Identifying Workplace Core Values

Core values are at the root of a workplace culture, but how does a leader identify them? In this episode of the Lead From Anywhere podcast, I shared how a leader can figure out the core values of their organization, and how to find your personal core values, with step by step instructions that leaders can use right away.

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The Importance of Identifying Workplace Core Values

Knowing your core values and your workplace core values can ease the struggle when it comes to making tough decisions. Core values give you guidelines for making decisions, especially decisions in a “gray area”. Knowing the core values also makes leading your team a bit easier because it gives you some guardrails to coach, teach, and mentor within a structure.

I recently discussed the topic of values-driven leadership decisions, and shared a personal story about how important it is. But, here’s the bottom line: knowing your core values and your organization’s core values facilitate solid decision-making, it makes leadership a bit easier, and it also gives the entire team a common language to rally around. Who doesn’t want that?

The Steps For Identifying Workplace Core Values

The first step is to look back over the past 3-5 years and identify 5-10 hard decisions you’ve had to make at work that impacted those you lead. Write them down, and also note anything you can remember about what you considered, the pros and cons of each potential path that you were considering, and what the impact was on your team. If you are doing this for your personal core values, you would simply look at decisions you made in your personal life.

Next, define the driving factor in those decisions. You’ll want to write this down, too. Ask yourself questions like…What really helped you determine the final decision? Was it budget or money? Was it timeline? Was it a feeling about what was right and what was wrong? Was there a sacrifice involved? How did the potential impact on you play into your decision? What were your non-negotiables in this decision? How did the possible impact on your team inform the decision? Who did you talk to before making the decision? You’d go through this same step if you were considering your personal core values.

Then, evaluate the outcome of that decision, and write that down, as well. Ask questions like… What are you proud of? What are you not so proud of? Was the impact as expected? Better or worse? If you could change anything, would you? What did you learn? Questions like that. Once you’re done with this step, you’ll have everything you need to identify the core values.

Making Your List of Workplace Core Values

Core values are usually 1-3 words; think along the lines of characteristics. So take a look at what you wrote down in steps 2 & 3 – the driving factors behind a decision and your evaluation of the outcomes. Look at those answers to the questions asked. You should be able to find some recurring themes in those answers. Pay particular attention to the impact-related questions, and also the feelings-based answers. This is usually where the core values show up. Try to identify 10-15 common words, phrases, feelings, or outcomes. Some things I’ve seen come up for other leaders at this step are words like – humble, confident, resilient, teamwork, family, transparent, collaboration, boldness, authority, balance, friendly, reliable, innovation….just to give you an idea. You’re looking for 10-15 common words, phrases, feelings, or themes that showed up in your answers to the above steps. Once you have that, you’re ready to move onto step 5.

Step 5 is to discuss that list of 10-15 first draft core values with 3-5 people you lead at work…if you’re doing this for your personal core values, discuss with the friends and family who know you the best. You’ll want to share with them the working list, as well as a summary of how you arrived at that list. You may want to share one or two of the decisions you evaluated, and some of your answers found in the steps two and three. Then, ask them if they agree or disagree with those 10-15 words on the list. Also ask them to add any words they feel are missing. Then, and this is the most important step…ask them to identify the top 5 values they think apply to the workplace (or you, personally, if finding your own core values).

And then finally,  you’re ready to make your final selections. You’ll want to identify 5-7 values, write them down, along with an example of what they mean in this workplace context. Note which core value aligns with each of those decisions you evaluated in the first step of this process. That gives you an example of what it looks like to make decisions using core values as your guide.