Every company has a set of values that impact the daily behavior of employees. Company values can either be nice, inspirational words on the office wall with little to no impact on employees’ day to day, or they can represent the true embodiment of what a company culture stands for. Leaders that heed these four essential lessons will be able to harness the clarity and purpose that core values can bring to the enterprise.

Lesson #1: Congruence between what is stated and what is felt is critical

Company core values are the principles that underlie the actions of the enterprise and everyone in it. These values come in two categories: the explicit values stated in the employee handbook and the company website, and the implicit values actually seen and felt every day by employees while at work. People thrive when the two categories overlap, when there is congruence with the stated values and the experience employees feel in the workplace.

Too many employees work in an environment where senior leaders espouse the explicit values while demonstrating behaviors and language that communicates a entirely different intent and style. Whenever a manager accepts mediocrity, uses fear, is inflexible or dishonest, they represent values most evident and real to employees.

Lesson #2:  Core values serve both as a guide and as a boundary.

When an organization labels a set of values as “Core”, they are identifying the essential values they expect to express as a company and that should serve as a guide for employees on the bearing and actions staff express in daily behaviors. At the same time, managers and supervisors can use the values to establish the boundaries of acceptable performance in individual and team-based work. Leaders at every level can use values as metrics or standards of behavior in constructive feedback conversations, for example. “Jack, we agreed as a team that the company core value of integrity would serve as an excellent guide to our actions. What happened yesterday in the team meeting felt to me like it fell well short of that goal…”

Establishing a company’s core values provides a roadmap to employees, prospective employees and customers for how they can expect to be treated, and what is expected of them.

Lesson #3: Core Values Improve Employee Retention and Engagement

As companies move into this era of labor scarcity, it has never been more important to develop points of connection between employees and the company. One proven area for establishing emotional velcro is when people find a match between their personal values and those honored by their employer. When we feel like our values are shared and demonstrated in the workplace, we feel more comfortable, more engaged, while at work. We are more likely to feel and say good things about our employer. We are more likely to serve as ambassadors for the company and to stay with the company over the long-term.

When core values are authentically expressed across the enterprise, they begin to shape the workplace culture in more virtuous ways. It also serves to align our hearts and minds in a process that feels more fulfilling and as a result, employees are happier and actually look forward to going to work.

Lesson #4: Core Values Mean Nothing Without the Commitment of Leadership

Living core values requires a daily, intentional, out-loud commitment from leaders at every level of the organization. It is an ongoing endeavor that never takes a day off. When the vibe doesn’t match the values, what is seen and felt in word and deed prevails as what leaders truly value.

Action Steps:
  • Honestly evaluate whether or not the explicit company core values match the what employee see, hear, and feel while at work.
  • Make sure leaders at every level in the organization understand how their behavior either supports or undercuts stated core values
  • Use an authentic commitment to core values as a means to increase employee retention and engagement
  • Persistently reinforce core values in word and deed through a daily, intentional, out-loud commitment