One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned is the important role core values play in a company’s success. More precisely, how companies apply their core values to their everyday business practices is the difference between thinking and acting like a champion versus being an average performer.
While I had always read about the importance of core values and had established them for each company I had owned, it wasn’t until I started bumping into CEOs of some of the nation’s largest credit unions that I began to see how they can be driven down to specific behaviors which are measurable and actionable.
Because applying your company’s core values is so important, let’s define what they are. Your core values are the heart and soul of how you do business. They are the guiding principles dictating appropriate behaviors and actions. They help companies determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their business goals, and they create an unwavering and unchanging guide.
Core values are strategic and permanent. While strategies and tactics vary, the guiding principles of your company — your core values — do not. The question is, how do we make them actionable and ensure we are consistently executing upon them?
Making Core Values Actionable
For me, the answer to that question began to crystallize during a discussion with Donna Bland, CEO of Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento, California. Donna and her board had created core values for this huge credit union, but unlike many other companies, she and her team made the effort to drive them into each aspect of the company.
For example, they spent time determining how the core values applied to their call center as a unit as well as to each individual working there. They associated specific actions with each core value and created measures for each business unit and employee to determine how they perform against each core value.
Donna and her team also use core values to carefully screen prospective employees, including executive management. Most candidates not only have functional expertise for their jobs, but even more importantly need to be the right fit with the company’s culture and core values.
Small Businesses Can Do This Too
While Donna is clearly a great leader and has vast resources available to her, I challenged myself as a small business owner to replicate something similar despite not having as many resources.
Happily, I found small business owners can do everything Donna has done. There’s a secret to it, however. We have to prioritize and schedule it, otherwise it won’t happen. Just like any other system in our businesses, such as hiring, training or lead generation, we can either ignore it or make the effort.
Our tendency as small business owners is to ignore it and keep scrambling from day to day, but that’s what average performers do. Champions devote time and energy into strategic thinking, despite the fact that other pressing issues exist and do things like map core values to measurable behaviors.
Core Values in the Real World
One core value of my company Office Pride is “total customer satisfaction.” Recently, a client had an event where the building needed to look pristine for important guests. Prior to beginning our work we gathered our team and talked about this core value and specifically how to apply it to every part of this client’s building. The client had an unexpected crisis, and we spent considerable energy helping them fix it. We succeeded that day because we took words off of a page and applied them to specific work tasks. We made them real and measurable.
Schedule time to write down your company’s core values, define what they really mean in terms of daily performance, then ask yourself what actions you as a leader can take to better communicate them to your team and make them part of each employee’s behavior.
The more you discipline yourself to apply core values, the more your team will follow, and the more champion-like results you will experience.