Why core values are more than just rhetoric

by Kenny Kinley ([email protected]) 264 views 

There are so many books, articles, conferences and podcasts on creating a strategic business plan that one might ask what I must add to this body of knowledge. Most strategic plans have similar components — mission and vision statements, long-term financial targets, marketing strategy, annual goals, etc. However, a critical part of the strategic plan often overlooked is the expression of core values. Or, at a minimum, there is the rhetoric but not the reality in adopting these values.

The formal definition of core values is “a principle or belief that a person or organization views as central importance.” My experience in adopting core values at Edafio indicates that they are much more profound and further reaching than this definition suggests. Core values are the very heartbeat of a company. They formulate and guide a company’s culture; they express — in practical terms, not just lofty philosophical cliches — how a company functions, both externally and internally. Values determine perceptions, which in turn structure our behavior and determine our experience. Our company has four core values, three of which have been in place for almost 15 years and a fourth adopted earlier this year as a response to our growth and adopting a hybrid work environment.

I don’t share these values to boast that we have everything figured out. We do not, and I am the first to admit we are far from perfect. Yet, sharing them reinforces their meaning in my mind and the orientation of our associates. I hope it can encourage you to either create your own or revisit the values you already have in place.

  • Committed to Client Success. That means that our actions and words must always align with the best interests of our clients.
  • Unquestionable Integrity means we consistently do what is right, even without observation.
  • One Team with Humility and Respect. That means that with grace and dignity, we strive selflessly to contribute to each other’s success.
  • Uphold Personal Accountability means we expect to be held responsible for our actions and their results and that we hold each other accountable.
Kenny Kinley

Beyond the expression of core values, it is critically important to challenge where we succeed and fail in living up to them. We make it a regular company-wide process to compare our actual versus desired behavior and have even developed awards for the associates who exemplify the best of what we aspire to be. The stories and examples bring how we live these core values to light as tangible reality daily. We start every company meeting with these core values stories as an open session where anyone in the company can give a shout-out to a team or team member who demonstrated one of our core values in the last month.

These moments are among my favorite parts of my job because I hear from individuals across all the functions of our business — sales, delivery, and finance — all expressing how others, in their respective ways, have helped them be successful. We recently initiated quarterly performance reviews to assess whether we are truly succeeding according to the criteria of our core values. Every person in the company is rated on the four core values. That provides another opportunity to offer recognition when the core values are being met and guides coaching and performance improvement when individuals fall short of realizing our core values.

As a reminder, the formal definition of core values is a principle or belief that a person or organization views as central importance. I realized several years ago that I put so much focus on our company’s core values that I did not have my core values written down.

We all have personal core values, but I suspect most of us do not have any written down. Consider writing down your core values. Spend time defining what those core values mean to you and maybe even rate yourself against them occasionally. I have found this to be extremely valuable over the past few years.

Kenny Kinley is the CEO of Arkansas IT services firm Edafio Technology Partners. The opinions expressed are those of the author.