Why Your Core Values Aren't Really Core


Are your espoused core values the true core of your business? In many cases, they're not. They simply don't meet the definition of core. Core is defined as the central or most important part of something.

A simple analogy is the core of a fruit, which is the tough central part containing the seeds at its core. In business, if values were core, then the values would be the seeds. But for most, the values are merely the flesh or thin skin of the fruit which are both quickly perishable.

Seeds carry the genetic code. Seeds determine the phenotype, the set of characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment. Unlike the skin or flesh of a fruit, seeds last a very long time and are highly resistance to the elements. Seeds also carry the future and basically determine its expression.

If core values were truly core, if they were the seeds of your company's core, the company would rigorously operate consistent with those core values. People would honor these values above revenue, above ego and beyond exit strategies. The values would determine the phenotype, the company's character, qualities and culture. The values would direct the future evolution of the company.


Most enterprises hold core values as ideals. An ideal is something held as perfect or desirable. An ideal therefore possesses some sort of judgment or assessment of how people or things "ought to be."

An ideal only exists in the imagination, but ideals never becomes reality. Consequently, values held as ideals never become operationalized or foundational elements of the culture - just images of perfection of how people and things "should be."

Another aspect of holding values as ideals is the values exist "out there." Something to be attained. Something to be reached. Something to be strived for - which creates a deleterious condition for values to exist. Why, because as an ideal infers the value is lacking or missing in people - and they need to endeavor to attain it. Core values as ideals therefore exists as a "get to," not a "come from;" two totally different contexts, two different ways of addressing core values.


An example of a value as an ideal is frequently found when a company states their primary core value is "integrity." But what they really mean by integrity is "everyone should act a certain way."

A value as an ideal is always backed by an expectation of how people should think and act. When integrity is held as an ideal, there is a very ridged and restricted way for people to behave in order to have integrity.

When integrity is held as an ideal it presumes people are lacking integrity. When integrity is held as an ideal it assumes it will make people strive to have greater integrity as they define it.

But if integrity were a true value, then it would be held differently. It would be held that integrity resides in each person and only needs to be fully expressed. Two totally different contexts to operate with integrity. One, people lack integrity so the value will make them behave in a certain way, and the other, people have integrity and it just needs to be nurtured.


Another example; the value of freedom. If I asked anyone reading this post, you'd all say one of your values is freedom. But when closely examined, you'd see you do not see other people as they should have freedom as well.

More than likely, you hold freedom as an ideal. But when you dig into what you mean by freedom, you mean freedom the way you see freedom - from a place where your view of freedom is the right way to view freedom.

If freedom where a true core value, you would come from the place that freedom should exist for everyone. You wouldn't need to fix people. You wouldn't need to have them do what you "know is right." You wouldn't need them think like you. You wouldn't need to manipulate them, coerce them, or convince them. If freedom were a true core value, people would be totally free to choose for themselves.

Again, two totally different contexts; freedom my way or freedom for all.


When we work creating a truly core driven company in our Wisdom for Leaders Program, we drill far down to the very essence of what participants' values really mean to them - beyond the concept, not determined by an ideal. We eliminate the judgements, assessments and righteousness that accompanies an ideal.

In the course work, we move a core value from ideal to a responsible and creative act. We know when people create something for themselves, they 'own' it. When they are commanded or ordered, they 'rent' it.

We create how that value would look and feel if it were truly core to the business - a kind of value vision. When the value becomes visceral, when people can feel it, see it, sense it, when they can create it for themselves, then and only then can it be core.

Lastly, we need to be assured that the declared value is an authentic value. Insight Coaching and Consulting has a proprietary process we put leaders through to be ascertain what they say as a core value is in fact a authentic core value for them personally as well the company.


Core value driven companies have the greatest record for success and longevity. So where to you go first to enhance performance for success - core values.

Our particular core value process takes time. Need to first need to find what the leader's personal and professional values actually are. Then we need to do the same at the company level. Once we know what the real values are, not the platitudes and clichés, but the authentic values, then we work to embody them into the company's genetic code.

My findings, if you want to make core values core, it takes work, time and perseverance. But once the company becomes core value driven, performance, results, employee engagement and emotional commitment dramatically increase.