Define and Live Your Core Values

By: Kris Hamilton


“Define and live your core values” sounds like it should be the title of a new self-help book (and maybe it should be), but it’s also one of our secrets to success and where we believe any company that truly wants to be successful should begin.  

There’s a lot of information out there regarding company core values, and while most people would not argue about their importance, few know how to make them an integral part of their business’ mode of operation. Let’s take a look at what core values are, how you define them, and why that matters to your people. 

What are Core Values? 

Core values are the foundation of your company. They’re how you operate day in and day out, the principles that guide every decision you make, and the standards you hold your people to.  

Let’s take a look at words commonly used as core values. 

  • Integrity 
  • Honesty 
  • Determination 
  • Respect 
  • Passion 
  • Fun 

Of course, those words all sound great. In fact, some of your own business’ core values may be on that list! However, if that’s where your core values end – single words listed out on a plague somewhere, or maybe even just shoved in a file cabinet in the corner – then they likely won’t take the next step to become “lived” values (More on that later). That’s why we believe it’s essential to define your company’s core values. 

Defining Core Values 

One of the main reasons why it’s important to define your company’s core values (not just list them) is because oftentimes, while we all may have a general idea of what these words mean, how we practically outwork them can vary greatly.  

Let’s take integrity as an example. The leadership team of your company gets together and decides that they want to be known as a company with integrity; they want integrity to be one of their core values. But what does integrity mean to the employees and how does it play in to their day-to-day job? One team member thinks of integrity as always being honest with customers. Another defines integrity as being loyal to the company.  

While these definitions aren’t bad, these individuals are not on the same page with what this core value looks like. This lack of clarity and consistency may result in confusion, potentially even conflict (yes, lots of c’s).   

On top of that, how is management expected to hold people accountable to a somewhat ambiguous value? They really can’t.  

This is why it’s important to have clear definitions accompanying each of your core values. This provides employees and managers with clarity on expectations, ensuring everyone is on the same page.  

So how do you do this? The best way to define a core value is to explain what it means, then take it a step further to demonstrate how it applies to your employees practically (how you expect them to live it out). If you’re just starting on your journey to defining your core values, perhaps you can pull together a focus group from your company or bring the entire leadership team together to brainstorm. Bringing many voices and opinions together can help give insight you otherwise might have missed.  

From Core Values to Lived Values 

The key to having core values that actually make an impact on your company culture is going from a list of defined core values to living your core values.  

If we return to our example of defining “integrity,” we know the two teammates in our example disagree on what integrity means or, more specifically, how that applies to their day-to-day jobs. Now let’s imagine that your company decided to define integrity as “consistently working to present the customer with our best product solutions for their needs.” Now those two individuals have clarity, are on the same page, and working toward the same goal.  

Managers are equipped to offer feedback when employees either miss the mark on living one of your values or when they are shining examples of it. Additionally, teammates can recognize one another when they see someone demonstrating your company values.  

At Titus, we make this extra special by recognizing our team through our annual Lived Values Awards. The entire company votes on who they’ve seen go above and beyond living out our values! By celebrating exemplary team members through our Lived Values Awards plus frequent, less formal “shout outs” – and just by talking about our values often – they have become a part of our DNA, an integral component of our culture. 

Can you force your employees to live the values the company sets forth? Of course not. However, you absolutely can – and should – hire with your values in mind.  

Hiring for Value Alignment 

There are a lot of factors that go into hiring the right person for the job, but their own value system and their alignment to your company’s values can be the missing link when hiring for the generic “culture fit.”  

To determine an individual’s core values and if they align with the company, some thought needs to go into the interview questions. Creating the right questions will take some work and the best ones are open-ended, giving the applicant a better opportunity to answer honestly and not just provide the answer you’re fishing for. As with all open-ended questions, there’s some interpretation needed to determine what motivated the response and what core values are at work. 

For some ideas on questions to ask that get to the “heart” of the matter, check out our blog post on hiring the Whole Person: head, heart, and briefcase.  

Core Value Alignment Side Effects 

Having clearly defined company core values and then encouraging everyone in the company to live those values has many benefits. The wonderful side effect is felt by employees who now have a culture that they want to be a part of. Top performers don’t just want a paycheck, they want to work for a company that they believe in and that they’re proud to be a part of. This value alignment leads to next-level results and performance, which in turn benefits your customers. It’s an all-around win.  

Want to learn more about how to be the kind of company that attracts top performers? Connect with a member of our team by clicking the button below! 

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