The following is the first in a series of five articles on The Value of Core Values
Subsequent articles to be published every Friday through March 1.
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” So said Gordon Gekko, the infamous character in the 1987 movie Wall Street. As we look back over the past few decades, it is interesting to note how fact can mirror fiction. We do in fact have a values crisis in our country. From reading the newspaper or watching the TV news, you and I know all too well what happens to real-life executives who sell themselves out for corporate profits or personal gain. In recent years, a lengthy parade of shipwrecked careers and discredited companies has marched before our eyes.
These “sensational” stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day thousands upon thousands of other companies are suffering from expensive, time-consuming, and energy-draining problems with customers, employees, subcontractors and vendors because they either haven’t defined core values or they try to take shortcuts around them. This may not always get them in trouble with the law, but the costs are nonetheless significant.
What prompts so many executives to get off course, causing their companies to self-destruct before our eyes? No doubt the answers are complex, but I suspect that one root cause is a lack of adherence to positive core values. In my own experience, I haven’t encountered any “sensational” stories that have made the national news, but I have seen plenty of serious business struggles that have one thing in common. They were caused by—or at least exacerbated by—the failure to have and live by organizational core values.
What are core values?
Core means center, heart, nucleus, interior, foundation, mainstay, focal point, and substance.
Values are principles, standards, morals, ethics, and ideals. Values always have worth, importance, and significance.
It follows then, that core values are the ideals and principles that lie at the very heart of an organization and guide all of its behaviors. They are the foundation upon which all strategies, processes, decisions, and actions rest.
Whether they explicitly recognize it or not, all businesses refer to standards for decision making. These standards are hierarchical, like rungs on a ladder:
- The bottom rung: “Is it legal?”
- The next higher rung: “Is it ethical?”
- The top rung: “Does it honor our core values?”
Under the pressures of day-to-day business, it’s amazing—and somewhat frightening—to see how rapidly almost any behavior can be justified. Deviations from core values usually begin with rationalizations based on circumstances. All too often organizations that descend the ladder from core values to ethics to legality are on a slippery slope to problems. Some companies even drop below the bottom rung, so that “Is it legal?” gradually becomes “Will we get caught?” When that happens, serious trouble follows.
On the other hand, successful companies are led by leaders who don’t leave their company’s culture to chance. They identify and define core values that are aligned with the vision of the business. Then they incorporate the core values they value into the life of the organization on an on-going basis.
How have these businesses been able to reap the benefits of living core values while so many others have failed? What are the keys to their success? Can we discern any general principles that have guided their actions?
Yes, I believe we can. I submit that the following five principles are the keys to achieving organizational success through values-centered leadership:
1. Owning your values: Your personal and organizational values should be an expression of who you are at your core. If you’re not committed to them, no one else will be.
2. Defining core values: You must give meaning to your chosen values by creating clear definitions so everyone concerned understands what behaviors they advocate and forbid.
3. Sharing core values: You need to communicate your core values constantly and consistently so that everyone in the organization understands and owns them.
4. Institutionalizing core values: You must weave your values into the fabric of your organization so they influence all actions and decisions.
5. Honoring core values: You must regard your company’s core values as non-negotiable or they will become inconsequential.
Living core values is a self-reinforcing process. Coming full circle, honoring values always increases ownership.
- Do short-term results trump long-term impact in your decision-making process?
- How do you determine the course of action when the short-term and long-term implications of a decision conflict?
- Are your core values an integral part of your decision-making criteria?
As you answer the questions above, consider how your current approach is working for you. In this series of articles, I’ll lay out the five keys to organizational success through values-centered leadership. If you’re looking for improved results, find out what other companies have done to achieve consistent long-term success and how you might follow their lead.
Lisa Huetteman is Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Black Diamond Associates, Executive Coach and Author of The Value of Core Values: Five Keys to Success through Values-Centered Leadership. After 20+ years in corporate strategic business development roles, Lisa launched Black Diamond Associates in 2003 to help leaders transform themselves and their organizations to achieve the next level of success. She has a proven track record of helping clients achieve sustainable improved results by implementing personal and organizational change. Lisa has spoken to audiences across the globe and coached executives in public, private, government and non-profit organizations. Lisa has a BBA from University of Michigan Ross School of Business Administration and an MBA from The University of Tampa. Lisa is a Certified Business Coach, a Certified Quality Facilitator, a Certified Professional Behavior Analyst, Certified Professional Values Analyst, and Certified Professional TriMetrix Analyst. She has received the Chairman’s Award from TTI Performance Systems for extraordinary community service. Lisa has served the community through volunteer and leadership positions at the United Way Suncoast, Impact Tampa Bay, St. Stephen Catholic Church and School, Tampa Catholic High School, the City of Tampa Mayor’s Youth Corps, STAR Technology Center, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. To learn more about Lisa, visit http://www.the-black-diamond.com/