The problem with core values…

October 19, 2018

For the past month or so I’ve been in a lot of conversations about values. It seems that people get the gist of what they are, but there is a disconnect and it’s causing a problem in our work and lives.

When I work with clients, we focus a lot on core values, consistently referring to them for how they make decisions, take action, and behave. 

See the word core? Your core values are just that … fundamental, grounding, so real in your soul that you would walk away or speak up boldly if something didn’t line up with your core value(s). Core values are one of the components of who you are.

I love to solve problems, but I don’t like to focus on them unnecessarily, and it’s really annoying when they continue to cycle back over and over. However, I think it’s important to talk about the problems and see if something resonates so you can fix it. 

What frustrates me the most about core values … or how you know they’re NOT core:

  • They’re aspirational. When business leaders/owners define their core values but they aren’t consistently demonstrated, you lose credibility fast. I believe that most leaders have good intentions; they simply don’t understand core values, don’t see the disconnect, or just going through a “management exercise.”
  • They aren’t operationalized. If your values are core, so important that you would turn away business or go above and beyond your agreement, you will consistently refer to them and include them in important discussions. Core values are not to be confused with operating norms, instead they guide how you operate. When you make a decision, take action, behave a certain way, or treat people, refer back to your core values to make sure you’re aligned. Otherwise, you can easily fall into the trap of being contradictory, wishy washy, or at worst dishonest.
  • People don’t use them in their career plan. One of the wisest things you can do to determine if a company or role is right for you is to assess values alignment. Many companies list core values on their website so be sure to check them out. Other companies don’t list them, but you can still glean their values online. Once you have a sense of a company’s core values, dig deeper in the interview or meeting to assess alignment. Example: “I read that you have a core value of transparency. Could you give me an example of how transparency plays out here? How about at time when you weren’t able to be transparent – how did you handle that”?
  • Being out of alignment with your core values causes you to get stuck. Some of the most grounded people I know are acutely clear about their values and rarely falter when it comes to making decisions, behaving a certain way, or taking action. When a misstep happens, they may feel it in their body or have a nagging sense that something is off; they pause and take notice, take responsibility, course correct, and get back on track.

If you aren’t sure about your core values, have a conversation with a coach or mentor who will help you get clear, challenge you, and hold you accountable. Keep practicing and soon your core values will be in your DNA, guiding and grounding you and/or your organization.

Homework Challenge: Think about someone who’s super grounded – their actions line up with their words. They are respected and trusted. What do you think their core values are? How does knowing their core values help you know yours … and live them consistently?