Core Values: What They Are, and How to Implement Them

Learn why core values matter — and hear from business leaders on how they’ve implemented them at their organizations.

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Do these company slogans sound familiar?

Do the right thing; don’t be evil. (Google)

We believe in the simple, not the complex. (Apple)

Relationships matter. (LinkedIn)

Innovation. (Microsoft)

These slogans aren’t just sayings from high-profile tech companies; they’re expressions of core values that these corporate giants adopted as their own beliefs.

What are “core values”?

The digital platform YourDictionary defines “core values” as:

“…the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. These guiding principles dictate behavior and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Core values also help companies to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their goals by creating an unwavering guide. There are many examples of core values in the world, depending upon the context.”

Values often are one-word characteristics that people admire and aspire to. Among the most common are:

  • Integrity
  • Kindness
  • Honesty
  • Appreciation
  • Determination
  • Efficiency
  • Generosity
  • Empathy

As uplifting as these values sound, unless they meet the dictionary’s definition, they’re merely aspirations — not core beliefs. And unless your company lives up to them, it risks losing credibility.

Personal values vs. company values

The dictionary categorizes core values as either personal or organizational. Both may share the same values, but differ in key ways.

According to a 2017 Morgan McKinsey report, everyone has personal core values, including those they don’t know they have or haven’t yet discovered. For example, one person may patronize only environmentally friendly retailers because of a strong belief in saving the planet. Another person may visit the gym daily because commitment is a core value that supersedes the need to be physically fit.

A company, on the other hand, selects and codifies a core value as its identity. Core values are a guiding force for what companies do and say. They’re also a unifying force for everyone associated with the organization: employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Core values are a guiding force for what companies do and say. They’re also a unifying force for everyone associated with the organization: employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Business-focused values traditionally promote:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Professionalism
  • A strong work ethic

Other organizational core values include:

  • Accountability
  • Balance (life/work)
  • Commitment
  • Community
  • Diversity
  • Empowerment
  • Innovation
  • Ownership

Why core values matter

Large businesses consider core values so vital that 80% have them. But core values are equally important to small businesses (SMBs) in creating a positive work environment, competing for talent, and building their brand.

Core values set company standards for:

Shaping cultures. Making core values like honesty, courtesy, competency, diversity and collaboration your identity also shapes your culture and brand. A positive, supportive work environment can boost productivity among employees and their interaction with each other, customers, vendors and other stakeholders in your company.

Hiring talent. Attracting and hiring people with similar core values — not just those with the skills you need — may be a better fit for your company’s culture, You also may see your employee satisfaction, engagement, recruiting, and retention rates rise as a result.

Identifying brands. Core values can help you create a brand that’s makes you stand out from the competition.

Educating customers. Core values let your current customers, new customers, clients, and the public at large know what your company believes in and upholds.

Changing behaviors. Core values guide behaviors and decisions so that everyone in your company knows what to do or not do and how to work together to achieve a common goal.

Core values vs. mission statements, vision statements, and goals

If you aren’t sure how core values differ from mission statements, vision statements and goals, you’re not alone. Core values are your company’s beliefs and shouldn’t be confused with the other factors.

Here’s how Paycor, a payroll software company, explains the differences:

Mission statement. This term describes what you do, that is, what you make, sell, or provide. Your statement also can explain how what you do is distinctive.

Vision statement. This is what you want to do now and into the future. The statement should drive your company’s decisions and goals.

Goals. These are the results your company wants to achieve. Businesses can use core values, mission statements and vision statements to realize their goals.

When core values conflict with business conduct

Respect, integrity, communication, and excellence may be a company’s core values, but what if a scandal proves they were meaningless and tarnishes the company’s reputation?

These were the core values of Enron, the energy company that went down in 2000 over a $74 billion accounting scandal.

The lesson here is that a company must live by its core values or face the consequences of misconduct.

What business leaders are saying

Workest compiled answers from business leaders on what core values are and how to implement them.

Here’s who they are and how they responded:

Q: How do you define a company’s “core values”?

Jawad Nayyar, cofounder and chief vision officer of DAO PropTech, a FinTech-PropTech company:

“Thriving on transparency, inclusivity, and innovation, DAO PropTech’s ownership is a combination of personal accountability and organizational responsibility. As a crowd-sourced organization, we always value individual thinking and encourage our people to take initiatives by themselves.”

Brian David Crane, founder of Spread Great Ideas, a digital marketing fund that invests in and grows e-commerce brands:

“Core values come from the top of an organization and, if successfully implemented by leaders, they become ubiquitous at all levels within a company. Respect for others and responsibility are two of the most important values that every successful team possesses.”

Emily Miner, Senior Advisor, LRN Corporation, ethical cultures developer:

“We like to think of ‘core values’ as guideposts. If your mission or purpose tells you the destination, where you are trying to go or what to achieve as an organization, core values tell how you to get there. In other words, core values provide guidance as to how we should behave and make decisions in pursuit of our business objectives.”

Q: Did you help shape your organization’s core values? If so, what strategies did you use?

Russ Stephens of the Association of Professional Builders (APB)

“Yes, along with other key stakeholders in the business. There are two books that we recommend all APB team members read to help understand our core values: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Atomic Habits by James Clear. The values and lessons from these books are what helped to shape the core values that we all live and work by.”

Crane:

“The best way to implement your core values in your work is by living by them and sharing them with your employees. For example, Spread Great Ideas allows its employees to live where they want and work the schedule that they want as long as they meet their deadlines. Employee’s schedules and time zones are respected and there is always an openness to look at how things can be done better.”

Q: How do you get employees to buy into your company’s core values?

Miner:

“There are four main channels that we use to cultivate employee buy-in: 1) Through exposure, early and often. Our mission, values, and Leadership Framework are a core part of our employee onboarding experience; 2) By making it real for employees. Values aren’t really helpful if they’re abstract; they need to be contextualized for what I do, in my role; 3) Reinforcement from leaders; and 4) Measuring and rewarding values-based behavior.”

Q: How important are core values in your recruiting, hiring, retention, and engagement efforts?

Stephens:

“We list all of our core values on our job ads to be completely transparent about our company’s culture. We also ask any potential candidates which core value/s stands out to them and why during the interview process. When we hire a new team member, we require them to sign off on our core values as an acknowledgement.”

Nayyar:

“Deciding who joins DAO Rotech is the most important decision we make as a company. This process goes through layers of rigorous vetting to ensure our values are clearly communicated to the candidate. Our human resource and talent acquisition teams have used their years of experience in devising recruitment strategies that apply equal amounts in cultural fit as much as they do in role fit (technical capability).”

Communicating your core values

Fond, an employee recognition and rewards platform, asked HR professionals: “What percentage of your employees can recite all of your company’s core values?

Just 22% of respondents in the survey revealed that 60% or more of their workforce knew their company’s core values. Of that percentage of respondents, half (11%) said that 80% or more of their workers could recite their company’s core values.

The survey results showed that 54% of the respondents believed that zero to 40% of employees knew their company’s core values.

Your company may have the most admirable core values in your industry, but employees can’t buy into values they don’t know exist or don’t understand. To get employees buy-in and support, develop a values communication plan using these strategies:

  • Demonstrate your company’s core values through your actions. If empathy is one of your core values, then show that you empathize with employees’ concerns.
  • Keep values statements brief and free of complicated language. This way, employees can easily remember them.
  • Develop a playbook based on your core values for employees. Make sure it demonstrates what conduct is acceptable in your company’s culture.
  • Recognize employees and leaders who uphold your company’s core values. Giving recognition, internally or publicly, can be an incentive for others in your organization to live up to your core values.
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