Your company’s culture supports (or interferes with) the achievement of your strategic goals. Sometimes leaders are keenly aware that their culture is “broken.” They see the symptoms – reduced productivity, high turnover, or the dread even the CEO feels when it’s time to go into the office. Culture is a stew of communication methods, dress codes, accountability (or not), interdepartmental relationships, and more. Is it any wonder that it feels overwhelming to improve it? Its foundations are laid by you and your senior team, so overwhelming or not, it’s on you. And company culture starts with core values and purpose.

Why are we here?

Author and speaker Simon Sinek says you need to “start with why”. (If you would like to see his Ted talk on this, click HERE) Your core purpose is the why, the inspiration, that fuels your motivation and that of your team members. It is the psychic payoff for working toward something significant, something important. Although often company goals are set to be reasonable and achievable, the really big and hairy and audacious visions can summon unprecedented energy and commitment.

Share your big picture with your staff. Share your outrageous and awe-inspiring vision in Technicolor. Let them see your excitement at the idea of solving some really big problems or seizing daunting opportunities. Bring them along with you by talking about it often, by helping them to connect the dots between their daily activities and your really big goal.

In bounds and out-of-bounds

Your company’s core values help to establish what behavior is in and out-of-bounds at any and all levels in the business. Some businesses make the mistake of listing generic values like honesty and integrity. These two are the price of admission, right? Be specific, and use language that is characteristic of your company.

Another mistake is to cite aspirational values rather than the actual, in real life right now, values that are governing decisions and behavior. Many if not most of us want to be better tomorrow than we are today. But when you describe yourself as something that you are not (right now), you lose credibility. Values reveal themselves, no matter what your words are. Fake values are the same as no values.

Since core values also serve as decision-making criteria, solid ones can help team members make good decisions (like the ones you would make) even when you are not there. It is impossible to have enough policies and procedures to cover every eventuality. Ultimately core values are the few criteria that can be applied in a multitude of situations and keep team members out of trouble.

Values vs. productivity

When you hire, are you focused solely on skills and knowledge that you’re looking for in a candidate? Or are you also looking for a fit with your company’s core values?  Skills and knowledge can be trained – core values cannot be changed as easily. In case it’s not obvious by now, if your business does not have an explicit set of core values that has been communicated to the entire team, you need them. Pronto. Otherwise this is a moot point.

When you evaluate your employees, you look at productivity AND values alignment. A players are highly productive in their roles and also highly aligned with company core values. They are the ones you want to retain, and to clone if you can figure out how to do it. B players might not be as productive as the A players, but they are still aligned with core values. You train your B players to become B+ and A players.

B- and C players may be technically proficient, but they still create issues due to values misalignment. In a values driven company there is no such thing as being too competent to lose. When there is a misalignment with core values you are better off separating from the employee. The rest of your team is watching, and one bad apple allowed to stay demonstrates that the values are not really that important.

The ultimate test

The ultimate test of your company’s purpose and values alignment is when your team sees and hears you and the other senior managers in action. If you are not uniformly singing from the same hymnal and reinforcing the same things you will NOT succeed in shifting your culture. Your company cannot be better than you are. If you see behavior downstream that is out of alignment, look up the org chart from those folks and you will likely find the individual whose behavior they are modeling. Even if your purpose and values outlier is a senior executive, if you are authentic about your core values you need to help him or her exit the business.