Monday Mornings with Madison

Core Values: Creating Values that are Genuine, Bold and Unwavering – Part 2

For a business to thrive, genuine core values are invaluable!  Core values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. But fake core values generate a cynicism that poisons the cultural well and wastes a great opportunity. The problem is that coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires a high degree of fortitude and grit… real moxie.  Indeed, an organization considering a core values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values can inflict pain. They can make some employees feel like outcasts. They can limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people.  They could leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.  In other words, it takes work for a business to have meaningful core values.  Companies unwilling to accept the pain of real core values shouldn’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.

Those organizations with genuine commitment to values will reap the benefits of what those core values bring, including:  improved morale, organizational pride, cohesiveness, well-defined priorities, positive employee attitudes, less conflict, greater recruiting appeal, heightened innovation, unique brand positioning, and more satisfied customers.  The first step in establishing core values for a company is to consider what core values are — and aren’t — and examine companies that have successfully adopted core values into their DNA.

What a Core Value Is and Isn’t

Just to clarify, core values are not goals.  To help understand the difference, here is an example.  The CEO of a Fortune 500 networking company was once asked to identify one of his company’s core values.  Without hesitation, he said “painstaking attention to detail!”  When asked if the company’s employees pay tremendous attention to detail in their work, he replied, “No, they are lackadaisical and cavalier about quality, which is why we need to make meticulousness one of our core values.”  This is a classic example of how goals are confused with core values.  A core value is not a pie-in-the-sky aspiration.  It is not a lofty goal for the future.   Core values are the already-existing, deeply ingrained principles that are guide all of a company’s actions.  If not already in place, new core values should be principles that leadership will follow in making all future decisions.  They serve as its cultural cornerstones.  Core values are inherent and sacrosanct, and are never be compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain.

Core Values Should Be Authentic

That said, it is important that a company’s core values not be PR-crafted sound bites that fail to distinguish one company from another.  For example, over 55% of all Fortune 100 companies claim integrity as a core value.  Another 49% tout customer satisfaction as a core value.  And, as many as 40% hype teamwork as a core value. The truth is that most people do work with integrity, aim to satisfy customers and work with others as a team, at least to some extent.  While these are unquestionably good values, they hardly distinguish employee behavior at one company from another.  Cookie-cutter values don’t set a company apart from competitors.  It just becomes part of the corporate noise that consumers ignore.

Companies identifying their core values should not hesitate to identify core values that are bold or different, as long as it is genuinely true.   The goal is to be authentic and not necessarily to resemble some pre-conceived idea of corporate America.  Some of the most values-driven companies adhere to tough — if not downright counter-culture — values. Case in point.  Unlike the loosey-goosey, flip-flop wearing, t-shirt touting culture of Silicon Valley tech companies today, Siebel Systems has professionalism as one of its core values.  It rejected the playful, relaxed atmosphere of its neighbors.  Siebel’s employees are barred from eating at their desks, wearing unprofessional attire or decorating their walls with more than one or two photographs. They reject the laid-back atmosphere that so many tech companies have adopted in the last 20 years and instead insist that employees must behave professionally at all times at work.  Talk about daring to be different and embracing its genuine values.  They don’t care if they aren’t viewed as ‘cool’ or ‘edgy.’  They are, however, real and they know who they are.

Core Values Should be Unwavering

Part of identifying a company’s core values is understanding that core values don’t shift or change because of technology, personalities or trends.  Once core values are identified, everything and everyone must conform to those core values, not the other way around.  Case in point.  Tony Wild, CEO of MedPointe, a pharmaceutical company, wanted the company to have a unique culture.  Working with handful of top managers, two core values were identified:  a can-do attitude and a tireless pursuit of results. These values were based on an analysis of key employees who personified qualities that they saw and wanted emulated throughout the organization. It is understood that employees who can’t embrace or embody those values might be a better fit at another company.  The company didn’t adjust its values to fit the staff.  Employees were expected to adjust their behavior to reflect the company’s core values.

Core Values should be Bold

A companies core values should be meaningful.  They should be obvious to anyone who deals with that company.  They don’t have to appeal to everyone, but they have to be true and honest.   Here are seven examples of wildly successful companies that have established bold core values and effectively infused and communicated them into every aspect of their business.  Their core values define who they are and how they are known.


  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

Whole Foods

  • Sell the highest quality natural and organic products available
  • Satisfy, delight and nourish our customers
  • Support team member excellence and happiness
  • Create wealth through profits and growth
  • Serve and support our local and global communities
  • Practice and advance environmental stewardship
  • Create ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
  • Promote the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education


  • Be obessed with customers
  • Take ownership
  • Invent and simplify
  • Accept that leaders are right, a lot
  • Hire and develop the best
  • Insist on the highest standards
  • Think big
  • Have a bias for action
  • Be frugal
  • Be vocally self critical
  • Earn trust of others
  • Dive deep
  • Have backbone; disagree and commit
  • Deliver results

The Container Store

  • 1 Great Person = 3 Good People
  • Communication IS Leadership
  • Fill the other guy’s basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition.
  • Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind. You need to train before it happens.
  • Man In The Desert Selling
  • Air of Excitement


  • Humbleness and willpower
  • Leadership by example
  • Daring to be different
  • Togetherness and enthusiasm
  • Cost-consciousness
  • Constant desire for renewal
  • Accept and delegate responsibility


  • Judgment (make wise decisions; identify root causes; think strategically)
  • Communication (listen well; be concise; be respectful)
  • Impact (amazing amounts of important work; consistently strong performance; focus on results, not process; bias to action, not analysis)
  • Curiosity (learn rapidly; seek to understand; broad knowledge)
  • Innovation (re-conceptualize issues to discover practical solutions; challenge prevailing assumptions; create new ideas that prove useful)
  • Courage (say what you think; make tough decisions; take smart risks; question actions inconsistent with these values)
  • Passion (inspire others with excellence; care intensely about company success; celebrate wins; be tenacious)
  • Honesty (candor and directness; non-political; quick to admit mistakes)
  • Selflessness (seek what is best for Netflix; egoless when searching for best ideas; help colleagues; share info openly and proactively)

Southwest Airline

  • Warrior Spirit (Work Hard; Desire to the best; Be courageous; Display a sense of urgency; Persevere; Innovate)
  • Servant’s Heart (Follow the Golden Rule; Adhere to the Basic Principles; Treat others with respect; Put others first; Be egalitarian; Demonstrate proactive customer service; Embrace the SWA Family)
  • Fun-LUVing Attitude (Have FUN; Don’t take yourself too seriously; Maintain perspective (balance); Celebrate successes; Enjoy your work; Be a passionate Teamplayer)

Next week, we will go over the seven basic steps involved in defining and infusing core values into an organization.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“If a company genuinely wants to make a contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do. For only when a brand has defined itself and its core values can it identify causes or initiatives that are in alignment with its authentic brand story.”
Simon Mainwaring


© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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