Refresher on Core Values
Remember that core values aim to answer the question, “How will we behave?” In the context of your strategic planning process, core values help define and determine what is most important and non-negotiable to your organization. Core values are the articulation of the culture you want to permeate your team and the kind of behavior you hope and expect from each member. Check out the overview post on “what are core values” here! Save this article and refer back to it when you need help on how to write core values.
Why do you need core values in strategic planning?
First, this question depends on where you are in the strategic planning process regarding core values. If you are defining core values for the first time, we wouldn’t recommend squeezing a discussion of core values into your more extensive strategic planning process along with your mission and vision.
Instead, we would encourage you to create a dedicated process for your core values and work on them alone. Check out the book “Change the Culture, Change the Game” for ideas. Your organization’s culture depends on how well you define and live these core values, so they are worth their own space and time.
However, if you’re re-evaluating and refreshing a set of core values that you already have, by all means, include these values in your strategic planning process. Your core values will help you stay focused on what’s most important as you align your mission and vision with them.
Get the Free Guide to Identify and Live Your Core Values
How to Write Nonprofit Core Values
If you’re a nonprofit, check out Prosper Strategies’ helpful post on four exercises to establish and actualize your nonprofit values. This is a helpful article to reference as you work through writing your nonprofit values in the exercise below.
How to Write Core Values
As we jump into this 4 step exercise, check out this helpful breakdown on how to write core values. Also don’t miss our post on 40 core values examples!
Step 1: Write core values expressed as a single noun.
We always like to start by writing the value as a simple, singular noun. It helps make your values clear and easy to spot.
Labels are beneficial for remembering and calling things out. So, start with a noun form of your core value. For example, one of our core values is “Respect and Authenticity.” Another is called “Forward Thinking.”
Here is a list of common values expressed as nouns. We do not advocate using these as your own but as fodder for inspiration.
Example Values expressed as nouns:
Step 2: How to write a transition for the value to be expressed as a verb in the present tense.
Next, you want to start a statement about your commitment to the value using a verb in the present tense. Core values are constant and require action, so your statements should be in the present. Following the examples for “Respect and Authenticity” and “Forward-thinking,” our statements begin with “We believe in…” and “We challenge…”
Here’s how that might look in practice:
- Authenticity: We believe in Service: We strive to
- Communication: We are committed
- Innovation: We innovate together
- Sustainability: We believe in
- Curiosity: We approach
Step 2: State the value in verb form.
Now, you want to state the value in verb form. For “Respect and Authenticity,” we have “connecting to the heart of the matter.” For “Forward Thinking,” we decided to ascribe the action “continually pursuing innovation.”
Here’s how that might look in practice:
- Authenticity: We believe in connecting to the heart of the matter
- Service: We strive to deliver the highest service standards in all we do
- Communication: We are committed to the timely and transparent exchange of information
- Innovation: We innovate together by using customer input
- Sustainability: We believe in action to boldly address the climate emergency
- Curiosity: We approach the world and each other with a sense of wonder
Step 3: State the behavior you expect to see as a result of the value.
You want it to be clear to each team member what behavior is expected. This step helps your core values statement be specific, clear, and unique.
Here are our complete examples from above—notice the specific behavior expected is outlined at the end of each value:
- Authenticity: We believe in connecting to the heart of the matter, as demonstrated by listening actively and acting with respect and authenticity.
- Service: We strive to deliver service standards in all we do and seek improvement from feedback from our partners and customers.
- Communication: We are committed to the timely and transparent exchange of information by encouraging respectful interactions through positive listening, positive intent, and understanding.
- Innovation: We innovate together by using customer input to drive our product development to serve our customer needs best.
- Sustainability: We believe in action to boldly address the climate emergency and commit to being a net-zero organization by 2026.
- Curiosity: We approach the world and each other with a sense of wonder by always asking each other questions, actively listening, and thinking critically.
Step 4: An assessment on how to write core values – did you get it right?
As you write core values statements, it’s helpful to run through this checklist to ensure each values statement aligns with the behaviors you expect to see from your organization. Here are a few helpful questions to consider to evaluate the quality of your core values statements:
- Is this value a non-negotiable? Is it critical to the culture and success of your organization?
- Are these your guiding principles, and how you expect your team to behave?
- Is the behavior you wish to see expressed in your values statement?
- Are you willing to stand by these values, even if it means losing an employee or customer?
It would also be a great idea to gather input from your organization. For example, especially in the initial phases of your strategic planning process, you might send out a survey with questions for each value, such as, “What does it look like when we are behaving with this core value?” and “How do we put this core value to use?” These can yield insightful ideas about your values and cement your team’s commitment to your core values.
We recommend about five to seven core values. Keeping this list relatively short is that you want these values to stand out. Your core values are principles you cannot or will not negotiate or compromise. They are unique to your organization, not something that sounds nice but could just as easily be copied and pasted into another organization.
You also want to be intentional about creating experiences with your core values. Then, as you live your values consistently and intentionally, you will help to create a values-centered culture. And remember, the culture is what changes the game when it comes to organizational strategy.