Creating the Right Core Values for Your Business

Your core values signify what you, as a company, prize more than anything. They should guide everything that you do. If you are not sure about what direction to head in a tough situation, you should be able to look at your values to determine the right course of action.

You should be hiring, developing, promoting and firing people based on your values. If you’re not, then you’re not truly living them.

A company’s values are a reflection of its leader. You cannot lead others if you do not know who you are. And you cannot expect others to follow you unless this is crystal clear.

This bears repeating: your values should represent what you actually value. They define your culture. We have all been somewhere where they have a generic set of values printed and framed on the wall. You know that they are totally bogus and that no one follows them—or even knows what they are!

It’s better to be real, even if you don’t think it sounds socially acceptable. If earning money is the #1 thing for you and your company, then you should be honest about that. There are people out there who value the same things, and those are the people you want to hire.

Part of being real is having values with character. They need to be genuine and come from the heart. We value teamwork at CareerPlug, but that term didn’t capture the essence of it. So, we came up with our own: Work Together, Win Together. I hear people say this throughout the company when we talk about the importance of collaboration. I don’t think that “teamwork” would have stuck the same way as a core value.

Your values should reflect who you are right now. When you write your values, you should be drawing from your history; save the aspirational stuff for your vision. When we decided to include Speak Up, Step Up as one of our values because we have always valued people who are willing to take initiative. We have a history of allowing people to take on special projects at the company simply because they’ve shown a strong desire to make an impact in a certain area. It wasn’t just a goal — we were already living it. 

Don’t make a laundry list of values. When you “value” everything, you really value nothing.

We had to learn that lesson the hard way.

Your core values should guide everything that you do. If you are not sure about what direction to head in a tough situation, you should be able to look at your values to determine the right course of action.

Reevaluating our core values

CareerPlug has always defined the guiding principles for our business in three key ways:

  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Core values

But I still felt like there was something missing: a way to determine the traits that I wanted every single person in CareerPlug to embody.

About five years ago, I felt like our culture had taken a turn for the worse. We made some hires that were not a good culture fit for us, and there were consequences. We became more divided as a company, and each department started to operate in its own silo. Something had to change.

I knew we had to address the situation with certain employees at the company. That was tough but fairly straightforward. I was more concerned about how we were going prevent ourselves from hiring people who were not a culture fit in the future.

Our core values should have been helping us, but they weren’t. I identified three issues:

1.  We had too many values. 

There were seven of them. There was no way that our team could focus on seven different things when evaluating candidates in the hiring process—on top of evaluating them for their fit for the role itself. Plus, it’s hard to make any core value non-negotiable when you have seven of them. If someone is living six out of the seven values, doesn’t that sound good enough? It does, and that was the problem. 

2.  Some of our values did not have clearly defined boundaries. 

For example, most of the emphasis on our Give Back core value was focused on a candidate’s time spent giving to external charities. But that value was also meant to cover how a person approaches giving their time to others within the company. It was too much.

3. The values didn’t nail what truly makes our employees a culture fit. 

I actually added a list of four additional items, which I called culture drivers, to address this gap. It helped in some ways, but it was a band-aid. We should have rewritten the values to reflect what really matters. It took longer than it should have, but that’s what we eventually did.

Don’t make a laundry list of values. When you “value” everything, you really value nothing.

Redefining our core values

We identified our new core values based on a process that Patrick Lencioni recommends in his book, The Advantage.

First, we had each person on the leadership team identify the top performers at the company who truly embody our culture. Then we asked each leader to list out the behaviors or attributes that made these individuals so respected. These became our potential core values. We wrote this list on a whiteboard without discussing any individual employees by name. There were around 15-20 potential core values to start.

Then, we went through the list and discussed each value as a team. After eliminating a few and consolidating some that were similar, we were left with around eight values.

Next, we asked each leader to think about the employees, both current and former, who were not a good fit at our company — regardless of how well they performed in their roles. 

Then, we had our leaders assess these individuals on the list of remaining core values. We identified a couple of core values that, while important, didn’t do a good enough job of excluding people who were not a good culture fit. We eliminated them from the list, leaving us with six values.

Finally, we reviewed the remaining values and thought deeply about what was really true to us at our core. We eliminated one value that was too aspirational and another that wasn’t as important as the rest. That left us with the four core values we have today:

I knew that these were genuine because I had a backstory that I could tell for each one.

Be Kind

My employees would tell you that I’m a nice guy. I don’t like to work with people who aren’t. Neither does the rest of our team. When we dug deeper into it, we discovered that we value something more than “nice”—we value kindness. We look for people who care deeply about each other, our clients, and the world around us. We realized that we are givers. And we didn’t know how important hiring givers was for us until we hired a couple of takers! 

Speak Up, Step Up

We have always valued people who take initiative, and we give them the room to do it. One of our long-time employees, Anna, read our vision and was energized by our commitment to give back to the environment. She took the initiative to create a sustainability committee, which has been a big hit with our team. Within a couple of months, they implemented several programs to reduce our waste. This is one example of many situations where someone has stepped up. And when we reflected on employees who were not a fit, we realized that most of them had thoughts about things we could improve (and some were quite vocal about them)—but they didn’t take action.

Keep Growing

I didn’t know much about hiring or software when I started CareerPlug, but I knew that I could make up for that by focusing on continuous learning and growth. We have always been attracted to hiring learners with high potential over people with more experience but a lower trajectory. This was solidified when I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset and her research on people with fixed versus growth mindsets. We didn’t see the real impact of this until we hired some people with fixed mindsets and saw how difficult this made things for us.

Work Together, Win Together

We are a collaborative company. It’s in our DNA: we ask for help, we help, we solve problems together. We put the good of the team and the company above our individual benefit. If you are a lone wolf or someone who puts your own interests first, then this isn’t the place for you.

The lesson I learned is that simply having core values is not good enough. You must be able to use your core values to hire, develop, promote, and fire employees effectively. If you cannot, then I recommend you follow a similar process to the one we used to reevaluate your values.

Take action

Your core values should provide a vital blueprint for the kind of people you want to hire – but your hiring process doesn’t stop there. Check out these free resources created by the hiring experts at CareerPlug that will help you recruit with those core values in mind:

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