Most small businesses don’t spend much time thinking about their core values. It’s a concept that can seem like fluffy B.S., especially when everyone and their brother talk about the same things: excellent customer service, team player, integrity, etc. If not done right, core values can quickly sound like familiar platitudes.
I didn’t spend much time thinking about core values myself until I started reading some popular business books – they all talk about them. I wondered if I was missing a key element in developing Ascend Business Growth. Daniel Cable’s description of core values in his book, Change to Strange, Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce, really got my wheels turning. He starts by saying:
“If you want to beat down competition and win, then you want to cultivate a strange workforce that is obsessive – intensely preoccupied with something [that customers care about].”
That word – obsessive – hit home with me. My mind started cultivating a short list of things we are obsessive about. And I started asking myself if we obsess about them because they’re important to us or our customers. Do our obsessions make us unique at all?
Daniel said companies need to be willing and able to develop these obsessions into a key competitive advantage.
“Willing” means there is something that you and your workforce will suffer through to deliver long-term value to customers while your competitors will not. It means you are doing something both valuable and rare. [And willing to take the necessary risks to make it happen.]
“Able” means that there is something your workforce is uniquely qualified to do – some obsession, quality, or competency that allows them to deeply impress customers in a way the competition could not do even if they were willing to try.
These “obsessions” translate into your core values or workforce characteristics. They define your ideal employee – the type of person you wish you had 10 of because they add tremendous value to the company and the customer’s experience.
But the key is that they’re unique to your company. Your competitors could not or would not use them to describe their own workforce.
Example of Core Values
Daniel’s book has a bunch of examples of core values. Here’s what I came up with for Ascend Business Growth:
- Driven by Curiosity: A rapid learner constantly searching for deeper understanding. Always looking for more effective strategies and processes.
- Open-Minded: Not afraid to try something new. Seriously consider all points of view before taking action.
- Scientific: Bases ideas on a careful and rational examination of the facts. Utilizes well-developed analytical skills to create and test hypotheses, choosing the best course of action based on solid data.
- Strives for Perfection: Pays extreme attention to details. Puts maximum effort into every aspect of the job. Embraces constructive criticism and has a deep desire for constant improvement.
- Invested: Combines personal humility with a genuine passion for the success of the company and clients. Takes ownership and responsibility for decisions, actions, and results.
2 Reasons Why Developing Core Values is Worth the Time and Effort
1. Hiring the Right People
It’s the people in your company who make or break you. When you clearly define your core values and the behaviors you expect, they become invaluable in helping you choose the right people for your team. And when you hold your workforce accountable to those characteristics, you’ll be able to determine who fits – and who doesn’t - quickly.
2. Engaging With the Right Customers
Strongly defined workforce characteristics can be valuable from the sales side as well. You’ll have a better chance of aligning with your ideal profitable customer vs. the customer who eats up all your time and mental energy. Not every customer is a good fit for your company; clearly communicated and understood core values will help you know much more quickly if there’s a disconnect.
For example, one of Ascend Business Growth’s core values is to be scientific – base ideas on a careful and rational examination of the facts. If a customer hates data and makes the majority of decisions from the heart, we probably aren’t going to get along very well.
I’ve learned that core values are the guiding principles for doing business and selecting your workforce. They keep you focused on what’s truly important and the reason your business even exists. They get people aligned and excited about what the company represents to the marketplace.
How Core Values Tie In to Your Online Presence
I could give you lots of statistics about the percentage of people who do independent online research before they purchase. Still, it’s evident that the Internet has dramatically changed how people buy stuff.
When someone comes to your website to evaluate whether or not they want to do business with you, the more they know about you, the better. If it’s super easy to understand what you do, the value you provide, who you are, and what you stand for, they can make a decision about you faster. If you talk to any highly successful sales professional, they’ll tell you,“People buy from people they like.”
Core values give prospects a better flavor of who your company is, what you stand for, and what they can expect from working with you. They won’t do much for you if they’re the typical platitudes they read on many websites. But if you spend time and effort thinking about them and what they mean to your company, they could add real value.
Sketching out Ascend Business Growth’s core values has been an interesting adventure. It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but I was surprised at the feeling of purpose I felt even after the first go-round. Core values fluffy B.S.? I don’t think so anymore.