Build a Foundation for Trust

Build a Foundation for Trust

Defining, Adopting, and Reinforcing Your Organization’s Core Values

Core values are critically important to creating a great workplace. They act as the baseline contract between all members of the organization: leaders and employees alike. They serve as the shared commitment each employee makes to one another about how they will behave and make decisions, so leader and employee behaviors become predictable. This is the essence of trust. When leaders are committed to modeling the core values and their actions become predictable, fear within an organization disappears. Employees know how leaders will act and make decisions, and they know that they will consider the best interest of employees in these actions.

The biggest challenge with organizational values is ensuring ALL leaders and employees stick to them. This, of course, starts at the top. In addition to daily practice of values, leaders should also be communicating with language that includes how the values are formally articulated. This further reinforces their importance and commitment. Finally, organizational policies and practices must also clearly align to and reinforce an organization’s values.

The cultures of the Best Companies that we recognize on our lists are built upon strong core values that help to guide action and decision making on a daily basis. For example:

  • At Quicken Loans, CEO Bill Emerson and Chairman Dan Gilbert lead a full-day session with all new employees to review the company's book on culture and associated values, called, "ISMs in Action."

  • Zappos notes on their website that their ten core values “are reflected in everything we do and every interaction we have. Our core values are always the framework from which we make all of our decisions.”

  • Leaders at Clif Bar are guided in all they do by the company’s Five Aspirations: Sustaining our People, our Business, our Brands, our Community and the Planet.

Core Values at Your Organization: Define, Adopt, Reinforce

So what’s next? Your organization likely falls into one of three camps, each of which has immediate action you can take to grow the levels of trust in your organization:

  1. My organization doesn’t have core values. (Action: Define core values)

  2. My organization has core values, but they are just words on a wall and aren’t widely adopted. (Action: Inspire adoption of core values; possibly revisit content of core values)

  3. My organization has core values and they are part of our DNA and how we operate every day. (Action: Continue to reinforce core values)

As noted here, if you are lucky enough to work for an organization in Camp 3, it’s all about continually reinforcing the values. What we’ve found most effective with our clients here at Great Place To Work® is to ensure every leader is continually working on one thing to become a higher-trust leader. This one thing should be discovered through conversation with direct reports, and be directly connected to the organization’s values. If your organization falls into Camps 1 or 2, it will be imperative to engage senior leaders in a discussion about core values. There will need to be a concerted effort to define or refresh the organization’s values, and further, to integrate the values into the everyday language and practices of the company for widespread adoption. This effort must be driven by senior leaders, led by the CEO, and fully involve employees. The good news is that there is no more impactful action you can take for your culture. If your organization falls into category 1 or 2 above, look no further for the place to start your journey to becoming a great workplace. Great workplaces and great cultures are built on trust, and high-trust organizations are built on strong values that are consistently lived by all.