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Your personal values determine your perceptions of what is good and bad, and right and wrong about life, both in terms of morals and how you feel about everything around you. Your company values are no different. They provide the framework within which your business engages with customers, employees, stakeholders – all of its audiences – and ultimately influences and shapes your company culture.

In part 1 of this three part series we’ll show you a simple 3 step process to REALLY determine your core company values so that you can make them an integral part of how you do business.

Why Values Matter

All of us have our own personal core values, our firmly held inner beliefs about what matters in the world, what is good and bad, what makes us a person of value and what we see as valuable in others.

Our personal values are reflected in our actions and our behaviour.  They determine the choices and decisions we make.

We are attracted to people who share the same values as us.  Our values determine our friends and our relationships, the things that matter to us, the kinds of people we like to hang out with and the people who like to hang out with us.

The clearer we are about our own personal values the easier it is for us to make the decisions which allow us to stay true to our values, form relationships with people who share those values and choose a path in life that is congruent with our values, and that we will find rewarding and motivating.

The problem for many people, is that they have never thought deeply about what their values are and why they are important to them.  The result is poor decisions, failed relationships and unsatisfying life choices.

It’s exactly the same for your business. 

When you start your own business, whether you realise it or not, you bring your values, and your clarity, or lack of clarity, about what those values are along with you.

And just as your personal values determine your life choices, your business’s values determine how business decisions and choices are made, the way your business acts, the kinds of clients or customers you attract and retain and the kinds of staff, suppliers, partners and associates you develop relationships with.

Just as being crystal clear about your values and staying true to those values helps you make the right choices, develop the right relationships and follow the right path in life; the same is true for your business.

 PART 1: Determining your core company values

Determining your core company values will assist you with:

  • Refining your business purpose, mission and vision
  • Making key business decisions
  • Attracting and retaining the right customers or clients
  • Building and maintaining relationships with the right business associates: partners, suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors and other stakeholders.
  • Attracting and retaining the right staff
  • Creating an organisational culture which is in line with your values
  • Empowering your team to make decisions and take actions which are congruent with those values.


STEP 1:  Identifying your basic values

1.1. Download the list of possible core company values Core-Business-Values-Ideas.

1.2.  Cross out any of the words which you can instantly identify as NOT being one of your CORE company values. There are no right or wrong answers. Crossing something out doesn’t mean that you don’t think it is valuable or important. It just means that it isn’t something which is critical to your company decision making, the choices you make and the way you want your business to operate.

Here are some questions which might help…

  • Are they words which your clients would use to describe your company?
  • Are they words you aspire to? If someone was writing a eulogy for your company, which words would you most want them to write?
  • Are they words which describe the kinds of people you love to be around?  Take integrity for example.  One hopes that integrity matters to everyone and I hope you don’t want to hang around people who lack integrity, however if we assume a certain standard of integrity then other things such as wisdom, community and  creativity may stand out more to you. On the other hand integrity may be the only thing that matters to you.
  • Don’t spend too long thinking about what the words mean… allow yourself to react to them.
  • Try to reduce your list as much as possible. This is not a case where more is better. Some businesses choose to focus on just one or two core values which underpin everything. The objective is to get to the heart of what really matters to you.  Those things which you can’t live without, the core principles which impact the decisions and choices you make.

1.3.  Once you have crossed out as many words as you can write each of the remaining words onto a separate card or Post It Note.

1.4.  If need be you can add a new card or Post It Note for any additional values which are important to you and which are not listed in the downloadable list.

Step 2: Putting your values to the test

Once you’ve reduced your initial list as much as possible it’s time to review. Evaluate each word on your list against the set of six questions below.  Don’t just pay lip service to these questions… try and think of an example of each value in action which will really test how much the value truly matters to you.   Unless you answer YES to EVERY question it’s not a core value and you should remove it from your list. 

  1. Would you personally continue to hold this core value even if you were not rewarded, or were potentially even penalised, for holding it?
  2. Would you want your organisation to continue to stand for this core value no matter what changes occurred in the future?
  3.  Would you give up a customer, lose a sale or incur a loss rather than give up or compromise this value.
  4.  Would you leave or close down your organisation before giving up this value?
  5.  Do you believe that people who do not hold this core value simply do not belong in your organisation?
  6. If you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, would this value apply in the new organization regardless of its activities?

Example: Suppose you have said one of your core values is environmental sustainability and the ONLY place you can purchase the raw materials needed to manufacture your key product is involved in the widespread destruction of natural rainforests. Would you choose to purchase those raw materials and compromise your value around environmental sustainability or would you rather go out of business/close down until you’ve found a new supplier or a new way or manufacturing?

Step 3: Narrowing down your list

Hopefully by now you have a list of ten or less core values. Five or six is ideal and some companies chose to only have one core value which underpins everything.

If you still find you have too many, or if you’d like to reduce your list further then use the “Sophie’s Choice” activity below.

Sophie’s Choice was a 1982 movie starring Meryl Streep in which the heroine and her two children are taken to a concentration camp during WWII.  As they arrive at the camp she is forced to choose between her children, choosing which one will live and which one will die.  If she refuses to choose then both children die.

“Sophie’s Choice”

For each value remaining on your list pair it with another value and ask yourself “If upholding Value A meant compromising Value B?  Which would I choose?”

Example:  Suppose you have decided that one of your core values is environmental sustainability and that you would prefer to stop manufacturing/go out of business before you would purchase from the supplier in the previous example.  However, one of your other core values is loyalty and going out of business will mean laying off all of your loyal staff.  Which one would you put before the other?

PART 2: Turning Words into Deeds

In part 2 of this three part series we’ll show you how to integrate your values into your business…

It’s how you integrate your values into your business, how you communicate your values and most importantly how you demonstrate your business values in your day to day activities that:

  • determines your business culture,
  • attracts and retains customers and clients, staff and associates for whom those values are important,
  • enables your team to quickly and easily make decisions and take actions which are in line with your business values.
  • and in the long term determines whether or not you will be successful in realising your purpose.

About the Author

Brenda Thomson

Brenda Thomson

CEO and Founder of Synergy48 Group

Brenda is an experienced small business owner.  She has won an Australian Home Based Business of the Year Award, the My Business Magazine Best Start-up award and has also appeared in the Anthill Magazine top 100 Cool Companies and top 100 Innovative Businesses list.  Brenda has an honours degree in organizational psychology and a Graduate Certificate in training and development and is an experienced trainer, facilitator and counsellor.

Brenda is a firm believer in mutual collaboration combined with a practical, hands on tools, strategies and systems as the most effective way to achieve real results in business. 

Brenda is a sought after mentor, speaker and trainer in the areas of strategic alliances and joint ventures and networking with a twist.  She is also passionate about actively giving back to the wider community. In addition to donating her speaking fees and a proportion of every SMART-Connect Alliance membership to provide microfinance to help women in Malawi to start their own small businesses, Brenda has also climbed the Himalayas to raise money for Kids Help Line and helped lay a pipeline to supply water to a remote village in Tanzania.

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