Are Core Values Just A List Of Target Attributes Or Are They True Performance Expectations?

I was recently offered the opportunity to visit a mining operation to participate in an outreach safety-training program initiated and sponsored by that operation. Aside from the information attained through the training, I observed a number of intriguing posters and table placards in one of the common areas. The displayed message outlined the six core values or expectations that had been carefully formulated to ensure the success of the organization.

After some study, I ran a quick mental comparison with the eight core values established by my own employer. I found a number of similarities – in fact they were nearly identical – although expressed differently.

With my curiosity piqued, I proceeded to run an admittedly unscientific survey of the core values published and available on the web pages of a number of other mining companies. I was not surprised to find many of the same themes expressed nationwide.

Here are the most common terms:

  • Safety.
  • Leadership.
  • Integrity.
  • Responsibility.
  • Respect.
  • Trust.

It’s not a bad list. Your organization probably incorporates these core values as well as others. However, the test is in their application.

Any organization whose senior leadership has made the effort to develop and enumerate a similar collection of core values will have engaged in a thoughtful and enlightening exercise. Such an exercise would naturally conclude in communicating those core values to employees with some expectation of conformity.

What happens next? Do the core values become a list of target attributes – qualities that would be good to achieve? Or are they true performance expectations that can be observed, measured and appraised? If the latter is the case, the process has only just begun.

Another attribute that arose in my informal study that must be applied is accountability. If the core values are really to define the culture of the organization, personnel in all positions and all levels must be accountable to the designated core values in their own performance – even off the job.

Individuals and groups who demonstrate the core values in the course of their work must be recognized, especially under difficult conditions. One of the primary roles of an organization’s leadership personnel – beyond demonstrating the core values – must be to help ensure performance is consistent with their core values in all personnel.

That requires much more effort than simply posting copies of the core values at lunch tables and on bulletin boards. Recognition of individuals who demonstrate, through their actions, the core values is only one tool that may be effective in that effort.

Other effective tools include:

  • Setting a consistent example.
  • Creating a work environment that promotes compliance.
  • Communicating the narratives of incidents where core values were applied successfully.

Ultimately, adherence to a clear and concise set of core values that are relevant to an organization can be a most valuable tool in ensuring the success (including the safety success) of that organization.

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