How to Create the Right Core Values for your Business

People & Culture

A few years ago I was called into a large business that was having problems with its culture.

While waiting for my meeting I noticed a beautifully framed set of values on the wall. It included powerful words like “TRUST” and “INTEGRITY” and “QUALITY” and “LEADERSHIP”. Lots of them. 10 to be exact.

In our meeting, I asked one of the attendees what their values were. She turned and pointed to the frame. Great! But then I asked, what do they mean?

Without meaning, they can never be brought to life.

What are core values?

Core values are the DNA of any great business. Before you define your purpose, or develop your strategy, the first step is to discover who you are as an organization so you can get the right people onboard.

Core values are the beliefs that serve as your guiding principles. They are the set of shared values and beliefs with which people can make choices, take actions, have discussions and develop their behaviors.

Core values already exist inside your business. It’s a matter of uncovering them, nurturing them, and giving them life.

Table Stakes

In “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni, he does a great job of explaining core values. One concept he introduces is that of table stakes.

These are values you simply have to have to be part of the company. Things like integrity, trust or professionalism. They are true for any business.

Table stakes only make good core values if there is a unique spin or special importance to your organization.

Aspirational vs core values

Another important concept from Lencioni is that there can be aspirational (or desired) values. These are values that are not in place in your organization yet; that you’re building into the culture.

How to discover your core values

When helping teams discover their values, we take them on a simple journey.

First, we gather the leadership and any key employees who you’d like engaged in the process. It’s important that this remains a small, core group and doesn’t become “creation by committee”.

Next, we facilitate exercises to brainstorm and draw out the values within the team that are most admired. These values are grouped into themes.

These themes give great material to start word-smithing 3-5 values.

One of the most important things about values is that they are a part of you as an organization. When word-smithing your values, unleash your quirks. Bring your authentic self to bear. Make them fun and interesting.

Each value should be defined clearly with a short phrase so there’s no question of what they mean.

In a follow-on session, we focus heavily on storytelling, ensuring the newly-minted values are alive and well in the organization.

While this process sounds simple, it’s often not easy. There’s soul searching involved. Sometimes the values that are brought forward don’t quite fit right and need adjustments, but with time and patience the values become the foundation of your business.

How do you know they’re right?

The right values are alive and well in your organization already, and shape the culture you want.

They’re only a few of them. They’re simple. They’re 100% YOU.

There are some simple rules to test your core values:

Would you fire an offender for not living (or breaking) the value?

Would you take a financial hit before breaking the value?

They’re alive and well in your organization.

Examples of Core Values


  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Remarkable
  • Transparent

Notice how it spells out HEART?


  • Fanatical support
  • Results first
  • Embrace change
  • Passion
  • Keep our promises
  • Friends & family

Whole Foods

  • We Satisfy And Delight Our Customers — Our customers are the lifeblood of our business and our most important stakeholder. We strive to meet or exceed their expectations on every shopping experience.
  • We Promote Team Member Growth And Happiness — Our success is dependent upon the collective energy, intelligence, and contributions of all of our Team Members.
  • We Care About Our Communities And The Environment — We serve and support a local experience. The unique character of each store is a direct reflection of a community’s people, culture, and cuisine.
  • We Practice Win-Win Partnerships With Our Suppliers — We view our trade partners as allies in serving our stakeholders. We treat them with respect, fairness and integrity – expecting the same in return.

How do you bring your core values to life?

Core values need to be nurtured and recognized in any organization. The more that you recognize people living the values, they more they will.

Some ways to bring core values to life include:

  • Storytelling – share core values stories in your next all-hands meeting.
  • Themes – create themes and games around the core values
  • Newsletters – make sure the values are shared and reinforced in the company newsletter.
  • Modeling – make sure your leaders are modeling the behaviours every day.

Core values are absolutely vital to decision making in any business.

Developing a strategy? Check that it aligns with your values.

Selecting a new vendor/supplier? Check if there’s alignment with your values.

Doing performance evaluations? How well are the people living the values?

Recruiting using core values

Recently one of our clients was hiring for a new controller. At the top of their job posting was the company’s values (which are rich with their personality). They were proudly showing who they were as an organization, and what the right person would be aligned with.

In the interview process, there were lots of questions about the candidates’ values and stories about how they live theirs. It made it clear which candidates were aligned with and excited about the culture of the organization.

Set it and forget it? Never

Your values are so important that they should be reviewed by your leadership team on a regular basis to ensure they’re creating the expected behaviours and being lived throughout the organization.

The Cheat Sheet

Core values are the simple set of rules that describe the behaviours and beliefs of your organization. They’re the foundation of your corporate culture.

Done right, you will have a small number of values (3-5) that reflect the unique awesomeness of your organization.

They’re clear, well-defined, and alive and well in your organization.

These are values you live by, make decisions with, and reinforce throughout your organization. They’re so important, that you’d fire someone for breaching them or take a financial hit for them.

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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