Unlock the Secret to Crafting Compelling Core Values With This Step-by-Step Guide Core values are vital to a company's identity, going beyond generic terms to embody unique, actionable principles. Here's how to craft the best ones.

By Barry Raber

Key Takeaways

  • A strategic and inclusive approach with input from diverse company representatives can lead to authentic and meaningful values.
  • The process of establishing core values involves brainstorming, refining and integrating them into all aspects of the business for long-term success.
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Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company's actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones. Creating core values is akin to sculpting the essence of a company's identity. It's a vitally important step in defining who your company is.

Your company's core values should be authentic and unique to your company — not something you'd find on a Hallmark card. No cookie-cutter values like trust or integrity (of course, you must be those things, but they don't differentiate your company).

As one of the most powerful parts of your business and the engine that drives it, taking the time to get core values right is critical.

Here are a few examples of core values done right:

  • We inspire five-star reviews
  • Dedicated (x1 million)
  • Foster happiness
  • Collaborate and share the credit
  • Clients rule and deserve awesomeness
  • Practice "wowism"

And, some that could use some work:

  • Authenticity
  • Balance
  • Fun
  • Liberation
  • Diversity
  • Graceful
  • Sincere

Follow this step-by-step guide to help you create your company's core values.

Related: How to Build Unstoppable Collaboration in Your Team By Prioritizing Balance and Values

Part 1: Brainstorm individual-centric values

During these exercises, it is important to think in a broad sense, reaching beyond what you might traditionally think of as a personal value such as trust or respect. Values can be statements like, "We find the creative solution." So, think larger in scope as you answer the two sets of questions.

Start by forming an ad hoc core values committee of four to eight people. Include the top leaders and maybe a rep from each primary level or department. Choose people you think would represent the company culture if they were asked to travel on a delegation to Mars. Meet offsite for half a day to brainstorm a set of possible core value choices.

Each person gets a stack of Post-Its to jot down answers and post on the wall. Working individually, answer each of the following questions with as many good ideas as you can:

  1. What values do the people in the room have in common?
  2. What existing values and desirable behaviors do you see in the company and its current culture?
  3. What shared attitudes and behaviors exist that you want to preserve?

Now that the wall is covered with good ideas, combine the concepts that are very similar in meaning. You don't have to pick one over the other — just put all related ideas on one Post-It.

Divide 100 total votes among you (so if there are five of you, 20 votes each), and hashmark your votes for the values you see as most important to the company. You can use all of your votes on one value or spread them around. Tally the votes to find the top 10 choices.

Related: How to Design a Company Culture That Will Attract Better Employees

Part 2: Brainstorm business-centric values

Next, take a look at the company's tenets in previously created documents. These may include your vision or mission statement, strategic plan, core purpose or focus, "big hairy audacious goal" and brand promise.

Keeping the company's tenets top-of-mind, ask these questions:

  1. What key non-negotiables are critical to the success of these things? If we are going to do or be that, we definitely have to _____________ all the time.
  2. What guiding principles are core to how we need to operate to match these?
  3. What behaviors must prevail to make it all happen?
  4. What are the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 things we need to consistently do or be to make this happen for our customers and team? And to deliver the value we are known for delivering to that customer?

Once again, group similar answers on one Post-It, vote and winnow down to the 10 best ideas.

You have arrived at a list of 20. Create a document with the list that the committee can access. Ask them to continue pondering which ones are the priority, plus next steps for defining each value and making them actionable.

Wait two weeks, then hold another half-day offsite where you will define, refine and select.

Related: Investing in Company Culture Is Your Strongest Asset — Here's Why.

Part 3: The final cut

In this second session, put the list of 20 ideas up on the dry-erase board or wall. Follow these steps:

  1. Narrow your list. This is the challenging part. Review your list, prioritizing values that are most essential and unique to your organization. Use the 100-point voting system for several rounds, discussion and re-votes if necessary — but get it down to six to 10.
  2. Define each value. Write a clear, concise definition that explains what it means in practical terms. Use simple language anyone would understand.
  3. Verb each value. Values should be actionable and behavioral, not vague statements or single words. For example, "Wow the client" or "We collaborate and share credit." Add verbs to inject action and wordsmith them a little to inspire and motivate.
  4. Select the top four or five. Decide which ones stand out as stalwarts for the next 10 years. Values should be a balance between who your people are and how they act toward one another and actions that drive company growth while consistently delivering on your unique value proposition. It's a best practice to check your values for alignment with your other company tenets again during these final selections. Consider that you should be so committed to these values that you would fire people based on them and use them for all major company decisions. That may help you narrow the field.
  5. Share the list with your whole team. Compile your "proposed values" and ruminate on them as a committee for a month. Include the definitions you created when you share them. Ask team members to share any tweaks or improvements, but make sure their suggestions resonate with the committee's intent. Remember: This is not consensus decision-making. It's ultimately about imposing a set of fundamental and strategic beliefs on the group.
  6. Meet again in a month. This is the time to incorporate any adjustments to arrive at a set of values the committee feels strongly about. If you're not quite there, don't force it. Give it more time and meet again. You want to nail it.
  7. Create a unique, branded document that showcases your new values and their definitions.

Congratulations: You've done it. The next step is deploying these dynamic core values into every part of your business.

Barry Raber

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Carefree Covered RV Storage

Barry Raber is a serial entrepreneur, president of Carefree RV Storage, a 22-year member of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), the founder of Business Property Trust and an EO Portland Entrepreneur of the Year. He shares his successful business secrets at realsimplebusiness.org.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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