core values concept with icons

Make Core Values Part of Your Business Strategy

Posted February 18th, 2021

Mission, vision, core values, and purpose statement — there’s a lot to unpack when you’re transforming your business into one driven by purpose, not just profit. Each of these statements will be one piece in your overall business strategy, along with your key products or services, financial goals, and the activities you will undertake to achieve them. We’ve already discussed how to identify your company’s purpose and draft a Purpose Statement. Today let’s dive into defining your company’s core values and how they work to inform all the other pieces of your business plan.

What are Core Values?

Core values are not a “soft skill” marketing exercise. They are the essential principles of your organization; they are the beliefs that you will use to guide ALL company decisions. Your values should dictate the behavior of your team and leadership. Think of your corporate core values like the values you keep at home and instill in your children. In fact, your company’s values need to start with YOUR values. You are the head of this “family,” and it is up to YOU — your actions, decisions, and even the words you use to communicate — to lead through example.

Think about the values you instill at home. If you say to your kids, “We tell the truth in this house, always,” then honesty might be one of your core values. If you believe in the “pay it forward” philosophy at home, you can extend that altruism and generosity into your company’s culture.

You need to decide what you, ultimately, stand for, and what you will NOT stand for. Those are your core values. They should grow to become the values of your company.

One more thing about core values — you need team buy-in. Which means, they need to look at the core values you’ve laid out and say, “Yes, this sounds like how we operate” or “Yes, this is something I want to stand for and be a part of.” If your core values aren’t true to you, or if they don’t extend to how you manage your team and your business, your team won’t believe in them and they will become empty, meaningless marketing jargon.

Take a deep breath, this part may be difficult. It is possible, even likely, that not every member of your current team will embrace your core values. If you start a business with strong values from the beginning, you can hire a team directly aligned with those values. When you are introducing core values to an existing team, however, you need to be ready for the fact that not everyone will accept them. Some may choose to leave, or you may need to help them find a position with another company that is a better fit for them.

Core Values in Your Business Plan

Your core values are just that — the CORE of your company’s identity. They need to be the foundation of your business strategy, so it makes sense to include them in your business plan. Ideally, right at the beginning.

Don’t confuse your mission statement or vision statement with core values. Your mission statement is a statement of what your company already does. Your vision statement is a big, aspirational goal for your company. Core values dictate what your company will do, and what it won’t do, to achieve your mission and your vision.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips for writing corporate value statements:

  • Keep them short. Too many core values become confusing and hard to remember in moments of conflict or stress (when you need them most). Keep your list between three and five.
  • Keep them simple. If you need 300 words to explain a value, go back to the drawing board. Core values are convictions shared by you and the entire team. They should be easy to grasp and remember. Think in bullet points, not paragraphs.
  • Keep them specific. Your core values should be more than one generic word. Spell out exactly what the value means to your organization, in clear, simple language.

As you construct the rest of your business plan, keep your values at the front of your mind. If one of your core values is “We give, serve, and love our community” then you should consider baking into your business plan a community outreach model. If one of your values is “We believe work and fun in equal measure delivers great results” then you should keep in mind culture initiatives as you build out your company’s practices and operations.

Manufacturing Workers Elbow Bump

The Benefit of Corporate Values

Your corporate values will make or break your reputation. People will want to work with you, and FOR you, if they know your values are more than lip-service. In construction and manufacturing especially, business success is built through strong relationships.

It is easy to look around and think, “Values don’t matter. PRICE matters.” Don’t be fooled by this short-term thinking. If you engage in unethical practices to win business, or sacrifice quality to cut costs, your TRUE values will show themselves, your reputation will be built on those actions, and your customers will soon be looking for new partners.

Ethics matter. Values matter. Relationships matter. What you say matters. A low-price is only attractive until you see what it gets you.

You build your reputation by setting an expectation and living up to it. Share your core values with prospective clients and new team members so they know what to expect from your company. Then, do the work to meet those expectations. Let’s say you are a manufacturing company and “Accountability” and “Honesty” are two of your corporate values. Your customers should expect that your team owns every project from start to finish, and that they communicate transparently regarding price, schedule, changes, or challenges. Do that successfully, and you will build a reputation for being a manufacturing partner customers can count on and trust.

Herb Keller, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, explained the relationship between core values and business success like this, “We always felt that people should be treated right as a matter of morality. Then, incidentally, that turned out to be good business too. … We said we want to really take care of these people, we want to honor them and we love them as individuals. Now that induces the kind of reciprocal trust and diligent effort that made us successful. But the motivation was not strategy, it was core values.”

Your core values should be a public promise to everyone impacted by your company — customers, employees, partners, vendors, community, and so on. Live up to that promise and your company will reap the rewards of business done right.

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