Superior Performance Requires Mastering Core Values: Article 1 of 2

by Howard Shore, Date: Nov 14, 2009

Superior Performance Requires Mastering Core Values: Article 1 of 2

If you study any organization that exemplifies sustained superior performance, you will find a remarkable culture. While it is true that you need products or services to make money, the prevailing attitudes and behaviors that characterize your people are what fuel success. In other words, the core values practiced on a daily basis have helped top companies be more successful than their competition.

A Case in Point – “XYZ Company”

The best way to get your attention is through the eyes of a real company. This company seriously underperformed against its competition. Its curse was that its performance level provided an adequate income for its main shareholder and leaders. What it did not want to address was what everyone who visited the company could see.

XYZ Company had approximately $1 Billion in sales. I met with the senior management team to understand the circumstances faced by the company. They were looking for someone to conduct training with their sales force. While it would be nice for me to have an engagement to develop 150 sales people, I always first assess the company’s real need. What this company needed was more sales, not training and development.

The facts where alarming. I found that the company did not have clear goals, did not fire non-performers, did not have good hiring policies, did not tie compensation to performance, etc. In the end, I asked the magic question, “What is your company’s core values?”

Silence followed. The leadership had never defined and implemented core values to make this company great. What resulted were unwritten core values that were unflattering:

  • Mediocrity – Sales people were not working hard or trying to be the best. When selling to customers, they would give in on price because they believed they were second-rate compared to their competition. Very few sales people would proactively go to training and when training was offered by the company, they would not show up.
  • No Accountability –    If people did not hit their sales targets, it really did not matter, particularly if they had been with the company a number of years. They were just “forgiven” and still paid handsomely.
  • Mistrust –      The organization would not follow-through on initiatives. They would talk big and act small. Consequently, when they said they wanted to create change, nobody took them seriously. In addition, while the leadership indicated they had a “consumer-oriented” strategy, 80% of its products were “commodity-based.” The company generally operated as if their strategy was “low cost.”
  • Disrespect –   Senior Management would begin initiatives only to have the CEO come and usurp them.

XYZ Company was growing slower and had lower margins than their competition even though their product is just as good and in some cases better. Many of their employees, including senior management and sales people, came from the competition. While they thought sales training would solve their problem, they were not facing the core issue, which was values. My recommendation was to address the real issue first so they could get a real return on their training investment.

Find Your Core Values

This does not need to be a long exercise, and I do not recommend copying someone else’s values. I have worked with many companies. Typically, we can bring together the senior management team and identify and define core values within 1 to 4 hours, depending on how large the group. It can be fun, and it is critical to really understanding what is important to driving your company’s vision.

As demonstrated above, if you do not plan your core values, they will happen anyways, and the results can be devastating. When it comes to a company’s culture, the longer you wait to define and instill the right core values in your organization, the harder it will be to achieve your ideal culture and thus maximize performance.

Here is an example of the core values of one of my small-company clients whose growth is greater than 20% per year:

  • Responsibility – Take leadership for delivering our vision.
  • Excellence – Strive to be the best.
  • Integrity – Commit to doing the right thing.
  • Stewardship – Fund the future.
  • Respect – Treat everyone with dignity.
  • Innovation – Approach challenges with an open mind.


As mentioned at the start, if you study any organization that exemplifies sustained superior performance, you will find a remarkable culture. This culture is defined by the core values that are established by the leadership. Once you have defined your core values, the hardest work begins. While it is important to know what your values are, it is equally important to institutionalize these values. Part 2 of this article will tell you how!

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