How Leaders can Identify and Establish Core Values That Connect

Writing at Desk

If you asked your employees what the organization’s core values are, could they tell you? Most cannot.

This is a problem for leaders since it is impossible to create a healthy corporate culture, which I refer to as a “Connection Culture,” if employees can’t articulate what the organization stands for. Furthermore, the organization’s values should be ones that encourage connection and teamwork, rather than silos and dysfunctional behavior.

The following steps can help leaders to identify and establish core values that are meaningful and encourage connection across the entire organization:

  1. Identify the values that matter.

To identify core values that create connection, leaders should begin by taking time to reflect on the values they believe in and want to promote in their organization. Start by reflecting on your experiences, including those at and away from work, and write down any lessons you’ve learned from them. Then use the Via Institute on Character’s list of 24 character strengths to reflect on what strengths are most important to you and your organization’s ability to achieve its mission.

I recommend reading what other leaders have written about their core values. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz’s book Pour Your Heart Into It provides an excellent example. Throughout the book Schultz articulates his experiences in life, how those experiences shaped his values, and how they became the values at Starbucks.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of a leader concisely articulating his core values comes from the U.S. Navy. In the Montpelier Command Philosophy, the commander of USS Montpelier, a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy, describes the values he strives to meet, which ones he expects sailors under his command to follow, and why each value is important.

  1. Articulate why the values matter.

After you’ve completed the above steps, organize your thoughts in a manner similar to the Montpelier Command Philosophy—name the value and explain why it’s important. Ask trusted friends to read your values and provide feedback about what’s right, wrong, or missing. Once your draft is in good shape, share it with your direct reports and ask them to provide feedback.

  1. Include the entire organization in the process of choosing core values.

Consider the feedback, make the changes that you believe improve it, and then circulate the revised version to your direct reports. Have them do the same with their direct reports. Continue this process until everyone has had an opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas. This process creates commitment and alignment with core values.

  1. Establish the core values and identify ways to live them out.

Finally, take your direct reports through the final core values you decide upon. Discuss and identify which values are most important to your team’s success, which values your team is strong in, which values it needs to develop, and what can be done to develop and live by each value. Follow up with a written summary of your plan to “live our values.” It should include action items, responsibilities, and due dates.

By following the process above, you will be able to identify values that are truly meaningful, receive buy-in from your entire organization, and establish ways to live out the values. The result will be a more connected and engaged workforce.

Connection Culture Book CoverAdapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.

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