road sign that says core values just ahead

Last year, I was preparing for my second session in a new client’s journey implementing EOS. In the first session I had spoken of their need to commit to EOS as their single operating system. I knew that I would need to reinforce this commitment many times, and I got the opportunity almost immediately.

The Integrator called me after receiving the agenda for our Vision Building session. He explained that the leadership team wanted to skip much of the session. They had recently spent significant time and resources with a well-regarded consultant to take them through a two-day offsite strategic planning session. Part of the output were Mission/Vision/Values statements that were shared with the rest of the organization for input and approval.

I suggested that they withhold judgement until they experience the EOS approach to Core Values. I said that if their new statements helped, then they would speed up the session—but that in my experience, this usually isn’t the case.

By the end of our session together, they had discovered what was really core to them. They listed those Core Values in a few bullet points, and none of them were mentioned in the carefully crafted statements that were framed and hanging in the lobby.

What happened?

Core Value Confusion

Core Values aren’t written for the outside world. In EOS, it doesn’t matter if anyone from the outside ever sees them. What’s important is that you dig deep to discover what is really core to you as a unique leadership team. Out of the thousands of EOS professionally implemented organizations, no two have the same unique Core Values.

Think about it. Of all the admirable values that are embodied within any particular organization, which ones truly and uniquely define your leadership team? It’s easy to relate to values that we admire, but is it so easy to say that of all the values on display within our organization, THESE five or so are the values that truly make up who we are?

For example, let’s say you have concluded that Customer Satisfaction and Work-Life Balance are two of your organization’s most important values. And let’s say that a team member is determined to finish up their workload for the day so that they can leave at 5:00 to attend a family function. At 4:55 their phone rings and it’s a customer who has an issue that needs to be solved now. Imagine the employee has chosen to honor one of the stated goals. What type of feedback will they get about living the organization’s values when they show up for work the next morning?

Another example has to do with what is known as aspirational values. You and your fellow leaders have read the latest book about Emotional Intelligence and Servant Leadership. As a result, you have included “teamwork” and “empowerment” as a part of your values. Now imagine that the “stuff” hits the fan, and your company’s command-and-control owner starts barking orders. What happens to the leadership team’s credibility and the goodwill that was created by aspiring to be something you’re not?

You Know Your Core Values—Now What?

An organization’s values are the foundation for the entire culture. The values need to be so meaningful that you hire, fire, reward and discipline based on how well each employee is living up to the values. You want to surround yourself with people who live the same values that you’re already living.

Challenge employees and have them challenge you to consistently live up to the unique values that make up the culture of your organization. They should be constant sources of conversation at all levels of the company. Your values should attract people who share your values and repel people who don’t. You must really dig deep to make your values the unbending guidepost for all decisions and behaviors that define who you are as an organization.

Next Steps