The time for core values has never been more urgent

Trying times send us to our roots and the foundations of our souls. More than reason or logic, more than our physical products or services, these foundations are our core values: the emotional intelligence that defines a company; the intangible “glue” that holds organisations together; the ethos that propels us through times of high performance and guides us through down-times of stress and confusion.

Use this down-time now to ask yourself: Does everyone in our company know our core values? Do they know how to act on them?  How can our core values help us in the return to normalcy? Does our company even have core values? There is no guarantee of this in B2B companies, in particular, as the intangibles that core values represent are frequently under-rated for their importance.

What are core values?

  • We see core values as the guiding principles that dictate behaviours and actions.
  • Core values can apply to individuals, to teams, to organisations, to companies, to nations.
  • For companies, core values are a key component of defining their brand identity and can be an important, differentiating factor in the market.
  • Core values are to be discovered – they are not created or chosen off a shelf –they are deep down and part of your DNA.
  • Core values should reflect what you are really proud of – your convictions, your beliefs, what you’d be willing to put all your courage behind. In these trying times, we might add what you need to put all your courage behind.

Why are they important? 

No one has ever articulated the value of core values better than Mahatma Gandhi.

"Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny."

Mahatma Gandhi,

Core values guide and endure: examples

Core values held by nations are stellar examples of the power of core values to effectively define these nations, over time. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”; Who doesn’t immediately know these defining calls to action that capture France’s history, present and future? “We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Arguably the inherent, unquestioned value attributed to the life of every, single individual has formed the platform for America’s world-wide stature and model for her significance., 

Corporate examples demonstrate how idiosyncratic, defining, and differentiating core values can be for companies: 

  • Arguably Coke’s four A’s—Availability, Affordability, Acceptability and Activation -- are the drivers behind its global brand dominance over the ever-striving-to-catch-up Pepsi. 
  • Starbucks core values vividly bring to life their brand experience: “We are performance driven through the lens of humanity; we create a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome; we act with courage and challenge the status quo; we are present and connect with transparency, dignity and respect.”
  • JPMorgan Chase's core values are simple, comprehensive and classic: “Exceptional client service, operational excellence, a commitment to integrity, fairness and respect; a great team and winning culture.”
  • Google saw fit to alter their core values statement from “don’t be evil” to the more positive “do the right thing”, which they articulate with: “focus on the user and all else will follow; fast is better than slow; and democracy really works.”

Contrast these with the core values of Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos—"to succeed at any cost” – which shows how truly significant Core Vales can be for success as well as flame-out failure. The failed blood-testing start-up knew no bounds, humility or openness to questioning; the result is a cautionary tale for all time. 

Core values and the return to normalcy: are you ready?

Return to normalcy—When? How? To what? -- will be unprecedentedly difficult. Little argument, however, that companies as the above are instantly in better shape to return to whatever the new normal will be—their values point to familiar business practices; to common, collective belief sets to motivate behaviour; to paths for addressing change with speed and high momentum. 

Is your company equally fortified? Does everyone understand the power of your core values to reinforce the familiar and help them chart the known? Is everyone ready to turn to your core values for purpose and common direction? Is everyone able to act on the core values for collective motivation and momentum? 

These are very serious questions. This is no time for your core values to be mere words framed on the wall vs. being lived deep in people’s souls.

Going forward:

  • To repeat, use this down-time now to plan for when this is all over and to chart what your core values can and should mean for the organisation’s return.
  • Be in touch with your management team to decide on clear, strategic paths forward. There is no one right way: every company’s path, like their core values, is sui generis, idiosyncratic, deep in your DNA.
  • Help your team see how a light can be shown on a path forward from your core values: an invaluable business resource hidden in plain sight.
  • Remind them of Gandhi’s words: Values are your destiny.

Finally, what if your company does not have core values? 

There has never been a more urgent reason to discover your company’s core values than now. Gather your management team (remotely) and together ask yourselves these questions: 

  • What would you love to hear someone (a client or an employee) say about your company? 
  • Conversely, what would you hate to hear someone say about your company?
  • What do you do that’s perhaps a bit illogical from a business perspective, you do anyway, and it makes a difference for the client?
  • What value(s) make you different from all the others as a company?
  • Do these values reflect your brand personality and the profile of the kind of people you wish to hire in the future?
  • Add to these questions: How can these values help us to return to the new normal --when, how and whatever this will mean?

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