Lately we’ve been working with a number of clients on helping them to establish and document their organization’s core values. Usually the conversation starts something like this: (me) “So, can you tell me about your core values?” (client) “Um, sure. We have them written down here somewhere, let me find them for you”.

Obviously the first problem (as you’ve probably picked up on) is that many managers and owners either don’t have documented core values, or they have them and they can’t recall what they are.

So, what are they, and why are they so important to building great brands?

Core values constitute a belief system about behaviour

Companies that are successful hang their hats on some basic principles; deliver great service and make great products. Some organizations are focussed around making a difference in their community (such as many non-profit groups) and others around helping people improve their lives (such as the medical and health community). And some are purely experiential such as theme parks and attractions. For all of them, it’s the people involved that usually form or influence the end users experience, and those experiences ultimately form the brand impression (along with a quality product of course).

Simply put, core values should describe the behaviours and attitudes of the people who deliver your brand experience. Should they be welcoming? If so, then a strong core value could simply be “Be Welcoming”. Are they in charge of greeting guests (such as a restaurant), and you want the customer to feel engaged as quickly as possible? Then a matching core value might be “Connect with guests in 30 seconds or less”. There are many ways to document the kind of experience you want your audience to have and then build a matching system of values to support that experience.

Core values can also describe product expectations. If you are in the manufacturing business, you might set a goal to maintain a less than 0.5% failure rate in your product, or a less than 5% return rate. In this case, supporting core values could reflect this commitment in your quality control / quality assurance process, such as “Every product checked twice before shipping”. In the restaurant business, ‘fresh and hot’ could be (probably should be) a priority. Document a core value that states “From the pass to the table in 1 minute or less”.

Values can also guide internal teams behaviour in interaction with peers and colleagues. For example, ‘Mutual Respect’ is a common value that can be found on many values lists. Even though it seems obvious to most, sometimes team members need to be reminded of the importance of this. How employees treat each other can directly affect external brand experience whether they are a front line worker, or are a supporting team member. People need to feel they are in an environment to succeed before they really find success.

Documenting values is just the beginning, recall is key.

Once you’ve developed a strong list of core values (usually no more than 6) that define the brand experience you want your customers to have (and ultimately talk about), you need to put them to action. As you can probably guess, this means some education to your entire team. Keeping simple, well defined core values will help them become memorable, and repeating them as often as possible in staff or team meetings is key. If people don’t or can’t remember them, then they’re going to have an awfully hard time delivering on them! We find that putting together a small pocket guide for employees is a great way to equip them with the tools they need to review and remember the values. Some companies might put them right on the wall, which is great to serve a daily reminder on why everyone is there. At Everbrave, we turned it into a bit of a contest during our weekly staff meetings to see who could recite all six of our values (unaided). It didn’t take long before our entire team was right up to speed on the 6 core values that we hold dear in our company.

And now the real magic

Accountability is probably the most important aspect of maintaining and living core values. In order to truly deliver the experience you want, your team needs to be held accountable to these values in their daily interactions and delivery of products and services and they can only do that if they know exactly what’s expected of them (back to my previous point about recall).

Values accountability also serves as a great measuring stick for your team during staff reviews. Use them as a scorecard to determine if people are staying true to the company values and employ strategies on correcting behaviour if necessary. If you have team members that are missing out on 3 or 4 of your values, then you may very well have a bad apple that you need to say goodbye to permanently, or else risk them compromising your desired brand experience.

You can also use your values during your interview process for new recruits to measure their willingness to deliver on your brands values.

Ultimately, great brands know who they are and have a solid belief system to support that. Documenting core values helps ensure that as your organization grows, you’ll continue to deliver the same exceptional brand experience that hopefully made (or will make) you famous.