Many companies create aspirational core values, but few get these right in a way that they make an impact. Here is how to up your core value game and make better decisions.
One of the most crucial decision-making tools is developing a strong set of core values, and they can't be a list of generic platitudes. Words like honesty, integrity, and ethics are table stakes for being in business, not ways to define who you are.
Here are some tips:
- Discover, don't decide. Don't look at a list of words and determine which words describe who you are. Instead, look at past decisions and behaviors that will reveal which already exists.
- Values are the reality, not the ideal. Don't describe wonderful ideas or create an idealized set of aspirational values that feel nice rather than a list of descriptors that illustrate reality. If your values look perfect, then they are probably not right.
- Each value needs an anti-value. Core values are tools for making difficult decisions. To serve that purpose well, you need to know what you are choosing as well as what you're not choosing. A core value reflects a trade-off between two equally valid choices. The harder the choice, the more powerful the core value becomes.
It's fine to post your core values on the walls of your office, but if that's all you do, then you've missed the point. Core values aren't window dressings; they should be used daily to guide actions and decisions.