Examples of core values include honesty, fairness, and justice. They correspond to a central belief that we need to abide by certain principles. Once we have internalized them, they are reflected in our behaviour, and we act accordingly.
At an organizational level, core values are applied in conjunction with ethics – a set of principles that companies use to distinguish between right and wrong.
Organizations with Strong Core Values
All international companies have loftily worded mission and value statements, but how many genuinely stand by them? For most companies, making a profit is the ultimate goal. Here are some exceptions to the rule.
Ben & Jerry
Ben & Jerry’s core values are associated with community support, sustainable financial growth, and superb product quality. They uphold all three to an equal extent and do not promote any value at the expense of another. What is more, their ultimate goal goes above and beyond this. The company founded Ben & Jerry’s Foundation in 1985. 7.5% of the annual profits go toward funding activism and community-targeted projects. The company works to support measures to counteract climate change, GMO labelling, and other projects in line with their core values.
Southwest Airlines stand by their core value of the “warrior spirit”, typified by persistence and ambition. Displaying a sense of urgency is of paramount importance to this organization, whose value-driven behaviour defines their customer brand. In 2011, a passenger learned his grandson was dying in the hospital and asked the pilot to hold an urgent flight so he could see him alive one last time. The pilot did so, violating policy in the process. The CEO of Southwest not only did not discipline him but called him personally to express gratitude for exemplifying the organization’s values. The pilot’s decision led to enormous goodwill, and the company remained in the spotlight for its dedication for years thereafter.
With subsidiaries in 152 countries, KPMG’s values of leadership, respect, commitment, openness, and honesty create a sense of shared identity. All members of the KPMG organization make an effort to lead by example, behaving in a way that reflects what they expect of their clients and each other. The organization shares advice, insight, and information frequently and constructively. It demonstrates candour and courage in difficult situations.
It displays a commitment to the community by widening its perspectives and skills through hard work and environmental protection. Above all, the company respects employees not only for the experience, skills, and knowledge they bring but also for who they are. KPMG announced record revenues of $29.75 billion for the 2019 fiscal year.
The core values of commitment, integrity, and respect for cultural diversity are what distinguishes the Deloitte culture. The company is the epitome of inclusivity and tolerance according to its employees, who currently number 312,000 worldwide. To Deloitte, reputation is the single most important factor, and integrity in behaviour is of the essence. Borderless collegiality culture is a proven competitive advantage for the company, who believes that people’s skills improve against the backdrop and on the basis of intercultural interaction and cooperation.
Strong Values on an Individual Level
Values-based action can change depending on one’s situation. This is related to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the most basic level, people’s actions are very different from those at the highest level of self-actualization.
Values can quite reasonably change depending on the situation and circumstances. The average person will act very differently when their ultimate goal is finding safety and security compared to if it were achieving their full potential as a human being.
Yet, history has known people like Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs, who sustained their purpose and fought to achieve it even as they struggled to survive. What is more, a person can have satisfied all their basic needs and still have no sense of purpose. In his later years, Maslow established “being-values” such as wholeness, completion, and justice, which distinguished truly enlightened people from people who lived without direction despite having fulfilled all their basic (food, shelter, safety) and psychological (love, belonging, prestige, accomplishment) needs.
Below the self-actualization level, people don’t always realize what their core values are. This is regrettable as we experience less distress when we live in alignment with our core values.
Ikigai: The art of Staying Aligned with Values
How do some people manage to stay aligned with values while others abandon them in the face of adversity? Ikigai, a centuries-old Japanese ideology, could provide the answer. Often linked to Japanese people’s record life expectancies, ikigai translates to “finding joy in life through purpose.” “Iki” means “life,” and “gai” means “worth” or “value.”
The concept of ikigai relates to the overlap of four key features: what you love doing, what you are good at, what you can make money off, and what the world needs. Ikigai stands at the crossover of these features.
In 2017, a Japanese TV show and a team of researchers visited Kyotango, a Japanese town with a massive population of centenarians. The producers of the show wanted to find out what these people had in common and followed a group of them around during the day. They also underwent blood and hormone testing. The team found that all of these people had a hobby they loved and engaged in every day. These hobbies included woodcarving, fishing, and painting. Moreover, they all had very high levels of a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland called DHEA.
Researchers concluded that having something to keep you focused and intrigued could sustain your sense of purpose well into old age, boosting the release of the invigorating DHEA hormone. This type of values-based living might just be the secret to being happy and active in old age.
The Dark Side of Values-based Action
We live in a complex world, and positive values can generate negative outcomes. Schwartz and Bilsky developed a circumplex model with ten value types as follows:
- Benevolence (welfare preservation, helpfulness)
- Universalism (equality, environmental protection)
- Tradition (humility, respect)
- Conformity (honouring parents and other authority figures, being obedient)
- Power (dominance, authority)
- Achievement (ambition, personal success)
- Self-direction (creativity, independent thought)
- Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure)
- Stimulation (having a rich, exciting life)
A correlation study by Jarden (2010) found negative relations between depressed mood and stimulation, self-direction, and hedonism. A study on a sample of Hong Kong Chinese architecture students found a relationship between burnout and conformity. Benevolence/tradition was related to depression in a sample of native American teenagers. There was also a connection between psychopathic traits and values in a Brazilian sample: power, hedonism, and achievement were directly related to disinhibition and boldness, two subdimensions of psychopathy.
A 2015 study by Kajonius et al. found a direct connection between the values of power, hedonism, and achievement with the so-called “dark triad”: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. There was also a positive correlation between the values of benevolence and universalism and the tendency to suffer from feelings of guilt.
Finally, this correlation study found that depression and stress were directly related to achievement and inversely related to hedonism. Stimulation and hedonism were inversely associated with anxiety. In layman’s terms, this means people who have little or no interest in stimulation and hedonism are more anxiety-, stress-, and depression-prone. The fact that the pursuit of pleasure can be destructive further complicates the situation.
These relationships between values and outcomes can also be demonstrated on an organizational level, meaning one could, at least in part, attribute the outbreak of wars and other cataclysms to them.
How do Values Drive Action?
There is a reason why recruitment experts recommend asking candidates to give examples of demonstrating a core value of the company. The best employees have the knowledge, skills, and values that align with organizational goals.
Organizations need to look at past behavior to spot these employees because of how predictive behavior is. For example, caring would be a core value of any healthcare organization. One such organization asked a candidate to give an example of demonstrating this value. The interviewee told them she adopted the sick baby of one of her patients because the latter couldn’t care for them anymore.
Getting rid of employees who do not have or oppose your organization’s core values is just as crucial to success as hiring people who demonstrate them. It’s a good idea to give competencies and values equal weight in the hiring process. Your organization could lose credibility if you hire or let a “toxic” person stay on the team just because they have the right skills and know-how for their job.
Rewards and Accountability
An organization needs a robust system of rewards and accountability to maintain a value-based culture. When employees embrace values, you need to note and even celebrate it. It’s equally important to let people know when their behavior does not correspond to the core values of the organization. There are quite a few innovative ways to reward your team for demonstrating relevant core values, such as handing out small bonuses in recognition or making personal anniversary calls to show long-serving employees appreciation on behalf of the organization.