Your Core Values Need To Actually Start Meaning Something

You read the title, and you already know that this article isn’t relevant for you. Sure, those other guys slap their core values on their website and don’t give two sh*its what happens after that. You aren’t those guys. You’re different. You’re special.

And maybe you are. But hear me out for just one more sentence before you move on. I would argue that your core values are actually doing you more harm than good if you aren’t incorporating them heavily into these two areas:

  • Recruiting and interviewing
  • Performance reviews

We’ll talk a little bit about what that means in a minute, but first, consider this. As everyone is (rightly) thinking about diversity and equity and what it means for their workforce, truly living out a set of core values actually makes your team less diverse. Not in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation, but in terms of belief systems and ways of approaching the world. Generally, a company’s core values will mirror the core values of the founder. They are a collection of ideas that sum up how you, as an individual, think about work. They are what got you to this place: owning and running a great business.

These company core values are the same values that you now look for in employees. And employees that exhibit these values rise through the ranks faster than those who don’t. A strong, thriving set of core values actually narrows your candidate pool. You are no longer simply hiring the most qualified for the job. You are hiring for a way of approaching life. Embracing your core values wholeheartedly means intentionally homogenizing your workforce in some key areas. That’s not a bad thing. You want people who have some things in common. People who have values in common at least have some level of baseline respect for each other. They know how to fight each other, too. Without a set of common values, it would be incredibly difficult to have good, honest conflict in the workplace. 

If you’re bought in and want to work towards a more homogeneous team, here are a few ways you might consider living out your core values:

  • Further define each of your core values. Practically, what does this mean at your firm? What doesn’t it mean? This will give you a better idea of what to look out for, both in candidates and existing employees.
  • Develop a set of interview questions that gets at each of your values. Define what a good answer looks like for each question. 
  • When evaluating candidates, make sure your team understands the importance of a good cultural fit to you and your company.
  • In performance reviews, place just as much emphasis on cultural dimensions as you do on job performance.
  • Incorporate core values into peer reviews as well. Sometimes you’ll get more information out of these, as things can be shielded from you in the day-to-day.
  • Be quicker to weed out bad cultural fits, even if their technical performance is strong. You can’t train on a belief system. You can train on other things.

Last, while we’re touching on core values, I want to address a core value that many of our clients have. It’s usually something around “make it happen” or “act like a founder” or “be entrepreneurial.” Be careful with this one. Usually, this is a core value that was instrumental in getting your company off the ground. It’s something that all entrepreneurs share. But that doesn’t mean it’s something all of your employees should share. The larger you get, the more process you need, and the less you need someone to dive in and cobble together a solution. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for “make it happen” in a larger team setting, but don’t expect your team to take the same smart risks that you take. They aren’t you. If they were, they’d have started their own firms to compete with yours. As you grow, adjust your expectations for what a core value in this general vein looks like at your firm.

We have recently retooled our Total Business Reset to include a much more robust cultural assessment. If you want to see how your core values are playing out at your firm in real-time (while addressing lingering issues such as your positioning and lead generation), this might be a good place to start.

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