Almost twenty years ago, when I was facilitating my first strategic planning session, I emphasized the importance of crafting core values or principles. My training as a clinical/community psychologist helped me realize that these were the glue that could hold an organization and its people together. And that values define the culture and ultimately help the people in it do their best.

Now, with the emphasis on organizational culture and corporate social responsibility, which are important to attracting and retaining the millennial workforce, it is even more imperative that every organization, large or small, have a set of living values in place.

 What are values?

Not only do they support the mission and vision, they are the essence of the company’s identity. Values are long-lasting and do not change over time. A value is a conviction, idea or opinion about a principle, standard or aspect that the organization considers to be true, desirable and worthwhile. They define what is important in how we act in the workplace. They focus the workforce like a compass point and act as a consistent guide to direction. Values typically focus on people, process and performance, are shared by all and are inspiring and clearly understood.

Why are Values so important?

Establishing strong core values provides both internal and external advantages for any organization:

  • Core values help guide decision-making processes. For example, if one of your core values is to stand behind the quality of your products, any products not reaching the satisfactory standard are automatically eliminated.
  • Core values keep people on the same page. Not only are they moving toward the same goal, they are getting there in similar ways, implementing strategies that reflect the values of the organization.
  • Core values educate clients and potential customers about what the organization is about—who they are, what they believe. Customers often choose organizations that have values that align with their own set of personal values. In this competitive world, where there are so many choices, having explicit values that speak to the public is an advantage.
  • Core values are becoming primary recruiting and retention tools. With the ease of researching organizations, job seekers are doing their homework on the identities of the companies they are applying for and weighing whether or not these companies hold the values that the job seekers consider as important.


How do you define Values?

When I work with organizations I typically begin the dialogue about values through asking these questions: “What are your convictions?” and “What are your basic beliefs about how people work best?”

You can also ask a group to define a Peak Moment in Time. This is a moment when the work was especially rewarding or successful. It’s important that the time frame be quite limited—a “moment”. When they have that specific moment in mind, ask your group: “What was happening?” “Who was present and what was going on?” “What were the values that were being honored in that moment?”

Third, ask questions about what the organization strives to be. Employees can reflect on more fundamental decisions about how the organization wants to operate in the world. For example, he organization might commit to being accountable to its customers, striving for excellence or reducing its environmental footprint. The questions can be answered by completing the sentence “We are committed to being . . . .

After going through these exercises you can begin to generate your values. After studying what you have just written in the three exercises, take a sheet of paper and list your values. After you have brainstormed a list of values, rank the top ten values in priority order. A group can vote on these and then have a discussion about what the top values would look like when put into action.

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