365 Brand Building Brand Philosophy Strategy

365: How Important are “Core Values”?

January 12th, 2011

How do you feel about a company’s “core values”? I went to a conference 1/11/11 and the speakers talked about establishing 3 or 4 “core values” for your company/brand that will never change. They say this is the guiding post for everything they do as a company. I would love your thoughts on this.

I know that values are critical to defining the purpose of any organization. This question was most adequately answered in Collins and Porras* 1996 seminal work “Building Your Company’s Vision” .(1)

*This endorsement does not extend to the dynamic duos “Good to Great” shallow contribution. I appreciate that it was a breakaway hit…but so were beanie babies. Proving that we all have lapses in judgment.

In defining the strategic vision of a company Collins and Porras identify and pair two tenets that combined inform the organization’s “core ideology”:

1.) “Core Purpose”: the organization’s reason for being that compels people to join and carry out the work of the organization.

2.) “Core Values”: a “small set of timeless guiding principles” (3-4) that “require no external justification because “they have intrinsic value and importance to those inside the organization”.

Collins and Porras write:

“You do not create or set core ideology. You discover core ideology. You do not deduce it by looking at the external environment. You understand it by looking inside. Ideology has to be authentic. You cannot fake it. Discovering core ideology is not an intellectual exercise. Do not ask ‘What core values should we hold?’. Ask instead ‘What core values do we truly and passionately hold?’. You should not confuse values that you think the organization ought to have-but does not-with authentic core values. To do so would create cynicism throughout the organization. The role of core ideology is to guide and inspire, not to differentiate.”

“The authenticity, the discipline, and the consistency with which the ideology is lived-not the content of the ideology differentiates visionary companies from the rest of the pack.”

“Finally, don’t confuse core ideology with the concept of core competence. Core competence is a strategic concept that defines your organization’s capabilities-what you are particularly good at-whereas core ideology captures what you stand for and why you exist. Core competencies should be well aligned with a company’s core ideology and are often rooted in it; but they are not the same thing. For example, Sony has a core competence of miniaturization-a strength that can be strategically applied to a wide array of products and markets. But it does not have a core ideology of miniaturization. Sony might not even have miniaturization as part of its strategy in 100 years, but to remain a great company, it will still have the same core values described in the Sony Pioneer Spirit and the same fundamental reason for being-namely, to advance technology for the benefit of the general public. In a visionary company like Sony, core competencies change over the decades, whereas core ideology does not.”

“Once you are clear about the core ideology, you should feel free to change absolutely anything that is not part of it. From then on, whenever someone says something should not change because “it’s part of our culture” or “we’ve always done it that way” or any such excuse, mention this simple rule: If it’s not core, it’s up for change. The strong version of the rule is, if it’s not core, change it! Articulating core ideology is just a starting point, however. You also must determine what type of progress you want to stimulate.”

“Truly great companies understand the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change, between what is genuinely sacred and what is not. This rare ability to manage continuity and change – requiring a consciously practiced discipline – is closely linked to the ability to develop a vision. Vision provides guidance about what core to preserve and what future to stimulate progress toward.”

Collins and Porras go on to define a number of other influences that should inform and clarify a strategic vision indicating that values are just one consideration in the collective mix. In other words…nothing is simple and there is “no one” ideology, value, practice, market, trend, or competency that will align and direct a visionary and dynamic company forward.

(1) James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras, Building Your Company’s Vision, Harvard Business Review 1996.

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