Why five is the optimum number when it comes to core values .
hatever the future holds , talent will shine when
W leaders and employees lead values-driven lives , aligned with the core values of their organisation . Values are fundamental for both people and businesses , as they provide the same cultural and moral foundation . When there is a strongly held set of values within a company , leaders and their team members feel part of something far bigger than just an employment contract .
This is the kind of process some of the world ’ s most influential companies have been through to define who they are and what they stand for . While I was writing The Values Compass ( which explores the single unique values of 101 countries ) visionary leaders including Paul Polman of Unilever and Ajay Banga of Mastercard told me that they use values to make decisions on everything from product development to hiring and sustainability .
As you begin to define your values , remember that it is pointless having so many that you forget what they are . You must carry your values with you , in heart and mind . The challenge is to whittle a list down to five core values that are intrinsic to you — beliefs you cannot live without . Three key questions asked in the correct setting ( in which you cannot lie to yourself ) can quickly help you to define your values :
• Name one of your heroes in your mind . You are likely to appreciate the values they display .
• Think of the last time you felt violated in some way , or perhaps the first time . You were likely close to a core value then .
Think about each value painstakingly , considering how you would feel if it were taken away from you
• What would you want written in your eulogy ? Is this reflected in how you spend your time ?
If you have a list longer than five , make sure you identify the difference between those values that are important to you and those that are fundamental . Take guidance from people close to you : friends , colleagues , family . Think about each value painstakingly , considering how you would feel if it were taken away from you .
Naturally , these defined values will begin to shape your purpose , for values build your mission and inform your actions as a leader . They will allow you to stand tall in decision-making , providing consistency to your teams .
When people throughout an organisation are fully aligned to core values , employees and customers can see this
The diversity paradox
There ’ s an interesting paradox between ensuring your workforce has diversity of thinking and uniting everyone under one key value , both of which are essential . Often it is extremely powerful to decide what you stand for as a company , with consensus — whether it be originality , teamwork or integrity , for example . When people throughout an organisation are fully aligned to core values , employees and customers can see this .
One approach is to survey all employees around their five core values , identifying which ones consistently come up — for example , integrity . When looking at a united vision or purpose , there can also be many paths or routes that will reach the same point , and this brings in creativity , opportunity and possibility . The reason five core values are encouraged ( rather than one ) is to ensure there is diversity while also having focus .
The other approach is for the leadership team to define what the organisation stands for . This quickly filters down . However , I do have a warning : a main reason for employees abandoning values is that leaders say they stand for one thing but then do something completely different . If , as a leader , you behave in a way opposed to your values , you are lying not only to your teams but also to yourself .
At an organisational level , getting down to a handful of core values is like defining the DNA of the institution . When you build up from that foundation , you create an ecosystem that shapes the organisation — infiltrating from top to bottom and vice versa — within internal and external language , reward and recognition metrics , recruitment and talent retention .
Dr Mandeep Rai is the author of The Values Compass : What 101 Countries Teach Us About Purpose , Life and Leadership . She is a global authority on values , working with companies , institutions and individuals around the world .