When you know your vision, mission, and core values, you can make good decisions quickly. At Rosewood, we call these Root Statements. The first step in knowing your roots is to discover and clarify what they are. In the two previous Confidence in Crisis articles, we discussed Vision and Mission. Today, we will dive into Core Values. As a reminder, here are the definitions for each of the three Roots. 

Vision: This is your higher purpose. It is your why, the reason your organization exists. This primary root goes deep to the water source and provides energy to keep growing when the short term is dry. It is a clear picture of the new future you intend to create.

Mission: The practical way to move toward the vision. This is what we commonly see as business— building houses, repairing cars, or baking cakes.

Core Values: Priorities for decision making that everyone needs to follow so the vision and the mission can be realized. Core Value roots spread wide and stabilize the organization in the daily winds of external influence. These values are the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves, the deeply ingrained principles that guide all actions.  

As Anabaptist Christians, we like the sound of “core values”. We might even think we know what core values we hold. However, when we get down to writing our core values, we realize that we are foggy on the concept. Or at least foggy on how to write down what the core values are for our own business. Have you found it that way? If not, you are the exception!

There are two other types of values that are often confused with core values. This concept is taught by Patrick M. Lencioni in a July 2002 article titled Make Your Values Mean Something. Here are his definitions:

Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.

Aspirational values are those that a company needs to succeed in the future but currently lacks. 

Permission-to-play values simply reflect the minimum behavioral and social standards required of any employee.

Do you see the difference? Core values already exist in your company today. Aspirational values are the ones we wish existed. Permission-to-play values are the basic standard for employment in any company in your part of the world. 

When defining what your core values are, it is not a matter of “coming up with them” or choosing them. They already exist. We just need to discover what they are. 

Leaders often want to include permission-to-play values because they want to promote honesty, integrity, and a good work ethic in their businesses. Certainly, we want to promote those values. But that should be a given. You don’t need to list honesty as a core value to fire someone for stealing tools. 

Leaders often push for aspirational values to be included in the core values list, because they believe it is important that the company becomes something it is not. The push for becoming something we are not is fine if indeed the change warrants the monumental effort required to change the company’s character. However, telling your team and customers that you value cheerfulness when you have a customer facing employee that is allowed to be somber or grouchy 60% of the time is not being honest with yourself or anyone else.

The problem with naming values that do not already exist at a root level in the company is that your team will not believe what you are saying. You come across as out of touch with reality and will lose credibility with your people.

What Core Values Are Not

  • Core values are not what you wish you were. 
  • Core values are not a plaque on the wall or a list in an employee handbook (although both of those are good). 
  • Core values are not a goal to achieve.
  • Core values are not identical for any two companies.
  • Core values are not just ideas or philosophy.

What Core Values Are

  • Core values are the beliefs that steer the behaviors of your people. 
  • Core values are deeply ingrained and difficult to change. 
  • Core values are priorities by which decisions are made. 
  • Core values are the basis on which you should “hire, fire, reward and recognize employees.” Gino Wickman, author of Traction 
  • Core values are the GPS that will keep you traveling the right direction to realize the fulfillment of your vision.
  • Core values are the defining characteristics of your company culture.

If core values already exist, why do we need to call them out? When you understand clearly what your company core values are, you can be intentional in perpetuating good company culture. You can screen out a lot of bad hires without learning by experience that they don’t fit your team. You can use your employee development resources to train employees how to live out the core values. You can identify “people issues” and solve them quickly when you have clearly identified core values. 

Just defining your core values is a huge step forward. But they will do you little good if you do not require each person in your company to live them out day-to-day. Culture is created by what people do, not by words on a page. As a company leader, it is your job to act when core values are not being followed. Your team will soon learn that you mean business. They will find a lot of security in knowing that the leaders mean what they say. It builds trust in the leaders when they praise actions that support the core values of the company. It also builds trust in the leaders when they refuse to allow actions that undermine the core values.

Defining your core values and communicating them to your team is a great leadership tool. You will find that the employees who share your core values don’t need someone looking over their shoulder every day. They are aligned in their core with the company. They want to make decisions and take action that supports the company core values. When they mess up, they feel bad about it. You can build a company with people like that. 

Do You Know Your Core Values?

Pebbles Family Buffet’s core values are: 

Joy – Friendliness bubbling from a pleasant, peaceful atmosphere.

Neatness – Orderly, clean, and safe.

Teamwork – Working and learning together respectfully. Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Hospitality – Serving up comfort with genuine service and hearty homestyle cooking—scrum-licious every time.

Their vision statement is: A reflection of a contented family living by the Truth.

Their mission statement is: Pebbles Family Restaurant welcomes guests “home” to enjoy the comfort of homestyle food in a relaxed and refreshing atmosphere. 

Can you see how employees who live out the core values will be making good decisions every day that fulfill their mission statement? Then by accomplishing their mission their vision becomes a reality.

If you don’t have this clarity in your business, I want you to know that it is possible to get it. If you attempted this in the past and gave up, please try again. It’s worth the effort. In fact, creating all three of the Root Statements (Vision, Mission, and Core Values) is the best investment any company can make. If you don’t do this, you will continue to zig zag and waste time and dollars without making significant progress.

In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. Proverbs 14:36 KJV

With Courage,

Roy Herr

About the Author: Roy Herr is the senior marketing consultant at Rosewood Marketing. The Rosewood team guides business owners through marketing challenges into sustainable growth. Contact Roy at roy@rosewood.us.com