Andy Bailey is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, lead entrepreneur coach with Petra, and advisor on the Gazelles Council, leaders of the scale-up movement. We asked Andy to coach us on the importance of establishing core values. Here's what he had to say.
Just as every fingerprint is unique and no two snowflakes are exactly alike, each company has a particular set of core values that define every aspect of daily business decisions, from how you answer phone calls to which technology you'll leverage. Without clearly defined core values, an organization lingers in a constant state of identity crisis. But identifying exactly what's most important to you and your company isn't always easy.
Ask yourself: What are the key qualities every employee must possess―no matter their division or position? What drives your business decisions? Are there certain fundamentals you're not willing to compromise? How can you be sure that everyone in your company shares the same motivations and priorities?
It's worth the effort to define your company's core values―the principles that galvanize every employee from the C-suite to the mailroom. Every business should also designate a "core purpose," which defines the reason why it exists.
Years ago when I sought to define my own company's core values, I was fortunate to attend an EO Forum meeting that facilitated my path to discovery. I found that my company's core values aligned with my personal values. For me, it came down to "stability, preparedness and desired significance." Stability was number one, and something that I'm able to find both in my business and home life. Being well-prepared is also critical, whether I'm working on personal goals or facilitating a quarterly planning session for a client. Looking at the larger picture, whatever I do, I need to feel that I've made a difference for another person and that what I'm doing has significance on the planet. As a result of defining these core values, every one of our operational areas gained sharper focus.
So, how do you go about pinpointing what's most important for your company? Try these four steps:
- Brainstorm with your team. It's one of the best insights into what's critical to your company. Write down whatever comes to mind with a "there are no wrong answers" attitude. Take time to consider your team members. What do you admire about them? Which of their attributes and behaviors exemplify the best elements of your company culture? Set a time limit to ensure you don't overthink―10 or 15 minutes should do it.
- Put all your ideas on the table. Look at all your ideas and see what jumps out. Anything surprising that even you can't believe you wrote down? If possible, wallpaper the room with large sticky notes for everyone to see. Step back and take a look at your options from a different point of view.
- It's auction time. This is where the rubber meets the road. Auctioning your core values reveals what you truly value most. It's a process that requires difficult questions and choices. When I was defining my personal core values, I asked myself, "If I had $4,000, and each core value cost $1,000, where would I put my money?" You'll be amazed how fast the best ideas stand out when given a dollar value. The auction will quickly narrow your choices, putting you on the fast track to defining your core values.
- Put your core values into action. Now that you've done the work, live your core values. Use them to guide all business decisions and define the culture of your organization. Ask―and answer―how those values support your team in doing its best work.
I work with businesses every day that are struggling to define their core values. For those who find them―and consistently work within their parameters―success is streamlined. If anything doesn't align, they make changes and move forward. Take the time to do this for your business. It's an enlightening experience and your team will come out of it with a unified vision for everything you do.