Working on your core values? Beware these value traps

entrepreneurship values Jan 29, 2020

Authentic values are the cornerstones of your culture, use these tips to avoid falling into one of the three value traps. 


  • Authentic values are like diamonds. These are the deeply ingrained or gut principles that guide your business, the cornerstones of your culture. These values exist in your organization’s genetic code and to identify them, you need to push with relentless self-honesty.
  • Uncovering your company’s core values


[The following is the transcript of this video. Please note that this episode, like all posts, features Jean speaking unscripted and unedited — filmed in one take. The actual video may differ in content from the script. But you’ll still get loads of value!]

Hey everyone! Jean Moncrieff, founder of the Freedom experience. And today, I’m going to help you understand the different types of values you’ll encounter when working on developing your company’s core values.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of value statements feel bland or meaningless or just plain dishonest? That when your interactions and experience with the company seems contrary to their core values. How many value statements have you seen with words like integrity, ethics, or customer satisfaction? Surely, this is the kind of behavior you’d expect or take for granted when dealing with any business.

I want to share four types of values with you and the three ‘value traps’ cited by Patrick Lencioni in his Harvard Business Review article: Make Your Values Mean Something. Understanding the different kinds of values will help you test the validity of your companies core values as you uncover them. And this is important because your core values will help set you apart from the competition. But empty statements can also create cynical employees. So, if you’re struggling to uncover a set of core values, and they’re feeling hollow, or you have a long list. And when I say a long list, I more than a handful, five or six. Then understanding these four types of value will prove very helpful.  

Authentic core values

Authentic core values are like diamonds. These are the deeply ingrained or gut principles that guide your business, the cornerstones of your culture. These values exist in your organization’s genetic code and to identify them, you need to push with relentless self-honesty. 

Here’s one way to uncover your authentic values. Imagine you’re taking a mission to another planet to recreate the very best version of your business. You only have seats for six or seven people on this mission. Who are you taking with you? My bet is you're taking the people who have a gut-level connection with your core values. These are the people you love, the people you trust to build the best version of your business. These are the people who demonstrate the organization’s core values through their actions. List their names and next to each name, write down the characteristics, attributes, or traits that make them so valuable. Once you have a list, ruthlessly cut it down to three to seven core values.

Now for the value traps…

Aspirational values

These are the values that you wish your company had, but that it lacks.

For example, if your company is full of workaholics, then a value of ‘work-life-balance’ would be aspirational. I once worked with a company whose CEO claimed his company’s core value was fun. And that life is too short not to be enjoyed, and that having a fun work environment is a must. But it was immediately evident that this was an aspirational value, and employees viewed it cynically. Aspirational values can dilute your core values, so avoid them at all costs.  

Permission-to-play values

These are simply the fundamental behavioural and social standards you would expect of any employee or organization, remember the examples I used earlier: integrity, customer satisfaction, ethics. These values are the same across just about every company and therefore do not distinguish you from your competitors.

The same CEO who had Fun as a core value also had Ethics on the list of core values for his company. “Because we refuse to hire people who do not care about our people, partners, or customers”. Most companies wouldn’t hire a person who didn’t care about customers.

Accidental Values

Accidental values arise spontaneously. They creep up without being cultivated by the leadership team and take hold over time.

So being a scrappy startup or having an entrepreneurial spirit or being young and trendy, might have helped you get where you are today. But it won’t be required of everyone in the company forever. As you grow, will it be necessary that everyone has a scrappy startup spirit? 

Once you’ve come up with your core values, ask yourself: Can I envision these core values being as relevant 100 years from now? If you were to open another business, regardless of location or industry, would these values still be valid? These kinds of questions will help you distinguish between enduring core values and the value traps I’ve mentioned.

Want to know more about building a valuable business? Don't miss these articles from my blog:

And if you're looking for help creating or refining your core values, find out how you can work with me today. 


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