Core Values: Are They Just Words?
Most companies today have developed their own core values. Whether plastered on the home page of their website or discreetly discussed in internal meetings, the identified values clearly spell out what is and is not acceptable to a company’s culture. But are they enforced as strictly as they are written?
Without knowing it at the time, I learned a great lesson on core values when I was in university some twenty-ish years ago. I was fortunate enough to play varsity basketball for one of the best coaches in Canada at the time. One of the reasons for his success was his adherence to the core values of the team. One of those values was that no player would receive preferential treatment, from the leading scorer to the 12th man. In one of our early season retreats, he told a story that has stuck in my mind to this day:
When Coach (I still call him this today) started out coaching in the 1970s, he moved his family from Newfoundland to Victoria to coach high school basketball. Not knowing anyone when they moved out, they quickly befriended a couple who had a son that played basketball. Lo and behold the son made Coach’s team, much to the parent’s delight. One of the team rules was that if you got caught smoking at school, you were off the team. The son, in a moment of teenage stupidity, got caught smoking one day. Word got to Coach and the son was informed of his fate. The father called up Coach and asked if an exception could be made, seeing as they were friends and all. Coach did not hesitate in informing his friend that the son was off the team, period. That decision ended the couples’ friendship.
I would have loved to have seen Coach’s wife’s reaction when she was told they would no longer be socializing with that couple. But ultimately she understood the reason and they moved on. If the star performer in your company clearly violated a company core value, would their employment be terminated?
If the answer is not immediately yes, then those values are worth about as much as the paper they’re written on. Core values are black and white in their intent, and managers have to enforce them as such for them to have a meaningful impact on the culture of a company.