If you've ever tried to nail down the core values that define your business, you'll know how difficult it can be. They can feel nebulous or a bit 'airy fairy' as we say here in the UK. All too often, value statements' can come across as dull, meaningless and sometimes even plain dishonest. Take a look at this list of core values for example.

Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.


Don’t these core values sound great? They're certainly clear, concise and purposeful. You may have similar core values in your business. But they’re actually the corporate values of Enron, as stated in the company’s 2000 annual report. And as events went on to show, these values turned out to be utterly meaningless.

So What Exactly Are Core Values?

I describe core values as deeply ingrained principles that guide all of our business' actions. They are the cornerstones of our company culture (the way we do things around here). They are deep-rooted and sacrosanct, and are never compromised, whether for convenience, expediency or short-term financial gain.

In my experience, core values tend to reveal themselves over time, more often than not when we're confronted with a challenging situation. This is because difficult decisions make us think about the values and principles we hold most dear. But there are ways we can start to identify them.

This is how Coca Cola defines their core values:

  • Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
  • Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
  • Integrity: Be real
  • Accountability: If it is to be, it's up to me
  • Passion: Committed in heart and mind
  • Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
  • Quality: What we do, we do well

A Process For Identifying Your Core Values

 This is the process I used when I was a CEO, and which I use with my clients.

  1. Make a list of situations where you and your team have had to work together to solve a problem or meet a tight deadline. Then work out what were the common threads between the different events when it came to the way you and your team set about resolving these.
  1. Now make a list of situations where you feel your business did not fully live up to your values. This could include a situation where you rushed a piece of work or felt that it was a waste of resources.’ Use these examples to identify what values were not lived up to or perhaps were even violated.
  1. Make a list of people who you feel would be good ambassadors for your business. What is it about their character traits that lead you to each choice?
  1. Make a list of people who you feel would be the worst possible ambassadors for your business. What is it about their character traits that lead you to your choices?

When I did this exercise with a team of staff whose jobs were to deliver services to older people, giving everybody enough time was one of their core values. They wanted every customer to feel valued and respected, and to not feel rushed. This was in an industry where time has been pared down to an absolute minimum. Appointments and visits are allotted a strict time allocation. Of course, the staff didn’t want to keep people waiting unduly either. This meant the company had to have clear processes and systems in place to provide help and support efficiently. But they also needed to provide sufficient time and flexibility to meet the needs of people with more complex problems.

Putting Values Into Words That Have Meaning

 Next comes the hard part. You have to take those values you uncovered, which are probably still a bit airy fairy and intangible, and turn them into clear statements that are immediately understandable to your staff and your customers. 

  1. First off start with a verb: Core values are actionable, decision-making tools. Starting each phrase with a verb makes it far easier for every member of your team, yourself included, to ask themselves “Am I doing this?” and be able to answer  a straightforward yes or no.
  2. Keep your core values short and sweet: This makes them easy to remember. Short and memorable make for more powerful core values.
  3. Don’t have too many. Four is optimal. Three is fine. Some companies have just two core values that work really well for them.
  4. Check they are aligned with connected to your mission and/or vision
  5. Make sure you and your team feel passionate about them.
  6. Think about ways you can make them part of your daily culture, and everyday decision making process.
  7. Check that your customers’ experiences do align with your values.
  8. Use your core values as a tool that is used to attract the best talent when you’re recruiting new members to your team. And once in post to set employee goals and measure their performance.

Core values that are powerful enough to shape company culture and contribute to your bottom line will capture all 8 of these essential elements.

Join the Conversation

Question: I would love to know how your core values have helped to shape your decision making. Do let me know in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK's leading business school. It's this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.

I’d love to start a conversation. Simply use this link to arrange an informal Skype coffee chat. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching (or business consultancy).