Brand Strategy

Seven questions to stress-test your core values

by Charlene Gervais

core values

Core values are a powerful business asset: they can set your brand apart from the competition, clarifying why people should buy from you or want to work for you. But too often they are generic or vague, overly aspirational or not aspirational enough.

I recently wrote about core values—why they matter, how to strengthen them, common traps to avoid. One area of particular interest was a core values "stress test", which business leaders can use to vet their own values. It's a worthy exercise, whether you're first defining your values or confirming your current values are meaningful.

Do your core values pass?

To stress-test your own values, try answering these questions one value at a time:

Does living out this value sometimes hurt?  To quote the great Patrick Lencioni, “coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires real guts [because] values inflict pain.” Meaning that when put into action, they may limit strategic freedom, make employees uncomfortable, or present roadblocks to hiring.

Is this value essential? Imagine you’re just starting the company. Would this value be one of the original building blocks without which the enterprise could not stand?

Is this value lasting? Can it transcend what’s merely au courant in business, and do so for years to come?

Is it demonstrably different than a value proclaimed by competitors? Some values, like integrity, should be universal, but that doesn’t mean they must be generic. Are you living out this value in such a way—or in combination with your other values—that makes it unique to your company?

Will you sacrifice to maintain this value? Competitive ups and downs may sometimes make sticking with a value expensive. Is this value worth it?

Does this value make certain people wrong for your organization? Are you willing to forgo hiring even the most brilliant candidates if they don’t fully embrace this value?

Is this value make-or-break for you personally? Would you change jobs if this value went away? And do you see yourself adhering to it even after you retire?

core values
Do your core values hurt? Read more about why you should push them further, how to strengthen them, and common traps to avoid.

Core values aren't one-and-done

Like any business asset, your core values should be continually evaluated and measured, either on your own or with professional help. Because they matter to your customers and employees, partners and stakeholders. And they can impact your brand strategy and bottom line.

So if it's been a while, take a moment to dust off your core values and give them a hard look. You might just uncover a weak link or a golden opportunity.

Brand Strategy

by Charlene Gervais


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