The Selle BusinessĀ Blog

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from a natural and organic business consultant

Core Values: Be Specific & Impactful

company culture core values purpose Apr 22, 2024
woman in office at desk

There are dozens of values a company could select as important for itself. But not all values are equal. There are many that are too vague or bland that they have lost their meaning and, for a giant corporation or really a business of any size, become rather useless. For instance, inclusion can be a value, although it is a bit of a scapegoat. Inclusion for whom? Everyone? Really? This word doesn't tell us much.

Honesty is another. Of course we want our employees to be honest, who wouldn’t? But many companies list honesty or transparency as values and for the most part, these are rather empty. One that makes me roll my eyes is “people first.” I suppose this means “ahead of profits” but it sounds like a hipster way to appeal to the masses.

Avoid Vague Values

When a company uses vague language it loses the trust of its team members and its audience. To capture a loyal base, a company’s values must be truly meaningful and direct. Consider slow or fast. These are values and they aren’t the typical bland “we will do our best.” Instead, a company may prioritize being slow, steady, conservative, and cautious. Many financial firms advertise this. Another company may value speed, taking risks, and moving quickly; many tech innovators value this approach. There is no right or wrong; it’s simply what inspires and motivates each company’s team and customer. At least slow or fast are meaningful whereas bland terms such as “honest” or “high quality” have lost their impact.

Compare with Other's Perceptions

Some value terms appear great at first, but then when we think about how they'll be perceived, we might re-think them. The term “adventurous” could be seen as fun, whimsical, risk-taking, or fresh. However, when contrasted with “accountable,” it comes across as perhaps unprofessional or even unstable.

Companies must be sure about their values and ask these types of “perception questions” as they go through the inspiration process with their team. How will this value be perceived by the general public? Can we stand behind it? Do we all agree with it? Does it motivate us?

Use Clear Value Terms

Think clarity, even if it's controversial. A value that cannot be accused of being vague or meaningless is “feminist.” To value feminism, women-led, or women-empowered is to champion women’s rights and to position your business as centered on equity and the appreciation of women and mothers. It’s a fairly new value (since the 1960s) that often stimulates controversy especially in societies and businesses that have traditionally been more patriarchal.

I personally believe that controversial values are the most useful because they are so clear that there is no question what the company prioritizes. In an age of bland values, this can be refreshing especially to Gen X, Gen Z and Millennials who demand transparency and accountability before spending their dollars or joining a team. They want to know up-front and in no-uncertain-terms what a company prioritizes and reading a list of values (or watching how a company implements their purpose) is a great way to learn this.

I’ve found that other clear values include rebellious, animal friendly, or minimalist. Again, there’s no right or wrong, but establishing clear values that indicate what a company does with its profits, how it treats it employees, and where it sources its ingredients is essential to communicating clearly with potential customers or team members.

A company may shy away from being too clear and from spurring controversy because they "don't want to lose customers." However, the Australian charity Pro-Purpose reports that most consumers WANT a company to stand for something. Their data shows that advocacy by consumers increases when a company has a purpose or mission, and that 78% of consumers would encourage others to buy from purpose-driven companies. I teach businesses to stand strong in their beliefs and communicate them clearly. Customers and team members demand this type of up-front knowledge so they can make informed decisions about whether to work for you, with you, or purchase from you.

Consulting for Values

As a natural and organic business consultant, I specialize in leading in-person retreats, workshops and trainings where executives and/or team members come together to identify and expand core values and purpose. Creating a mission statement is not enough. To keep teams healthy and engaged, your company must invest in the ongoing process of exploring and identifying core values. And to propel your company forward with both employee retention and customer love, you should consider implementing a meaningful purpose throughout. What does this look like? I can help with assessments, trainings, curricula, HR resources, and implementation that strengthen team unity. Contact me at [email protected].


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