Your culture isn’t the words on your walls, t-shirts, and website.

It is those things that you do as a company that works and is therefore promoted, encouraged, repeated, and honored.

It’s often far more unconscious than we think.

Let me pick on integrity to illustrate my point as many, many businesses will include integrity in their core values.

However, I am yet to see one of those businesses give their most honest, decent, or virtuous sales rep all the biggest and best accounts. Instead, those honors go to the rep who sells the best. 

This may be an uncomfortable idea, and you could probably think of about 15 rebuttals, but before you do, I’d like to ask you to reconsider the point. What would it mean if this was true? Is it a bad thing?

No, it isn’t. Now before you think I’m a terrible human being, let me say, I think every one of us should live above reproach. We should be honest, decent, and virtuous on every occasion, and if we are, we will reap both internal and external rewards for a long time.

True vs. Core

However, just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s a core value. 

Just because something is noble, doesn’t mean it’s driving your success, and just because something is virtuous, doesn’t mean it has to be one of your values. In researching for the book Built to Last, author Jim Collins and his team found the opposite to be true. There is no one set of “correct” core values. It is the presence of deeply held values that are consistently lived out throughout the entire organization.

All of this makes sense when you think about it. For core values to make a difference, you need to talk about them all the time. You have to live by them all the time. You need to hire, fire, discipline, and promote by them. You have to celebrate when they are lived out, especially when there are negative business consequences in the short run. Your leaders need to embody those values. You need to provide real, practical training for every team member, and then do it again and again.

Don’t take my word for it

A great example is the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. Horst Schulze, the company’s founder, takes culture seriously. Every manager in the entire company gives a short teaching on one of the company’s “Gold Standards” at the beginning of every single shift. Their results speak for themselves.

Companies like Apple, Disney, and Amazon value integrity, but they don’t place it among their core values. They recognize integrity is important, but it is not a cultural differentiator, so they dig into those values that are uniquely special to them, the ones they are passionate enough about to repeat every day. They make sure to replicate those beliefs throughout every part of the organization.

Do values mean anything?

If it this point you are wondering if any value can be a great value, how can values matter at all? Here’s why. I believe millennials, despite their flaws, are helping all of us to understand better what motivates a person. News flash, it’s not a paycheck. Not for the long haul. We can get a paycheck just about anywhere, so what we are looking for now is meaning. 

Values that are real, values that are lived out consistently over time regardless of the situation, give us, ironically, a sense of personal integrity. Our work and our beliefs and our world views can integrate. Rather than leaving our values in the car parked outside the office, we now get to live them out for the 40+ hours we are working, and we get to do it in the company of other good men and women who are living out those same values.

I can tell you from experience. Nothing drives employee engagement, morale, and productivity, like alignment between what they value in life and what is valued in their workplace. And, selfishly, I have to admit. Running a value-driven organization is a lot more fun. It is so fulfilling to see your employees working incredibly hard and loving every minute of it. That’s what values can do for you and your business.

What are your company’s core values, and what do you do to reinforce them throughout your company? Feel free to post your experience in the comments below.