A set of guiding principles called core values helps your employees understand the goals and purposes of their work and give your customers a sense of how your company operates.
Many large corporations post a set of core values on their website and inside their offices. They might spend weeks in committee meetings evaluating feedback to determine their business’s values and wind up with a list that includes things like innovation, diversity, teamwork, sustainability, customer-focused, and excellence.
When carefully chosen and integrated into the enterprise, core values can help a company succeed and win market share. But superficial statements of company values can come across as meaningless corporate-speak that alienates your employees and customers. That’s why it’s worth putting in the work to understand your values and make them an integral part of your business.
What are core business values?
Company core values should inform and guide everything a business does, including how the company structures itself, manages employees, operates, and works with its customers. A company’s core values should set the tone for a company’s culture, or the principles and ethics that reflect how a business’s managers and workers interact with one another, with customers and with the public. And know that there are no exceptions. Everyone, especially the managers and executives, need strong values to guide their actions.
Examples of core company values
A core value should be unique based on your company, industry, or location. Some companies have very specific and distinct values. Others may use identical words but have different interpretations or reasons for choosing those values.
Companies sometimes develop a corporate values statement or simply list words and terms that express their values. Below are some company core value examples:
- Chocolate maker Lindt & Sprüngl says, “We strive for excellence and innovation and foster an entrepreneurial culture of empowerment and collaboration. We act responsibly and care for a sustainable tomorrow.”
- Hyatt Hotels takes a more straightforward approach: “Respect, integrity, humility, empathy, creativity, and fun are our shared core values.”
- Netflix shares a list of core values, such as courage and passion, with bulleted examples below each one. The company then dives in with more detailed examples of how these values play out in the workplace.
Look at Shopify’s careers page as an example of how a company can state its core values without simply listing terms. “We all get shit done, ship fast, and learn. We operate on low process and high trust, and trade on impact. You have to care deeply about what you’re doing, and commit to continuously developing your craft, to keep pace here. That means Shopify is not the right place for everyone.”
The last part—not the right place for everyone—can seem scary for some business owners. But authentic values are meant to set a company apart and highlight what makes your company special. As a result, your company will attract and excite certain types of employees and customers while also turning others off, and that’s OK.
How to develop and implement your business’s core values
- Seek inspiration
- Consider what’s important to you
- Ask for input
- Put your values in writing
- Turn values into actions
- Reward actions that align with the values
- Review your values
Choosing and then absorbing core values into your business can be a long and complicated practice, and one that you may need to repeat as your business grows. Here are seven steps you can take to start.
1. Seek inspiration
Think about companies you admire and see if they state their values on their website. Although your company’s values might not align with all of theirs, you might be inspired by what they choose and how they put into practice those aspirational values. You can also find lists of core values with descriptions and examples and use those as a starting point.
2. Consider what’s important to you
For small businesses, a company’s core values will often reflect the founder’s personal values. For example, founders who expect and appreciate honesty—even when it’s brutally honest feedback—might choose this as a core company value. However, a founder who says they value honesty but only accepts positive feedback may want to reconsider whether open and honest relationships actually are a value that the company culture can uphold.
The founders of Active Truth, Nadia Tucker and Stevie Angel, saw a gap when looking at athletic wear. They didn't see inclusive leggings and started their brand on the belief all bodies deserve good quality and attractive workout wear. This core value of inclusivity allows them to resonate with their core audience, all women who want activewear. As Stevie says, “Women were ready to see a brand that celebrated them.”
As a founder, think about what inspired you to start the business, what drives your work, what you enjoy about the work, and how you want your employees and customers to act and feel. Also, consider how the company currently runs—what values does it display, which of those do you want to retain, and which values might you choose as aspirational goals?
3. Ask for input
For established small businesses, developing your core business values can be a collaborative process. You might work with the leadership to brainstorm language that describes the best attributes of the company. Some companies also send out surveys to all their employees asking about the company's culture and what they think makes the company unique.
The process can be iterative as you start to choose values, define what those mean, and then ask for more input. The end result won’t necessarily reflect everyone’s desires or feelings. After all, some employees might not embody or align with the values you end up choosing.
4. Put your values in writing
Once you’ve chosen your core business values, write down your list or create a values statement. To avoid any potential confusion or misinterpretation, you can expand by describing what these values mean for the company, how the company culture embodies them, and how employees should use them to guide their work.
5. Turn values into actions
Integrating the values throughout your company can be challenging.
For example, if supporting personal growth is a core value for your company, then you’ll want to have a plan for supporting your employees’ aspirations and success. You might find that means helping someone find a better job elsewhere if they outgrow your organization, but that’s part of living your values.
Or, you might decide sustainability is a core value. Are you willing to drop your largest client because it’s a polluter or discontinue your most-popular product if it’s made of plastic? It can be hard, and some companies wind up greenwashing instead—highlighting a few eco-friendly practices or products that don’t represent the business’s overall environmental footprint. It doesn’t take a lot of digging to see through the misrepresentation and tarnish a company’s reputation.
6. Reward actions that align with the values
You can encourage the adoption and incorporation of your values by rewarding engaged employees whose work aligns with the values. Consider how you’ll use them to inform your hiring and promotions—perhaps offering bonuses to those employees who live up best to the company’s values.
7. Review your values
Companies may find their values change as they grow, especially if there’s a profound change—such as a merger, acquisition, or expansion into new industries or regions. Periodically evaluate the company’s values. If the status quo is fine, you know that the company is doing a good job abiding by its values. If they seem off, you need to decide whether the company or the values need to change.
Business core values FAQ
Why are core values important?
Core values help align employees, management, and customers. They act as a guiding force for how employees should act, shape the organizational culture, and determine what a company will and won’t do. They can also attract talented employees and dedicated customers who share these values.
What is the difference between a mission statement and core values?
A company’s mission or vision statement explains what the business intends to accomplish. The core values should be unshakeable tenets that it uses as guidelines while it pursues the mission.
How do you write your company core values?
You can list your company’s core values or come up with a statement that clearly articulates those values. In either case, you should also try to clarify what you mean by each value and how you integrate it into your business practices.