When it comes to core values, there is no shortage of metaphors out there. Some people talk about them as a blueprint for business behavior. Some as a philosophical framework for company culture. Some as the very bedrock on which a company is built.
The throughline across all these expressions? Core values are a foundational element for every business—no matter how big or small—and without a strongly established set of values, your organization will always lack a north star when it comes to what matters most.
Your company’s values have far-reaching implications, as we’ll see in what follows. Below, we’ll pull back the curtain and reveal just why they are so fundamental to your company’s success. We’ll also offer advice on how to build your own corporate values and walk through some prime examples from top global brands.
- What are Core Values?
- Why are Core Values Important?
- How to Develop Your Company’s Core Values
- Core Values List
- Core Values Examples
- The Takeaway
What are Core Values?
Core values are the foundational principles that unite your organization and inspire its actions. They are what your company stands for, when all is said and done. Importantly, core values define your company culture and should serve as steadfast criteria in hiring new employees.
Also known as company values or corporate values, core values are a central component of your brand compass. A shared ethos, they help establish moral parameters that everyone on your team should easily understand and be able to get behind.
Your company’s values should even play a role in the types of customers you work with. Partnering with a client who doesn’t share your core values is a recipe for a problematic project.
Why are Core Values Important?
Not only are core values the ethical fabric of your company, they can have big business implications, as well. Let’s take a look at four ways a company’s values can influence its success—starting from inside to out.
They Shape Company Culture—and Help Attract and Retain Talent
Culture is more than just a buzzword on the lips of recruiters and influencers. It’s a critical business factor for employer brands today—one that can impact reputation, affect employee satisfaction, and attract prospective hires, as well.
Core values define how company culture comes to life within your organization. They can (and should) inform everything from the way your company designs its working space to the benefits it offers employees.
A company that values collaboration, for example, may have an open floor plan, featuring communal areas for employees to bounce ideas off one another, and it might also host more frequent happy hours or get-togethers.
On the other hand, a business that values leadership may build more traditional “offices” into its spaces or organize talks from industry thought leaders for employees to attend.
Company culture is a major draw for new and existing employees alike. At the end of the day, job candidates want to work at organizations whose core values align with their own. And having clearly defined corporate values—and a culture that reflects them—makes it easier to keep like-minded employees around, measurably reducing turnover.
Including values-based questions in your hiring interviews is a smart way to ensure prospective employees are a good fit culturally. Core values should also be used as a metric for performance reviews. Incentivizing employees to embrace and embody your company’s values is one way to foster company culture and stoke internal brand loyalty.
They Simplify Decision-Making
The importance of core values doesn’t end with company culture, of course. They are also an important lens through which to make business decisions. As the ethical DNA of your organization, your core values should always be the benchmark against which strategic moves are measured.
A company that values transparency, for instance, may make the call to publish a more in-depth ESG report or, as The New York Times has done in recent years, reveal more about their behind-the-scenes processes.
Values-driven decisions aren’t reserved exclusively for leadership, either. Having core values in place empowers employees to make confident choices in the course of their own work, own more accountability in those decisions, or even step into the role of a leader.
They Enable You to Find the Right Customers
Employees aren’t the only people who want your company core values to mirror their own. Many customers do, too. According to the 2021 Global Trends Study from market research firm IPSOS, over 65 percent of consumers said that they tended to buy brands that reflected their personal values.
Of course, this sentiment often applies to how brands respond to big-picture issues like climate change and social justice. But core values are about more than just doing good. Clearly articulated values can help you craft a value proposition that will resonate with a distinct target audience.
Research from McKinsey shows that members of Gen Z care deeply about self-expression and are constantly seeking ways to showcase their authentic selves through purchasing decisions. It’s no wonder, then, that brands like YouTube and TikTok, whose core values center on self-expression, ranked as some of the mostly highly favored by this cohort in a 2022 study from the Morning Consult.
How to Develop Your Company’s Core Values
So, how do you create a set of powerful core values for your own company? As with most things in branding, there’s a process for that. The following four-step process may seem simple, but it’s proven to result in a collection of meaningful core values that can serve as the basis of a strong company culture, especially when your organization’s key stakeholders are involved in the process.
The most important thing is to approach the process with deliberation and care. Core values that are poorly thought through or haphazardly implemented can actually end up doing more harm than good, according to Harvard Business Review.
1. Create a Long List of Core Values
The best ideation starts with a no-bad-ideas approach. This is the “brain dump” stage, where you need to gather a lot of material before you can begin to separate the wheat from the chaff. To start, you’ll need a stack of index cards, some pens, and—most importantly—your organization’s key stakeholders (read: executives and other important decision-makers).
