeed so they can accomplish company goals. You want to build a culture of positive influence in which you ascertain employees’ strengths and develop them – not a culture of power, which is really more about instilling fear and anxiety in people.
  7. Responsibility – Your ability to respond to issues or challenges and decide how to best serve customers starts with you.
  8. Determination  You and your team should have a resilient, never-give-up attitude.
  9. Community service – Consider the unique ways in which your organization impacts and benefits the larger community around you. Are there any special areas of interest to you? What community causes are most relevant to your organization and its mission?

Seven ways to put your company core values into action

1. Choose values that you and your leaders not only believe in but also are willing to live by personally. Model these values from the top of your organization.

One of the great things about running a business is that you can choose to create a culture that you believe in and look forward to experiencing. It’s essential to choose values that you can exhibit on a daily basis.

This way, you can be more consistent in exhibiting these values. And the more consistent you are, the more your employees and the people around you will recognize what matters most and will model your behavior.

After all, great leaders don’t just tell people what they value – they demonstrate it through their actions. As Walt Disney once said, “Every leader is telling a story about what they value.”

Some leaders make the mistake of thinking their employees don’t know what they’re doing most of the time. The reality: Employees know what their leaders are doing all the time.

So, if you’re not careful and become lax in exhibiting your values, your poster will say one thing – but your employees will see something completely different coming from leadership.

2. Hire employees who share and embody your values.

Your values pave the way for your company to become a best place to work. In turn, this helps your company to grow, attract top talent and expand into new markets.

One of the greatest attributes of having your core values embedded into your day-to-day operations is bestowing a sense of security onto your employees. For them, it’s much easier to refer someone to your workplace when your employees know exactly what the company values are and how those values are put into action.

And don’t forget that like-minded people tend to attract others like themselves. When you create a best-place-to-work culture, those people will look for others that will continue to carry on those values.

3. Incorporate your values into employee rewards and recognition.

Align employee rewards and recognition with the values you most want to see in your team members. For example, if you want your employees to show respect or innovation, periodically recognize individuals who demonstrate this quality at an outstanding level.

Promote these rewards and recognitions within your company so that people understand expectations of them and know what to work toward.

Use both peer-to-peer and leader recognition. One of the most powerful forms of recognition is a hand-written note to your employee. If you haven’t done it lately, then think about someone that is living out your company’s values and send them a note.

4. Use values as a tool for handling interpersonal conflict.

One of the great things about values is that they help employees arrive at a consensus on how to treat one another. If there’s a dispute between employees, you can always point them back to the core value instead of putting yourself in the undesirable position of being a judge or mediator.

For example, let’s say two of your employees both feel as though they’ve been treated unfairly by the other. Communication has broken down and trust is at an all-time low, but both want to be heard. Simply point them back to your company core values and have them explain to their colleague what it would be like if those values were put into action in their interactions with each other.

You can ask each of them:

  • How would they like to be treated?
  • What does teamwork look like to them?
  • How would they like to be communicated with?

This helps to create a more positive environment, and it gives employees a plan of action to which you can hold them accountable.

5. Discuss company values with your team on an ongoing basis.

Whether you’re thinking about diversity and inclusion or any new challenge that you might face always go back and look toward your core values.

Two-way communication is essential to avoid misalignment between what you envision and what employees experience.

For example, you may believe that respect for the individual is a core value, but how people perceive the value in day to day interactions is vital.

As an exercise or discussion, you can pull your team together and take any of your core values and then ask the employee these questions:

  • What does respect look like?
  • What does respect sound like?
  • What does respect feel like?

This gives everyone an opportunity to share what your core values mean to them and can inform others as well as alert you to potential issues you may have overlooked.

6. Lean on your values during challenges.

The real test for your company values happens when things aren’t going well. Do you stick to your company core values even when you’re not getting the results you want? Even when external pressures may weigh you down?

Or do you fall prey to this type of thinking: “This is what we have to do to get ahead. I don’t care how you do it – I want to see results.”

Prioritizing results (the ends) over values (the means) sends a clear message to employees that values don’t matter as long as you’re getting the results you want. If your employees aren’t clear about what you value, and if you prize results over the manner in which people achieve those results, that’s when you have compromised the foundation you have built.

As Zig Ziglar once said, “If anything goes, eventually everything is gone.”

Questions for leaders to consider during tough times:

  • What causes a company to lose sight of its values?
  • What can we do when that happens?
  • How can we simultaneously meet goals and live by our values?

7. Most importantly, regardless of what values you put on a poster, value your people.

Pay careful attention to the initial period after an employee is hired. Their first weeks on the job with the company set the tone for what you value and can set your employees up for success or leave them disillusioned and frustrated.

Over the long term, people go – and stay – where they feel understood and valued. Each person has a set of strengths and gifts that benefit your company. There’s nothing worse than an employee doing a job that doesn’t leverage their greatest attributes or having a manager who doesn’t believe in them or support them.

Treating people well is the foundation of so many basic company values. If you do this, many good things will follow.

Additional questions to consider

As you consider your values and how you, your leadership team and employees might live the company core values, ask:

  • What values seem to be common across your company? Your teams?
  • If someone new to the organization saw your lists of values, how do you think they would expect people to behave?
  • Do we behave like that?
  • What can cause us to lose sight of our values?  What can we do when that happens?
  • How would living those values help us meet our goals?
  • What implication does inconsistency in values have for us as leaders?

One final question to consider

Since we can’t really control anybody else – ask yourself:

Am I aligned and living out the values on our company poster?

The answer to this last question can be instrumental in guiding you – and your company – forward.

Want to learn more about developing a positive workplace with strong, ever-present values? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to being a best place to work.

April 13, 2021
Hilton Thompson