AT THE CORE
Core values: a key component of leadership strategy
[Core values] become
a north star … in times of confusion,change, or tension. When implemented
successfully, they also spotlight consistency within leadership… .
By Meg McKeen, CIC
Even if you’ve not put pen to paper or fingers to keys to define them, your organization is operating with a set of core values. These are the guiding principles that create the foundation for decision-making within your organization.
But do these core values represent the organization you believe yours to be?
Perhaps you’ve gone through the exercise of defining and documenting your organization’s core values before. After all, the evidence of many well-intentioned efforts lies in the laminated list of words that hang abandoned on a cubicle wall or tucked away in a drawer.
Or your organizational core values may be rattling around in your thoughts and formalizing them may be a task on your someday list.
As a leader in your organization, these core values may be entirely clear to you, but can the same be said for every individual within your organization?
Your current and future employees—and customers—are making values-based decisions about the organizations they align with. How we define these values in our organizations is a matter for today, not someday.
Where do we begin?
Whether you’re defining them for the first time or suspect your organization needs a refresh, here is a simple framework for establishing your core values.
No matter if you’re part of a leadership team or you are the team, make plans to head off site for an afternoon. You’ll appreciate this distraction-free change of environment as you’re engaging a different part of your mind. (Note: If you’re prone to unproductive meetings, i.e., running out of time or getting stuck in rabbit holes, you might consider engaging a professional facilitator for this session.)
Brainstorm individually to create a bank of resonant words. Once you have your list, highlight those you feel the strongest connection to. Next, come together as a team and begin sharing and discussing, until you’ve identified your organization’s core values. (Note: I suggest four or five values as a general guideline, making it easy to recall them as you move about your business.) Also, it’s a good idea to sit with these words for a day or two to be sure they’re the best for your organization. If you feel you’ve missed the mark, then it’s time to tweak.
Watch out for the integrity trap!
Buzzwords may not be the best words, and after working through this process, many organizations land on integrity, collaboration, and fun as key core values.
While there’s nothing wrong with these descriptors, the truth is that in many of these organizations, customers aren’t applauding their integrity, teams aren’t working collaboratively, and employees aren’t having fun. (Fun fact: Did you know that integrity—along with communication, respect and excellence—were reportedly Enron’s core values at the time of its demise?)
To ensure that your core values are truly representative of your organization’s culture, and to help you pinpoint any blind spots you may have in this exercise, try inserting one of your new core values into any of the following questions:
- When a new employee joins our organization, how are we exemplifying (insert word) to them?
- Where is it evidenced that our customers believe ours to be an organization that acts with (insert word)?
- How are we supporting our employees in experiencing more (insert word) in the work they do?
- When did our leadership team last act with (insert word)?
How is (insert word) evidenced in our employee termination process?
If you’ve struggled here, it may indicate that you’ve not chosen the best word(s) to describe your organization’s core values, or that you have an opportunity to start shifting to a more values-aligned leadership approach.
Defining core values is a critical first step, but the work truly begins once you do, because now it’s time to share them. And, while the “set it and forget it” method may work for some initiatives, implementing your core values requires a different approach.
Where do we go from here?
Now that you’ve established them, it’s time to communicate your core values with internal and external stakeholders, and it’s important to create intention around this implementation.
Perhaps you’ll add your core values to your public-facing website, to the copy on future job postings, to a new page on your company’s intranet, or you’ll start to implement them into the spoken and written conversations you have within your organization (and I hope you do!).
Depending on your leadership communication style, you might consider sharing your new core values in a town hall-style event, or even creating a team to provide oversight, as regular monitoring of feedback ensures consistency in this implementation.
Regardless of the approach you choose, remember you’re not simply checking the “here are our core values” box; you’re creating the guiding principles that shape the experience that each person who interacts with your business undergoes.
[R]ember you’re not simply
checking the “here are our core values” box;
you’re creating the guiding principles … .
A final thought
Impactful core values aren’t simply words on paper. When clearly defined and consistently honored, they can become a key component of your leadership strategy. They become a north star of sorts in times of confusion, change, or tension. When implemented successfully, they also spotlight consistency within leadership, building trust and engagement among stakeholders.
Meg McKeen, CIC, founded Adjunct Advisors LLC in 2018 with the simple belief that we can and must do more to support the individuals who choose a career in the insurance industry. Her experience working for more than two decades in underwriting, leadership, and sales within the industry fuels her work as a consultant today, in which Meg now holds space, at the crossroads of personal and professional development, for insurance professionals as they grow their sales and leadership acumen and organizations in the midst of cultural change, through private and small group coaching, moderation and facilitation services, event speaking engagements, and the podcast she hosts, Bound & Determinedsm. Learn more at www.adjunctadvisors.com.