Are Your Core Values Working For You?

Here at Awesome, we are strong advocates of discovering and using powerful, action-oriented, relevant core values.  We just finished a workshop helping people develop their personal core values, and we coach our clients to have core values for their companies.  (You can see that we live this ourselves here.) Values can be powerful filters for hiring and firing, customer selection, and which opportunities to pursue.  However, every so often we find a situation where one of the core values that one of our clients has worked so hard to articulate just isn’t working.  Here are the most common situations where that happens:

  • Too aspirational – Most meaningful core values hold an element of challenge or aspiration to live them consistently. However, sometimes people will articulate a value that’s too far away from their current reality.  In those cases, then perhaps that idea is best re-expressed as a goal, rather than a value.
  • Too much of a good thing – sometimes a value, taken to its extreme, can actually be destructive.  For example, many people have a value about serving others, or being helpful, or something similar. This is a wonderful value that no doubt has been key to their success.  However, many clients find that they’re doing this in such a way where they are running themselves, or their company, ragged.  In this kind of case, we suggest one of two things:

    • Re-articulate the value so that it gives guidance about how far to take it.  For instance, what if “Take Care Of Others” became “Take Care Of The Person – discover and meet the needs of ourselves and the people around us.”

    • Make sure that there’s ANOTHER core value in your list that keeps the first one in check.  If you had a “Celebrate Health” value, it might serve as a reminder not to serve others at any cost.  A list of several values should work together – ALL of them are required, not just one.
  • Too many values – In our experience, if you have more than five values, not only are they hard to remember and articulate, but you probably haven’t decided what’s truly core for you.  In this case, go through your list and examine them carefully – does one include another?  Can you remove one and still maintain the essence of your culture?  (Think of it as Values Jenga.)
  • It just isn’t a value – Sometimes after doing the work, and working to live the values, there’s one that everyone forgets about. “Oh sure, that’d be nice,” when they’re reminded by looking at the list, but rarely do people use it in conversation. In that case, perhaps this isn’t really a core value? It’s ok to let it go – and decide if it needs to be replaced, reworked, or just deleted.  For instance, one of my companies has realized that one of our values is really covered by another.  So we’re taking a quarter to try out the idea of removing that value and replacing it – so far just with our senior leadership team, to see how it feels.


All of these situations are pretty normal – it’s rare that the first version of a person’s or company’s values are dead-on the first time.  We recommend a slow rollout, so people get a chance to try them out and make sure they really fit.  And cultures do evolve, particularly with changes in leadership.  It’s important that in the long run, the values are accurate and helpful, so that you can scale your business and live a more fulfilling life!