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Advice on Building Core Values and Culture

All companies benefit from having defined core values that drive their employees to achieve.

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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All companies benefit from having defined core values that drive their employees to achieve.  Jim Collins, in his canonical leadership book From Good to Great outlined the traits that make the very best leaders who are able to weather adversity and come out stronger the other side.  The difference between what he calls “Level 5 Leaders” and the rest is a focus on the mission of the organization above all else.

A focus on the core values has an immediate impact on culture.  Employees are no longer clocking in and clocking out.  They aren’t distracted by year end bonuses.  They aren’t looking for another job.  Instead, they are focused on achieving what matters to the company.  This focus changes the way employees communicate, prioritize, and work.

For example, Amazon’s mission is to focus on the customer and put them first through offering amazing selection and prices.  This focus influences so much at Amazon, from the product to warehousing to pricing.  Aligning with the customer has allowed them to build one of the most valuable companies in history.

Given how important building core values and culture are to success, we asked several experts a simple question:

"How did your organization define its mission and core values, and how has it had an impact on your work?"

Benjamin Wolf Wolf's Edge Consulting LLC
Benjamin Wolf, CEO Wolf's Edge Consulting LLC

"To define our core values, inspired by the book Traction by Gino Wickman, we named the top three people in the organization, the kind of people we could conquer the world with if we could clone them. Then we asked ourselves, 'What qualities about these people make them such rock stars?' That's how we uncovered our core values. Getting clear on this saved us and our people time and energy by only hiring and managing people who fit our culture and values like a glove.

We clarified our mission using the Entrepreneurial Operating System® methodology by breaking it down into two parts: defining our passion and identifying the niche in which we are the best in the world. Putting money aside, what is it about what we do that really gets us out of bed in the morning? We found that by staying true to our mission and not just saying yes to every opportunity or idea, we grew faster and more profitably than trying to be a jack of all trades."

Keri Ohlrich Abbracci Group
Keri Ohlrich, PhD, CEO Abbracci Group

"As an HR consulting firm, we wanted to be clear about who we were by defining what’s important to us. So, rather than approaching it from a standpoint of “mission” and “core values”, we defined it as “Who We Are” and “What We Believe.” We suggest that leaders brainstorm, think in the context of what you value, and what you don’ (as sometimes that helps you narrow your scope to the key cultural attributes that matter). Once you’ve drafted your mission and/or values, get feedback by conducting focus group sessions with employees. Obtain their thoughts and determine if they agree or if they have ideas on how to improve upon what’s been drafted. This is great way to show your employees you care about their opinions, while allowing them to invest in the process and generate excitement once they’re eventually launched.

Once adopted, company mission and core values are the basis of which decisions should be based. When training programs are created, are they fulfilling at least one or more of the core values and working in celebration of the mission of the organization? Does the decision to acquire a new business unit meet the core values from which our company is guided?"

Jenna Carson Music Grotto
Jenna Carson, HR Director at Music Grotto

"We wanted our core values to be an easy roadmap for current and future team members to follow which would make sure we were all acting in the way we want our company to come across. We wanted them to be authentic and simple, and easy to follow.

We thought it was best for a team to put the core values together to make sure they weren’t just showing one person’s point of view and we could combine the ideas of several people who really knew the business. We wanted the values to be concise and easy to remember, we didn’t feel we needed a complicated mission to show what we do.

Our core values impact how we work, how we treat and deal with our customers, and how we manage the business. Working this way gives us confidence that any member of the team will always represent the business in the way we want to be seen."

Dane Amyot bountiXP
Dane Amyot, Managing Director of bountiXP

"Our organisation organised a few workshops that core executives and management attended to truly define our mission for the years ahead along with defining the core values we believed would help get us there.

Once we had finished workshopping this, we formalised our mission and core values by introducing the rest of the organisation to them.

We did this through mandatory seminars along with an email communication plan to ensure our mission and values were top of mind for each employee.

We’re a human performance consulting firm and because we wanted our employees to start living our core values, we decided to introduce the use of our employee recognition and engagement platform. We did this because it was designed to attach every action and recognition to a core value.

This platform became central to our employee's work ethic and expedited the uptake and belief in our core values and our mission.

It has increased cross-departmental collaboration, its enhanced employee growth and development, and has boosted employee morale in a time where our employees really needed it."

Sonya Schwartz Her Norm
Sonya Schwartz, Founder Her Norm

"When we were first trying to establish our organization, we primarily focused on creating our mission statement. As the name implies, my team and I brainstormed on what will be our main goal and purpose, who do we want to serve, and what are the results that we want to see in the near future. Then, we agreed with the core values that would support our mission, to help us distinguish the difference between the right things to do from the wrong ones. It was never an easy task since we adhere to our own personal values but we made sure that we will all come up with a collaborated decision where everyone agreed.

The mission statement and core values that we have initially arranged have been giving us the light into every issue and challenge that we face, making us continue to the path that we have paved, and reminding us to keep an eye on our goals as a team."

Overall, your core values and culture are the key driving forces that will enable your business to succeed.  How you brainstorm, formalize, and strengthen your values over time will depend on your unique organization.  However, there’s no doubt this is a useful exercise for all companies large and small!

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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Phil is the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website dedicated to helping HR and Recruiting teams find and buy the right software through in-depth, expert advice. He has bought over $1 million worth of HR and Recruiting tools. Additionally, as of 2023, nearly 3 million HR professionals have relied on his advice to determine which business software they should buy.

Phil studied finance at New York University and started his career working in venture capital before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School. His in-depth understanding of the Saas landscape, especially HR Tech, stems from nearly a decade of researching and working with these tools as a computer programmer, user, and entrepreneur.

Featured in: Entrepreneur Harvard Business School Yahoo HR.com Recruiting Daily Hacking HR Podcast HR ShopTalk Podcast Employer Branding for Talent Acquisition (Udemy Course)

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