Every year during annual planning, we urge our clients to take a hard look at their core values and make sure they are standing the test of time; to confirm they are still the foundation the leadership team wants to build the company upon; and to make sure they are keeping them alive by hiring, firing, reviewing, rewarding, and recognizing everyone around them.
Every so often, a leadership team member suggests adding a new core value to the already established ones. To cut to the chase, adding or changing core values should almost never happen. Core values should stand the test of time (if they are right). To give you perspective, values only ever change with one out of thirty of my clients over multiple years.
What I find is that when a leadership team member is trying to add or change a value, he or she is trying to solve a current organizational problem. That is a dangerous road, because a core value established to solve a problem is not a core value.
As you hopefully know, core values stem from who you are and typically stem from the founder. They are what define your unique culture.
If you are creating a core value to solve a problem—for instance, being profit-focused, being accountable, working hard, being respectful, problem solving—it’s not a core value. These may be core values for other companies, but if they’re not yours, they’re aspirational and destined for failure. The reality is that these are just current issues that simply need to be solved and they aren’t worthy of changing your entire foundation over them.
Just last month in an annual planning session, a client suggested adding a fifth core value: “treat everyone with respect.” After further digging and investigation, I discovered that the organization was suffering from gossip, backstabbing, and politics. We quickly agreed to not let this issue bastardize the core values and treated it as it was—just an issue. We quickly went to the root of the issue and solved it, ultimately helping them protect their core and foundation.
If you have a leader trying to change your company values for the wrong reasons, share this message with that person.