My exit from the corporate arena was a hastened one once I was no longer a fit. Post acquisition, the company and I became estranged. The major shift? Values were no longer in alignment, and there is no paycheck big enough to fill that gap.

Values are our personal compass, our foundation. They guide us through our entire lives. We rely on them to make decisions, to look shamelessly in the mirror, to feel proud about how we navigate the challenges and temptations of life.

For a company, it’s the same. Core values guide the ranks from the front lines to the C-suites on how to contribute and operate. They are the one page everyone should be on.

Declaring one’s values is to state a promise, and putting this stake in the ground is very attractive. This is true for people and organizations. It sends the message: this is us. This message is magnetic to those of us who believe in your values and your mission…both as employees and as customers.
As an employee, when personal values are reflected at work, we feel a strong commitment and are compelled to help. “This company gets me. I can be my true self here.” (Read this Forbes article if your values clash at work). It’s the absolute definition of being authentic: I am the same person at home as I am at work. That’s food for the soul. Looking for ways to build loyalty and lessen turnover? Make sure you know who you are and who you want to attract. 

The thing about values is they aren’t sexy or strategic. You don’t lay their progress out on Gantt charts, they don’t get a line on the quarterly P&L. They’re meat and potatoes. So instead of cultivating values, it’s left to the ‘people at the top’ because we aren’t sure we should be spending energy on this non-financial aspect of the business. Once you figure out how and dedicate time to cultivating core values, you don’t need to put the effort in…it’s your default. It’s how you operate.

Why Bother?

Decision making improves as people are empowered with the foundation to make decisions. Gone is their feeling of inadequacy, replaced is well-thought out closure. This eliminates the bottleneck that decision making can cause as they wait for you, instead pride and morale are nurtured. You benefit as you experience less frustration: How great would it be to go on vacation without all the phone calls?

When you provide this sure footing, this stable ground, your team can relax. They stop looking for what could go wrong and lean into what they know is right. This is a literal shift of mental energy. The clarity promotes sound action, and between the two, trust begins to take shape.

Now we’re talkin’.

Once we trust, once we feel safe, we perform extraordinarily well as individuals and then as a team. The threads of the values weave themselves into everything and our interactions with one another emulate this value system. If honesty and integrity are seamlessly woven in, then that’s how we’ll approach conversations and responsibilities. We hold ourselves, our team, our company to the same high standard.

There will absolutely be scenarios that test us: opportunities that are a double edged sword, temptations of compromise that make dollars but not sense. These are times when the short term win can be quite seductive. If we engage and back burner or bend our values, confusion sets in…eventually, you don’t recognize whose staring back at you. We become unhinged from what we know is true, like a boat whose anchor suddenly loosens, we drift. Actions to take aren’t as clear, reasons and purpose become vague, and what could be relied upon before is now the new corporate punchline. 

We’re even feeling this as a country as America’s values of opportunity, democracy, freedom, inclusion are being tested. Going against your values can feel strange, shifty, as uncertainty slinks in and brings its unrest. 

How are you celebrating and cultivating your values? As a person? As a business? Are they shared in a first interview and then only referred to on an old poster in the break room? Or, are they spoken of daily? Referred to when decisions are made? Instilled?

Start asking and start answering these questions. It will rally those who are already a fit, as you express just how certain you are of who you are.