Developing Your Organization’s Core Values the DIY Way
“How do we develop core values for our organization?” is a question that I receive fairly often. Many folks who ask this question actually mean, “How do we create core values without hiring a facilitator?” That question is a bit more difficult to answer. The absence of an external facilitator increases the number of variables between asking the question and achieving the result.
However, it is possible to craft a fully workable set of core values without an external facilitator. If you’re interested in taking a DIY approach to creating core values, I recommend that you keep the following framework and key principles in mind.
10 Steps to Creating Core Values for Your Organization
Create a Project Timeline.
All successful projects begin with a schedule and timeline. Throw a stake in the ground and decide upfront when you’d like to have your core values finalized. Then work backward to create your ideal schedule.
Assemble and Engage Your Team.
If your organization has a leadership or executive team, then you need to make them a part of the process. You may also want to consider surveying other members of your employee base to get their take on your current organizational culture. If you do not have a distinct leadership team, seek out and engage trusted managers or rising stars among your employees. You might also consider bringing in one or two trusted external stakeholders for additional perspectives. (See Step #5 for more information on identifying Stakeholders).
Appoint an Internal Facilitator.
When feasible, avoid having your organization’s owner or CEO facilitate the development of your company’s core values. That individual holds power and, even if they have the purest intentions, their presence in the process will influence the outcome. Instead, choose another internal facilitator—someone with facilitation skills who you can entrust to “run the show.”
Get Out of the Office.
Your best ideas rarely happen at your desk or the company meeting room. Why would you expect a different result for core values planning? The ideal location for planning sessions is anywhere off-site that is quiet and equipped (whiteboards, easels, refreshments, comfortable seating, natural light, etc.) to handle your needs. When it’s not feasible to bring everyone together physically, a virtual environment, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, is a viable alternative.
Identify Your Stakeholders.
Stakeholders encompass more than just clients/customers. It is quite likely that your stakeholder base includes people and organizations that you have not yet identified. Properly mapping and identifying ALL stakeholders will help you codify your core values and give you additional insight that can lead to opportunities in the future.
Assess and Be True to Who You Are.
Unless your organization was founded yesterday, you already have embodied values that have developed organically—only you haven’t identified them. It’s important to surface these during the core values development process—even if you don’t like what you uncover.
Unwritten values that are undesirable will occasionally be realized during the discovery process. To change them, it will be a long-term project, requiring specialists and consultants to help you turn things around.
Ask Insightful Questions.
Asking quality questions is the very heart of every core values planning engagement. Because each organization is slightly different, there is no “one size fits all” set of questions for every company. Focus your questions on drawing out participants’ personal experience (related to working for your company and past employers) and gaining an understanding of their perspective (your organization’s purpose and value through their point of view).
One of the hardest feats of communication is to be concise. Yet brevity of both sentence length and an overall number of core values is exactly what’s called for. Avoid fancy language and run-on sentences. Instead, craft brief phrases that get to the heart of the matter and limit the total number of core values to no more than ten.
Iteration can be difficult, but it can mean the difference between vague, meaningless ideas and a hard-hitting statement. I have learned that one of the best ways to iterate is by creating space between sessions. The ultimate goal through iteration is to make the final phrase short, impactful, and memorable.
Craft Clarifying Statements.
Clarifying statements are used to provide context to your core values. They enable stakeholders (internal and external) to gain a deeper understanding of what the core values mean.
We’ve Scratched the Surface; Now It’s Time to Dig Deeper
Crafting your organization’s core values will not be easy when going the DIY route. However, it’s possible with the above ten principles as your framework. Keep in mind that we’ve scratched only the surface in this article. For each of the ten points, there are many more details to consider and nuances to explore. If you’d like to learn more and increase your chances of crafting core values successfully, give me a ring.