Most small businesses don’t spend much time thinking about their core values. It’s a concept that can frankly seem like fluffy B.S., especially when everyone and their brother talks about the same things: great customer service, team player, integrity, etc.
If not done right, they can easily end up sounding like familiar platitudes.
I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about core values myself, actually, until I started reading some popular business books – they all talk about them. It got me wondering if I was missing a key element in the development of 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 off 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 to cultivate a short list of things that we seem obsessive about. And I started asking myself if we are obsessing about them because they’re important to us, or to our customers? Do our obsessions make us unique at all?
Daniel went on to say 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 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 so far for Ascend Business Growth:
- Driven by Curiosity: A rapid learner who is constantly searching for a deeper level of understanding. Always looking for more effective strategies and processes.
- Open-Minded: Not afraid to try something new. Seriously considers all points of view before taking action.
- Scientific: Bases ideas on 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 much more quickly who fits – and who doesn’t.
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, and 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 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.
What I’ve learned is core values are the guiding principles for how you do business and select 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, but it's pretty obvious the Internet has dramatically changed the way 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, the faster they can make a decision about you. 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 for who your company is, what you stand for, and what they can expect from working with you. If they're the typical platitudes they read on lots of websites, they won't do much for you. 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 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.