Avoid Hollow Core Values

Dr. Purushothaman
December 13, 2013

When you’re defining an organization’s core values, it’s critical to avoid making them sound hollow by inserting, for example, your own personal values for those of the organization, or making the exercise too cute.

Here’s an example of a set of “core values” that one management team came up with:

• We work as a team
• We act with integrity and honesty
• We champion and celebrate diversity
• We expect and support exceptional service
• We celebrate our successes
• We encourage creativity and innovation
• We care about our community

This list is incomplete. It’s also not well-organized. Some are legitimate core values, such as acting with integrity. Some are key values, such as celebrating successes. Some obvious core values are missing. It should come as no surprise that this particular set of values had little impact on this organization.

Symptoms of "Hollow" Core Values

People “go it alone”- working at odds with one another.
People aren’t held accountable.
People are confused about how their activities and performance objectives tie into the organization.
People take actions contrary to the organization’s interests.
People are reluctant to ask tough questions or clarify their priorities.

Related Causes

Failure to identify the organization’s core values and communicate them.
Failure to communicate and clarify the core values throughout the organization.
Failure to articulate performance measures tied to core values.
Lack of feedback and performance measurement tied to the core values.
Lack of training tied to the core values.

Here’s another example of what I consider to be hollow values from Jamba Juice, a health-oriented seller of fruit-based shakes and other products. Its values spell out the word “fiber.”

Fun - Have fun. Smile and create a spirit of celebration for your customers.
Integrity - Do what you say. Demonstrate good character and encourage an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
Balance - Live a balanced life. Consider the needs of customers, team members, and shareholders alike.
Empowerment - Believe in yourself. Be responsive and innovative. Do whatever it takes to make your customer happy.
Respect - Be respectful. Help each other to grow. Contribute to a vibrant and diverse community.

The sentiment behind these values is heartfelt. But they don’t reflect what’s essential to Jamba Juice. It’s a cute marketing gimmick, not a reflection of what’s truly important to the company. The chart on page 23 shows the symptoms of hollow values.

You need to listen carefully for clues that your organization has failed to engage in a deep examination of the organization’s core values. If you sense this, or inherit a listless organization, resolve to do something about it right away. Nothing is more important if you want to move at light speed.

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