What Are Core Values and How Should You Develop Them

Leaders of great organizations have tremendous clarity about the brand identity they aspire to embody and about how to cultivate an organizational culture that enables them to achieve it.

Jeff Bezos has made the Amazon brand synonymous with innovations that delight customers by cultivating a culture that doggedly pursues those innovations. Richard Branson has created a disruptive brand by running his Virgin enterprise to “screw business as usual.”  And Starbucks has always been about more than the coffee it serves because Howard Schultz conceived of the brand as an experience, not a product, and enrolled his staff in that vision. These and other successful leaders emphasize core values as the cornerstones of their culture.

What Are Core Values

Core values are the essential and enduring principles and priorities that prescribe the desired mindset and behavior of everyone who works at your company. Core values should function as the “operating instructions” of your organization.

How To Develop Core Values

Most business leaders understand the importance of setting values for their organizations. But all too often leaders develop a list of internal workplace values that are intended to guide employees’ behaviors and decisions, and separately they come up with a list of desired brand attributes and values that describe the way they want their brand to be perceived by customers. The former is usually filled with generic platitudes such as “we operate with integrity,” or “we value respect and teamwork.” The latter tends to be either so abstract (e.g., attributes such as authentic, fresh, cool) that most employees don’t understand what it has to do with them or it is so aspirational that employees don’t believe it.

It simply doesn’t make sense to specify the values through which you engage your employees if those aren’t linked to the way you want your employees to engage customers. Instead, you should bridge the gulf between organizational and brand values by using one set of core values to describe the unique way you do things on the inside and the outside.

Resources and Tools for Developing Core Values

To develop core values for your organization, start with the brand type that your brand falls into. If you know the general type of your brand, you’ll then be able to isolate the kinds of organizational values that are needed to support it.  In my upcoming book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, I introduce nine brand types and their corresponding organizational values,  An excerpt of that section of the book is available here (also on that page are other FUSION resources and materials.)

I’ve also developed an online tool to guide you through the process of identifying your brand type and corresponding organizational values, as well as examining how well your culture and brand are aligned and integrated today and diagnosing where the biggest disconnects are so you know which areas of culture-building you should focus on. Check out the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment here.

Also my latest Harvard Business Review article, “Ban These Five Words From Your Core Values,” outlines the five terms that shouldn’t be included in your core values because they’re overused and ineffective. The piece also explains the difference between core values and category values and outlines tests you can use to evaluate the strength of your core values.


New Book: FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies
FUSION Manifesto, Downloads, and Bonus Materials
How to Set Your Brand Purpose, Values, and Attributes — “Scale-Up Your Brand” Series

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