Part 6: A Deeper Dive Into Core Values

About Trust: A Forever Work in Progress

At the core of every company is people. Everyone says this, so it reads trite, but anyone who has ever worked in a company knows this to be true. They also know that their level of life satisfaction, and their level of well-being, is fairly dependent upon their level of satisfaction with their work. Not only that, their satisfaction with work is significantly dependent upon their satisfaction with their relationships at work. In short, I believe High Trust Company’s (HTC’s) are those where the vast majority of employees genuinely love not just their Work but their Workplace (yep, another intentional capital W).

You don’t make money because you want to make money; you make money because someone values what it is you do / have.

This simple idea applies to individuals and companies. At the risk of stating the obvious, all of this Work needs to be executed reasonably well if the company operates in a market where competition exists.

Components Typically Associated with Connections-Based Trust

So what are values?

According to Wikipedia: “In ethics, value denotes the degree of importance of some thing or action, with the aim of determining what actions are best to do or what way is best to live (normative ethics), or to describe the significance of different actions. Value systems are prospective and prescriptive beliefs: they affect ethical behavior of a person or are the basis of their intentional activities. Often primary values are strong and secondary values are suitable for changes. What makes an action valuable may in turn depend on the ethical values of the object it increases, decreases or alters. An object with “ethic value” may be termed an “ethic or philosophical good” (noun sense).”

  1. Some values are more personal and subject to change (e.g., what is useful, beautiful, desirable and constructive)
  2. Most of us have values that reflect our personal beliefs on what “ought to be”
  3. Every value can be categorized along three sub dimensions:
    - Importance (to me, to the group)
    - Relevance (to me, to the group)
    - Time (durability)
  4. Since values help us understand the degree of importance, they are hierarchical in nature
  5. Since values are hierarchical, and we care more about things that deeply matter to us than those that don’t, they also help us form a hierarchy for feeling (from strongly for, to indifferent, to strongly against)
  6. Values have value and consequently can be thought of as a good (i.e., something whose value can be measured)
  7. The value of values can, with a bit of work, be measured and consequently values make it easier to objectively assess options so we can undertake cost / benefit analyses, make informed decisions and do what our team calls GSSD™ (“Get Smart Stuff Done™)
  8. Consequently, values help us form a hierarchy for thinking, feeling and doing (all three of which are needed to create and innovate) that not only simplify our choices but make it significantly easier for us to Work, and through our Work, make life better

What Core Values are Not

If you’ve been following this series, you may recall I purposely inserted the Core Values component into the Connections-Based Trust dimension and that, for purposes of clarity, I highly recommend you think of Core Values as traits that are not commonly associated with Character and Competency. I’ve worked with dozens of companies that mix these concepts and their Core Values are far more effective, and durable, when they don’t dilute them with Character-based traits (e.g., honesty, integrity) that are, in the words of Patrick Lincioni, “permission to play” or Competency-based traits that are not appropriate for every single seat in our company (e.g., detail oriented, innovative, organized).

Some Guiding Principles for Creating a Company’s Core Values

Core Values are a short list (typically 3 to 7) of behavioral norms, philosophical beliefs, and / or guiding principles that a company finds sacrosanct (aka important, relevant and enduring). The best Company Core Values score 10/10 across all three dimensions (recall, I love being able to understand the math associated with trust).

  • Articulate what we stand for
  • Guide us on who we hire
  • Help explain why we do business the way we do
  • Guide us on how to teach
  • Inform us on how to reward
  • Help us to better understand why some people don’t fit
  • Help us let people go
  • Unify the whole organization
  • Inform our business processes
  • Guide / are compatible with our value proposition
  • Require no external justification
  • Endure
  1. I present the Three C’s of Trust framework and ask them to list the behavioral traits (repeat: not character, not competency) that they love about each one of these people.
  2. I write the words and short phrases (e.g., Get Stuff Done, Do the Right Thing) that they use to describe the traits that they love up on a white board.
  3. Once we’re done building the list of traits, I ask each of them to share the names of some colleagues (present and / or past) who they find / found really difficult to work with. My goal is to get 5–7 names and then have them share what behaviors / traits they find difficult to work with. Almost all the time, they tend to be the antithesis of some of the behaviors that they found so attractive in the colleagues that they loved working with.
  4. As they share their list of what I call “antitheticals,” we star the attractive / opposite behaviors.
  5. Finally, we work to consolidate the list into about five Core Values (90% of my clients have five).
  6. I know we’ve built Core Values that will last when the words we choose are words they were using all of the time. Words that they obviously use in the workplace. Words that are authentic, clear and easy to remember.
This simple analysis tool can help you craft stronger, more meaningful Core Values.
  • You don’t make money because you want to make money; you make money because someone values what it is you do / have.
  • An organization’s Core Values are a key component of the Connections-Based Trust dimension, one of the most common ingredients that companies focus on if they have any interest in building an HTC. This typically is a short list of behavioral norms, philosophical beliefs, and / or guiding principles that a company finds important, relevant and enduring.
  • While there are different approaches to develop Core Values, well-defined and genuinely embraced Core Values will help clearly define who the company is, what it stands for, who belongs in it, who doesn’t, and make it much easier to not only attract but retain your kind of great people.
  • Over the longer run, great Core Values accelerate our ability to build, and sustain, a High Trust Company.

About the Author

This article is part of a series called “About Trust” by Mark Abbott. Mark is the Visionary / Founder of Ninety.io and a sought-after business leader, writer and executive-team coach. With nearly four decades of experience with early stage, small and mid-sized companies as a lender, investor and business builder, his passion centers on helping people build extraordinarily productive, humane and resilient companies. In addition to being a Certified EOS Implementer®, Mark has helped successfully build, lead and invest in dozens of organizations. Follow him here or learn more at markabbott.global.

Mark Abbott, founder and visionary at Ninety.io, is a sought-after business leader, writer and executive team coach. Follow him at https://markabbott.global.