Creating core values is a great way to connect people to the business. Strong cultures lead to improved business performance, and core values are the foundation of culture.

We often hear that we're supposed to reinforce corporate values with our hiring, recognition and promotion practices. But how do we know what those core values are? In order to understand how to create core company values, let's get clear on what they actually are. According to leadership expert John Mattone, core values are critical for connecting people with the firm and its greater purpose.

Values give employers an opportunity to help workers see beyond the task at hand, connecting with the social fabric and norms of the organization. Below we provide two examples for how businesses can go about creating or revising their own core values in a way that aligns with the culture and needs of the organization and workforce.

Founders and Leaders Drive Core Value Development

If you've ever worked for a small firm, you understand the impact a founder or leader can have on core values and culture. As an example, Pinnacle Solutions is known in its community for the values it espouses. The founder and CEO, Mike Durant, is a former Special Operations Aviation pilot, and his background and experience is what led to the establishment of his organization's core values. On the firm's career page, each value is laid out in plain English so candidates know exactly what they are signing up for. A few examples:

  • Honesty and integrity through open communications
  • Quality products delivered on time
  • Inspire innovative solutions

These were each inspired by Durant's experiences in Special Operations. For instance, his unit's motto was "on time, plus or minus 30 seconds." That led to the prioritization of on-time delivery as a business.

Small firms, or those with highly visible leaders, should tap into those individuals as a resource as they plan for how to create core company values as a strong cultural foundation. The cultural vision of those key leaders will be a driving force in how values are selected and prioritized.

Creating Core Values: The Cloning Exercise

In an analysis of culture-focused research, WorkXO found that culture can drive business performance in ways that strategy alone simply cannot. Values are simply a set of hallmarks of corporate culture, and by understanding those values and the culture it wants to create, firms can improve market performance while attracting and retaining the right kind of talent.

Speaking of talent, another highly practical exercise for establishing core values is fairly simple: think about your organization and the people in it.

  • Who are the people that you would clone, if you had the opportunity?
  • What about those people makes them valuable to the organization?
  • What specific skills or traits would you be seeking?

By asking these kinds of questions, leaders can drill down into the specific competencies that drive value for the organization. For instance, maybe Jamal would be your choice because he is hyper-focused on serving customers. Or perhaps Sheree is your pick because she is a critical social connector within your firm, creating collaboration opportunities across functional and departmental lines. The next logical step is to dig into the skills upon which you're placing value:

  • Jamal: customer service mindset
  • Sheree: highly collaborative

You should then codify those elements into your values so other employees can learn from them. It's important to not just stop at a word or phrase, but to make sure you think through the actual behaviors that exemplify the values. In this example:

  • Customer-oriented may be your value, but a description could be: "focuses on customer needs first before considering the needs of him or herself."
  • Collaboration might be your value, but a description could be: "focuses on creating opportunities to connect, innovate and ideate among peers."

As you can see, taking it beyond just a word or phrase helps elaborate on the value and offers an opportunity for new hires and existing workers to truly grasp the concept and immediately put it into action.

While creating a system of core values from the ground up can seem overwhelming, it's relatively easy to get started. The payoff can be incredible if employers leverage those values to create a culture that attracts and retains the right kinds of talent.

Tags: HCM Strategy Talent Culture