How To Refresh Company Core Values

April 10, 2024

Let’s be real. It can be easy to dismiss corporate core values as internal marketing fluff — words that sound nice, but aren’t seen or felt by employees.

So why even try to create or revamp your company values? Here’s why: Company values are an essential part of the employee experience. Values help people forge an emotional connection to their workplace and find fulfillment and stability.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio defined this dynamic well when he described people.

People are wired to respond to their emotions, so emotional commitment at work can promote alignment and engagement.

What Are Core Values and Why Are They Important?

In the face of ongoing economic uncertainty, jobs can’t just be the source of a paycheck and health insurance. Forbes reflects this, reporting that 68% of workers in the UK, France, Germany and Ireland, 85% of workers in Brazil and 87% of workers in the US are prioritizing organizations that share their values.

Recommended: What Companies Get Wrong About Core Values — 5 Common Pitfalls

If your company develops a robust and authentic set of core values, you'll help employees and job seekers better connect to your organization.  

The Difference Between Mission, Vision and Values

  • A company’s mission describes what the company does.
  • The vision outlines where the company is going.
  • The core values are the principles and beliefs that guide how a company achieves its vision.

Core values should support the mission and vision by defining the HOW behind what the company does and where it's going. For your customers, core values promise what they can expect when engaging with your brand. In an ever-competitive market, core values can set a company apart.

Your core values can:

  • Inform the company culture
  • Influence how employees interact and behave
  • Guide how the company presents itself to the world

How to Know When to Redo Core Values

Considering redoing your company values? Ask yourself:

✅ Is there a disconnect between my organization’s stated values and its direction?

✅ Are there ethical or behavioral missteps that don’t support the well-being of the organization, its employees, or its customers?

✅ Are my employee engagement scores low?

✅ Are employees handling a lot of change because of a reorganization, merger, acquisition or shift in strategic focus?

✅ Do the current values sound a bit… generic, with a lack of specificity and uniqueness that differentiates your organization from competitors (Think: Ethics, Integrity, Innovation, Customer Focus)?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it may be time for a values refresh.

Let’s discuss how.

How To Refresh Your Company’s Core Values

1. Research How Employees Perceive Core Values

Values aren't just fancy words dreamed up in a boardroom (or in leadership’s Zoom meeting). Your values are principles discovered through surveying and talking to employees at every level. The research stage is a crucial first step to understanding how employees currently perceive, practice, and understand core values.

  • Use employee surveys to collect both quantitative and qualitative data on the current perceptions and values.
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and leadership to help uncover deep insights into the values that are critical to the company’s history, success and culture.
  • Host interactive workshops to bring various stakeholders together and help create a sense of ownership over the values and identify values that resonate across different levels of the organization.

The research stage can be the hardest to get right. Because when it comes to company values, you’re not creating them; you’re discovering what values already pervade your organization.

Creating an objective, neutral environment for employees to share the reality of life at your company is critical to discovering what your organization values and champions.

Curious about our recommended research and development process? Let’s discuss.

2. Develop Values That Reflect Lived Experience

With research in hand, you’ll need to collaboratively develop a set of draft core values that reflect your stakeholders' collective insights and reflections. This process should be inclusive. Seek to involve diverse perspectives to shape values that align with the business and employees' lived experience. Your values should be actionable, relevant to your company’s mission, and resonate personally with employees.

Avoid being too aspirational. Patrick Lencioni advises against companies adopting aspirational values, which are ideals that sound great but don't reflect the company's actual practices. Aspirational values happen when you let “wishful thinking” impact the process.

These values can feel hollow because they don't match the day-to-day reality. Your employees will notice the disconnect. Develop company values that feel grounded in today’s reality and offer a clear direction for the future.

For example, a company might claim to prioritize innovation but will rarely implement new ideas. Lencioni suggests that companies should embrace real values that genuinely represent the current culture and actions. This approach helps avoid the gap between what a company says and what it actually does and makes the workplace feel more authentic and connected.

3. Assess Whether Drafted Values Resonate

Once developed, critically assess the new core values against key success criteria (relevance, clarity, and alignment with the company’s vision and mission). Solicit feedback from across the organization to ensure these values resonate with employees at all levels. In this step, ensure leadership is aligned on the values and that employees feel they reflect reality — a survey or additional focus groups can be helpful here.

Examine all aspects of the employee experience and lifecycle to determine opportunities to incorporate stories about the values and how employees can embody them. Make a change management plan for integrating these values into daily operations, decision-making processes, and strategic planning.

An Example of Strong Company Values

Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of a purpose-driven organization with values that truly guide its culture and behavior.

Ben & Jerry’s values are tied to its commitment to “linked prosperity” – the notion that as the business prospers, its community of stakeholders (employees, suppliers, etc.) will benefit too.

We love these values because they’re authentic and unique. Plus, Ben & Jerry's acts on these values to try and make the world a better place.

The company focuses on activism and advocacy rooted in its values, and they’re not afraid to speak out about social and political unrest that many organizations would shy away from. This demonstrates to employees and customers that Ben & Jerry’s lives its values.

We're also big fans of our own core values — they reflect how we work and partner with clients of all shapes, sizes and industries.

Your Values Are A Mirror

Creating or refreshing core values is more than a cosmetic exercise; it can feel like holding a mirror up to the organization and its leadership team to determine if the right environment exists for employees to thrive.

When core values are truly integrated into an organization's fabric, they become a powerful force, shaping the company’s culture, operations, and relationships. They help employees, new hires, and customers understand what to expect and what is expected of them, fostering a community united by shared beliefs and goals. Core values serve as an anchor in times of change or uncertainty.

By capturing the core values that resonate with both employees and customers, companies can build a strong, enduring employee experience and culture that stands the test of time.

Need a core values refresh? Reach out and we can talk through your organization, its needs, and how we've helped others craft values that resonate.

Lauren James

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