Establishing your Core Values/ Shared Principles
Have you found yourself disagreeing with your co-founders about what is proper behavior in your startup company? Or how to manage employees?
This is probably a sign that you need to think through your core values and shared principles.
Core values and shared principles seem like a very touchy-feely thing to focus
on in a startup. It doesn’t seem like a hard management tool. But I find it is
one of the most important foundations to keep people accountable.
To what works in your startup, especially before the processes and the learning
and all the rules are in place. That our startup typically doesn’t have. And
does not want to have to start with.
The core values are a very important component of your company’s culture. And
not just core values as they are written on paper. But core values as they are
“lived” by your people.
That’s why it’s important to find the values you agree on as co-founders. Make
these part of the culture. And then start collecting lots of stories about these
core values and shared principles. How have they made your startup different
from other startups or other companies out there.
Here’s the tool we’ve developed for this purpose.
The first is to work on an individual basis. Identify exemplary employees in
your company. If your company is still very small, you can also think of people
you’ve worked with in a previous life. Or in a former job. But if the company
has already grown, you probably have a few exemplary employees. Everyone can
individually list them in the left column.
The second question for each of these employees is: what makes them so
exemplary? What is the right thing that they do that makes you feel like they
truly fit in the startup that you want to create? List those behaviors.
Ideally in a one word phrase, for example, Johnny is a very trusting person or
Beth is very diligent.
Now, bring all your results together. Typically you do that on a big flip chart
using sticky notes. The important thing is not just to say what was mentioned
most. But also to understand what kind of a value this is. And for this we use
the DUCT method, the DUCT method that I have derived from Patrick Lencioni’s
Patrick Lencioni differentiates between four different kinds of values.
The desired values are the ones you would like to have but they are mostly
The undesirable values are those that you once had, but they are no longer
The core values are the ones that do exist. They make this organization
and its DNA truly special.
Table Stakes values, those are values like professionalism or integrity
that you really you cannot imagine a company not having. The ones that are
normal in every organization.
So classify the group’s values according to this DUCT method. Are they desired?
Undesirable? Core? Or Table stakes? Then only take in the next step, the Core
values that come out of that.
The top three to five C values, the ones you have classified as Core. You put
these in the last column. Now it is time to start testing whether these values
are really, truly yours for your company. So find examples, find stories that
you can relate to each other and maybe even to other employees.
Where have you upheld these core values, even if it was financially painful
or it calls a certain last year business results.
Where have you chosen to only hire people that exhibited this core value that
had this in their DNA?
Or have you ever parted ways with an employee or a partner or even an
investor because they did not exhibit that same core value that you folks as
a founding team found that important?
And this is the key criterion we ultimately want to use for core values and
shared principles. It is those values that you find so important that you’d
rather incur a loss. Or lose an important employee or a partner. Rather than
compromise on these core values. That is the kind of principles we are looking
I hope that this tool, our Core Values/Shared Principles tool can help you get
to a good conclusion. And share that with all your employees.
The “Establishing your Core Values/ Shared Principles” tool is available for download below: