Core Values: Strategy’s Foundation

by Dr. Donald N. Sweet

Core values are integral to your company Strategy.  How, you ask?  Good question.  Core values provide the foundation for a team to work within and they inform organizational culture.  They comprise the rules of engagement, the social contract, how we expect to interact with each other.

“Who” decisions, not “what” decisions are often the most important decisions that leaders of organizations have to make.  Many organizations claim, and we agree, that their people are their most important asset.  People devise and execute an organization’s strategy.  The better they work together, the better the strategy and execution will be.

As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, “…to build a successful organization you must get the right people on the bus.”  Core values help organizations determine who those right people are.  When people share values, they work better together as a team.  They have the same understanding of what is important and how to deal effectively with each other.  We work with our clients to interview for core value fit with every new hire.

Since core values inform organizational culture, they impact strategy on a deeper level, too.  We believe that culture is the only thing the competition can’t copy.   Culture provides the way a team works together and interacts with the marketplace.  From vendors to partners to customers, an organization’s culture is both evident and impactful.

Core values also provide the direction and help in everyday decision making, so important to execution of any strategy.  When they become an integral part of an organization’s culture, core values also help to improve teamwork.  As Pat Lencioni writes in his business classic, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, teamwork is a strategic choice.  Core values provide both the structure and the gearing in which teamwork operates effectively.

Strategy itself, without execution, is just so many words, an empty vessel.  Execution requires commitment from a team that works well together.  The team is determined then strengthened and guided by their core values.  Without those accepted norms of behavior, teamwork and execution both suffer.

Core values are at the very foundation of a solid and sustainable strategy.  As Steven Covey wrote in First Things First, values clarification helps determine the “true north” when determining what is most important.  We suggest that is at the core of all successful strategies.  To that end, first work on making your core values alive and exercised daily within your organization.