Core Values: Create Them Only If You Can Keep Them

Does your company have core values? And are you keeping them? There is probably a textbook definition of core values. I have my own:

Core values are simple to understand belief statements that tell the story about your company and its culture – beliefs that communicate how decisions are made that impact the company and staff – beliefs that define how the promises made to customers are kept.

Your core values tell a story about your company and its culture

Do your core values make you stand out?

Do potential new hires get access to your company’s core values during the interview process? If you truly want to hire people that fit your culture I can’t imagine not giving them an opportunity to understand your core values.

You don’t want people working with you just because you provide unlimited Red Bull and catered lunches.

Focusing on perks and benefits is the equivalent of focusing on facts and features to market a product (i.e. crap marketing). But your core values have the power to tell a story that explains why you exist and what your purpose is. A potential hire that connects with this story will likely be a great culture fit.

And because people never get tired of a great story, your existing team should hear your core values story often and have the confidence to live out that story on a daily basis, in all situations.

The problem with core values

The problem with core values is that you have to actually keep them. And keeping them can be expensive, require you to say ‘no’, force you to think critically, and demand you answer when your team asks you ‘why’.

CEOs: it’s not enough to just give your team the resources or confidence to adhere to your core values. Your team will know when your decisions and actions are misaligned with your core values – this builds a culture of distrust and ambivalence towards keeping the promises made to your customers.

If you don’t keep your core values, don’t expect your team to.

The core values of a company I respect, from a CEO I trust

Photo courtesy of

I have few heroes. One of the few is Rand Fishkin, Co-founder and CEO of SEOmoz. Although he probably won’t remember, Rand and I have met a few times at several Distilled conferences. In my experience, Rand is everything he presents himself to be and I believe he lives SEOmoz’s core values.

Right at the top of SEOmoz’s core values: transparency and generosity. They must be challenging to keep but Rand pulls it off – the transparency and honesty in this post from Rand is staggering. In it, he tells the story about the journey SEOmoz went on to reach the point of being able to complete an $18M round of funding.


Creating core values you aren’t willing to keep is a problem because your lack of authenticity sends a message that you lack the ambition to do what you say you believe – and what a way that is to destroy your credibility and crush the spirit of your team.

What happens when you create clearly-defined core values, you build the culture of your company around them, and you maintain your company's cultural identity by keeping them? Apple happens.

Core values: create them only if you can keep them.

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