3 Steps to Establish Authentic Core Values

Ensure you and your business are in alignment in practice for success.

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By Sharon Harris

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In business, whether an organization achieves success is determined by many different factors. Its purpose, mission and vision are important. But the factors that bring it all together and can make or break an organization are its core values. Like a compass, core values will help you navigate through challenging times and even act as anchors in the midst of uncertainty.

The most successful companies emphasize their core values throughout their organization, and they don't just talk the talk — they walk the walk. Integrity, honesty, respect, inclusion, health and accountability are all core values that look great on paper, but they mean absolutely nothing if you're not acting on them in your daily life. Authenticity is everything when establishing core values. Not only will it assure that what you say and do are in alignment, but it will also help establish trust among employees and create a company culture people want to be a part of. So, how do you go about setting authentic core values?

Related: 5 Core Values Your Company Needs to Put into Action Now

1. Start with introspection

Looking within is key to establishing authentic core values. This isn't going to be a quick process. You're going to have to take the time to figure out what is truly important to you. There are many different exercises you can do to help with this. One of them is to list and rank your core values. This ranking is based on not only what you believe your values to be but what you actually practice on a daily basis. In ranking your values, you may quickly come to realize that what you say they are and what you actually do may be misaligned. If you're really driving for authenticity, it's important to build a plan to bring your core values together in reality.

For many people, this will also require checking in with family, peers and colleagues to see how you are showing up in relation to those core values. It's one thing to say to yourself that you have authentic core values, but are you actually presenting them to the world? You have to make sure that what you say and do are in tune with one another. Many people think they are welcoming and open-minded, but in reality, to others, they may come off as dictatorial, close-minded and difficult. You've got to hold up that mirror and really evaluate how you're appearing to others.

2. Embrace vulnerability

One of the biggest challenges leaders face when trying to establish core values is people questioning them, both personally and professionally. People will ask, Are you just doing that to appease the masses? To appear like a good leader? An empathetic leader? Or as though you care?

This is where vulnerability is really required. Leaders have to be vulnerable and open about what they face as individuals and what they hope to bring to their organizations. There will be a great deal of feedback, good and bad, and you're going to have to work through it. That requires tremendous vulnerability. You'll need the support, help and feedback of everyone in your ecosystem because the fact is everyone has to commit to these values. Establishing real values doesn't come with a snap of your fingers or a flip of a switch. It's a journey that requires active participation on everyone's behalf.

Related: How To Successfully Develop Your Company's Core Values – And Ensure They're Practiced

3. Lead by example

I struggled with this initially. One of my core values is health and well-being, but I used to be a workaholic, and that was the behavior my team saw from me. I was the person who would answer emails at 11:30 pm. I worked late hours. I worked on the weekends. Yet I was always telling my team to take time for themselves, practice self-care, disconnect and take a digital detox. I wasn't practicing any of the things I was preaching, so it was very inauthentic.

The interesting part is that I didn't even realize I wasn't doing what I said I believed in. It wasn't until a team member brought it to my attention that I stopped to really evaluate myself. Looking inward after that feedback, I realized I felt innate pressure to perform to a high degree. I wanted the same level of performance from the team, but I was also trying to be respectful of all their different circumstances and situations. I wasn't giving myself the same level of grace.

When establishing core values, as a leader, you have to give yourself grace just as you do your team. I wasn't doing that. So, when the disconnect between my core values and actions was brought to my attention, I was able to consciously make changes. I started to disconnect more, stopped working crazy hours all the time, made time for my Peloton classes and really started modeling the behaviors of health and well-being. It was difficult at first, but my team was delighted to see me put in the effort, and over time it became second nature. Now when I say I'm going on vacation, I'm going on vacation. Don't expect an email from me. If you want core values to resonate throughout your organization, you have to lead by example.

Related: Why It's Crucial to Walk the Talk as a Business Leader

Core values will affect your future

As we think about the future of work, the role of authentic core values will play a much larger role in how we attract and retain talent, and drive growth for organizations. Given the amount of change we're all experiencing, the future of work is not just about productivity — it's also about how teams and professionals see the integration of work into their lives. Having core values is a way to establish that sense of prioritization and balance.

And balance is a choice. Balance is the interior mechanism that allows us as individuals to pursue the best versions of ourselves. When we make choices counter to the person we are or want to be, we suffer a little or a lot. Sometimes, balance means letting go of something to stay true to your values. There will be times when you will make certain decisions based on your core values and times you will not — that's really the heart of establishing them. But, as we continue to experience all of this change, these authentic values will be the compass that allows us to keep moving forward in the right direction.

Sharon Harris

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO of Jellyfish

Sharon Harris is CMO of Jellyfish, working closely with global brands and their millions of customers worldwide to create the perfect digital partnerships. Over the last 10 years, she has operated at the executive level to help brands develop relationships and embrace digital transformation.

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