Start by asking the following questions:
- What do we stand for?
- What’s most important to us?
- What’s unique about working here?
The goal is for each person to come up with as many ideas as possible in 10 minutes. Write down every answer that comes to mind, each on its own index card. Try to summarize each idea in a single noun. Feel free to reference the common list of core values we’ve included below for inspiration. But at the end of the day, core values should always feel unique to your organization.
2. Organize Your Core Values List
Once time is up, lay all the cards face up in the middle of the table and stack any duplicates together. Don’t discard the duplicates, as repetition is an important sign of alignment.
After you’ve identified and combined all of the duplicate cards, begin creating groups of similar ideas. “Integrity,” “trustworthiness,” and “honesty” might all be grouped together, for example. This step is known as affinity mapping: a system for uncovering patterns in large amounts of data by finding relationships between the information.
Pro tip: the best way to group your ideas is in columns, where each card that isn’t a duplicate remains visible. If you have cards that don’t fit with any others, put these in a “parking lot,” so you can return and reassess them later after the most significant themes rise to the surface.
3. Choose Your Core Values
Review the groups of cards you’ve created and look for any additional opportunities for consolidation. Oftentimes, two idea groups are close enough that they actually comprise a singular group. The idea is eventually to narrow the groups down to four to six.
To get to the magic number, you may have to sacrifice some less-important values. That’s okay. The goal is to identify what’s most important to your organization, not everything that’s important.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to four-to-six groups, pick a word that best summarizes the group. This is where a visible column of ideas comes in handy. You’ll be able to more easily chose the best idea to summarize the group.
The final list of four-to-six key words will represent the central ideas behind your core values.
4. Define Your Core Values
Identifying your company’s values is crucial—but unpacking them is just as necessary. For each word or idea, write a single sentence that elaborates on it.
These definitions provide important context for your core values. They help internal and external audiences alike better understand what a value like “diligence” or “agility” means to your organization. And they help you tell a more meaningful, values-driven brand story.
As with most writing, the simpler and more concise the better. The power of a handful of carefully chosen words will always outweigh the impact of complicated, drawn-out sentences.
Core Values List
As detailed in the exercise above, the first step in fleshing out your organization’s values is to compile a long list of ideas. To help you get your own gears turning, we’ve created a common list of core values from the world’s biggest brands below.
This list is only meant as a jumping-off point, of course. Among the most important qualities of your company’s values is that they are unique to who you are and what you stand for.
A List of Common Core Values
Core Values Examples
If you’re looking for more than just a list of words for inspiration in creating your core values, it can help to see how these important branding principles come to life in the world’s most successful brands.
As you’ll see in the core values examples that follow, defining an ethical framework for company culture is critical to success in any industry, from B2B to B2C and beyond.
The global accounting firm Accenture has defined six core values that are a masterclass in balancing between the universal (“integrity,” for example) and the specific (“one global network”).
When it comes to broader corporate values, Accenture goes the extra mile to define them in a way that sounds anything but generic.
Take the brand’s version of “integrity”. Instead of defining the concept in expected terms, like “doing the right thing,” Accenture makes the idea its own by unpacking it as “ethically unyielding”. Check out Accenture’s full list of core values here.
Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods also has a distinct approach to its core values. While a few of the ideas focus on what the company delivers (e.g., “We sell the highest quality natural and organic foods”), most of its six core values focus on the people it serves.
Whole Foods emphasizes “satisfying and delighting customers,” “promoting team member growth and happiness,” “practicing win-win partnerships with suppliers,” and “caring about the community and environment.”
By putting the “who” at the center of its values and employing uplifting language (e.g., “happiness” “delighting,” etc.), Whole Foods sends a clear signal about the spirit and humanity behind the brand. You can find the organization’s complete list of values here.
Google is one brand that has always been serious about its values. Take two of the company’s guding principles: “You can make money without doing evil” and “You can be serious without a suit.”
These company values are intrinsically embedded in Google’s identity through its hiring practices, benefits and perks, building design, and more.
Google cultivates a company culture that is known for its inclusivity and open-mindedness. The team behind the brand is known for being hardworking without sacrificing fun. Each of these defining brand attributes of the world’s most recognizable search engine stem from a clearly articulated set of rock-solid core value. Read Google’s full list of values here.
As the principles that guide your organization at the most profound level, core values are an essential ingredient of your brand positioning. They can also have real implications for your organization—from culture to business decisions and beyond.
As with most of branding’s fundamental elements, when you invest in defining your company’s values today, you can expect measurable returns tomorrow.