The following is the third in a series of five articles.
This is the time I make my annual trip to the nursery and return with my car loaded with new plants. I am eager to plant them and watch them grow into the beautiful garden I visualized when I bought them. For a week or two I’m excited about my project and encouraged by the results. Then, I’m embarrassed to admit, the rest of my life usually takes over and my commitment dissipates.
Too many business leaders are like that when it comes to core values. They return from a strategic planning retreat excited about the core values they’ve defined. They call a company meeting and announce them to the rest of the organization. They may even post them on the company’s intranet, display them on wall plaques, and print them in their employee handbook. Then they move on to the “more important” task of running the business.
I call this the “if we tell them, they will follow” approach. It doesn’t work. Without consistent communication, core values, like vegetables in a garden that’s inconsistently watered, will die on the vine.
For my garden to grow, I regularly have to prune, water, weed, and fertilize. I can’t do these things just once and expect the plants to thrive. Likewise, core values must be continuously and consistently promoted using multiple channels and techniques. Any good marketing executive knows that repetition increases impact. The same is true when communicating your company’s most important message: your core values.
A half-hearted attempt to promote core values is not just ineffective; it’s detrimental. When you have identified and defined your company’s core values and don’t share them, the message comes through loud and clear that they’re unimportant and irrelevant.
How do successful companies go about sharing their core values? They are Creative and Consistent!
Marketing gurus know that creativity increases the impact of a marketing campaign. Communicating your core values is a form of marketing, so it pays to be creative. Including a little creativity into the process helps drive recognition and retention. Some of the tactics are:
• Outings and activities
• Promotional items
• Contests and Games
• Newsletters, Intranet, and Social Media
• Recognition and Rewards, and
Word-of-mouth marketing—creating a buzz around a company’s products or services—is the most valuable type of promotion. Effective leaders employ the same technique with core values. They talk about the company’s core values in meetings, training sessions, at lunch, and in the break room. They refer to them when they’re making decisions, conducting performance evaluations, approving budgets, coaching employees, and developing plans.
For these leaders, talking about core values is as natural as talking about the weather. They are constantly thinking about their core values because core values are the foundation of their individual identity and the identity of their business.
But it doesn’t stop there. Successful leaders also model core values. Words unsupported by actions are hollow. Core values must be caught as well as taught; they must be modeled as well as mouthed.
Successful companies devote at least as much attention and commitment to sharing their core values as they give to any of their other important marketing initiatives, and they use the same methodical steps: design, implementation, measurement, and improvement. They invest significant resources to ensure that their values are communicated, understood, and lived.
Owning, defining, and sharing core values are all essential, but alone they’re insufficient. You can have the best definitions and the best intentions; you can sincerely own your core values and promote them aggressively; but if you don’t integrate them into your company’s operations they will have little sustained impact. The next article will address how successful companies institutionalize their core values.