Value statements, rather than being long statements no one can remember, should be concise statements that are so clear everyone knows whether their strategies, tactics, and actions are in alignment.
Core Values are difficult, if not impossible to teach. They grow from the organization’s start, reflecting the personalities and character of the founders and executives. Only after an organization develops can core values be well defined into a value statement.
Keeping with the idea that core values already exist in an organization, Jim Collins, Harvard Business School professor and author of numerous business best-sellers, uses a concept he calls the “Mars Group” to identify Core Values. The name Mars Group comes from the idea that if you were to create a new civilization and culture on the planet Mars you would begin with a group of women and men that already have the core values you want that civilization to grow with.
Here are the steps Jim Collins outlines to create a Mars Group. I have included a few additional steps describing a Critical to Success process to choose Core Values,
1. The senior executive should pick a group of fifty to sixty people who in turn select 5 to 7 people who exemplify the values inherent in the organization. This team of 5 to 7 should,
- Understand the core values that exist
- Be high-performers
- Be respected within the organization
2. The team of 5 to 7 should meet to select a short list of words that incorporate the organization’s core values. The team may need a facilitator familiar with the Post It ® Note brainstorming process recommended by Critical to Success.
3. The facilitator should give the team the following guidelines before starting. You may want to post these on the wall and talk through them at the start. (Try to avoid giving specific examples of core value statements as this predisposes people’s minds to the values in the examples; like trying not to think of an elephant’s knees.)
- Core values should
- Be personal principles that guide our behavior
- Guide how we act with each other and guide our business
- Be standards or rules of conduct we use to conduct business
- Reflect how we treat our customers and partners
- Be the same now and in the future, unchanged by technology or business practices
- Be the same if we started a new business from scratch
- Core values should be part of behavior that comes naturally
- Behaviors should be the same at home and at work
- Behaviors and actions should come naturally and not have to be taught
- Behaviors and actions should be the same in different situations
- Behaviors and actions that do not reflect these core values cannot be allowed
- Should not be strategies or tactics
- Will these words change over time? (think of the nature of core values of religions that have lasted over 2,500 years old through different nations and technologies)
- Will these words change if we change strategies and tactics?
- Would employees act with these same value at home or in other organizations?
4. Guide the team through the Post It ® Note brainstorming process recommended by Critical to Success. (This is an affinity, divergent-convergent team process.)
- Discover as many words that best describe your culture by evenly distributing 40 Post-It Notes through the team and having each individual write their best word(s) on a note.
- Each note should have a single word or two-word phrase. Long sentences or phrases make this process more difficult.
- Collect all notes and post them on the wall into related groups using an affinity process.
- Name each group with a word that states the meaning of the collection, such as “Sustainable”, “Action Oriented”, “Customer Centered”,…
5. Distribute the downloadable list of words available from Critical to Success. Do not distribute this list earlier because you do not want to influence the team’s original thoughts. Distributing it now can help the team in their search for “just the right term” to be used in the final value statement.
Click here to download a list of words frequently used in Core Value Statements. <words used in value statements.xlsx
6. Discuss the words and select the three to five words that will form your Core Values. If there are more than five words, your Core Value statement will be harder for people to remember.
7. Once the team agrees on three to five words you may want to choose a smaller group of two or three people to craft these few words into a sentence or create short phrases that expand their meaning.
Examples of Value Statements
Here are some examples of recognized value statements. Notice they can be complete sentences, phrases or descriptive lists. They are all short and memorable.
Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.
Question Assumptions. Think Deeply. Iterate as a Lifestyle. Details, Details. Design is Everywhere. Integrity.
Offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality, and value.
- Leadership: The courage to shape a better future
- Collaboration: Leverage collective genius
- Integrity: Be real
- Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me
- Passion: Committed in heart and mind
- Diversity: As inclusive as our brands
- Quality: What we do, we do well
Putting Value Statements into Practice
Here are a few ways in which you can reinforce core values in your organization,
- As part of your hiring process present interviewees with scenarios where they must decide what they would do. Make the scenario one that forces the prospect to make a decision based on core values in your organization.
- Ask prospects to give real world examples of how they have demonstrated two or three of your Core Values. For example, “Can you tell me about an innovative solution you came up with that improved your work in your last job?” “Can you tell me how you stopped your work to help someone become better at their work?”
- As part of your quarterly review process (I hope it is at least quarterly), rate people on how they live and work in alignment with your organization’s core values. Ratings that are either positive or negative outliers must give an example that explains the rating.
- As part of your strategy and tactics process include asking whether the actions proposed meet your organization’s your core values?
- At corporate presentations, executives should tell how individuals have upheld the organization’s core values.
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