The Core Values That Drive Your Business

Your core business values


In this series we are reviewing things that drive you, inspire you, and keep you motivated in running your business successfully as a self-employed small business owner.

In week 1 and week 2, we looked at the importance of knowing your ‘why’ and then in week 3 we looked at the importance of having a business vision.

In this article we are reviewing yet another component that stems from knowing your big ‘why’, and that is your big ‘how’!

Well, that’s my term, but it is commonly referred to as your ‘core values’.

These are things like commitment to quality, honesty and integrity, innovation, commitment to customers and employees, going above and beyond, a commitment to the environment, accountability and so on.

They are the principles that underlie the way you do business, no matter what industry or business you are in, or what type of products or services you sell.

In a small business, the core values will reflect the personal values of the business owner(s) and your vision for the business. They are the standards you deem to be the most important to how you live and work.

You need to clearly define these core values, and not only communicate them to your team members, but hold them accountable.

I am reminded of the expression: “the fish stinks from the head down”. For example, if one of your core values is ‘exceptional customer service’, you need to hold employees accountable in providing exceptional customer service. Anything less reflects back on you and your business.

Similarly, if product excellence is a core value, then near enough is not good enough.

Early in my business life I was lucky enough to attend training workshops on this important topic with Michael Gerber. At that time, the Ritz Carlton was held up to be the premier example of core values in action.

Having stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Europe just prior to Covid, I would suggest they probably still hold that position. You can read about their core values here.

The Ritz Carlton considers their core values to be the ‘foundation of their brand’. You should do the same!!!

Identifying Your Core Personal Values

As your business will reflect you, you need to take a close look at your own personal core value structure, and then see if and how that applies to your business.

An effective way is to brainstorm everything you can think of, and then narrow the list down to 5 or 6 primary values.

Here are some questions that may help you in the brainstorming process.

  1. How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you in 16 words or less?
  2. Do you have any rules that you adhere to in your life?
  3. If you could push the reset button in your life, what things would you want to do over again, and why?
  4. What behaviors do you find yourself admiring in others and wish to emulate?
  5. What behaviors do you find intolerable in others?
  6. What do you do to experience laughter, fulfillment, joy, and happiness?

Once you have created a list, narrow it down to 5 or 6 that you wouldn’t be happy without, no matter what’s going on in your life.

Make sure that they are constant, sustainable, and motivating, and that you believe in them, act on them, and adhere to them.

Identifying the Core Values for Your Business

While your business values will be a reflection on your personal values, they will normally fall into 4 categories, being:

  1. People: Values around the people involved with your business such as leadership, employees, business partners and even the community.
  2. Products: The what, why and how of product fulfillment including quality, innovation, and impact on the lives of its users.
  3. Processes: The internal processes such as communication, development to implementation, recruitment, marketing and sales and delivery.
  4. Customers: The level of customer service and customer participation in the business.

Brainstorm each of these categories and contemplate the primary values for each area.

Reflect on the beliefs and principles you have in each area along with what makes you different and where you excel.

For example, every business I have ever worked with to develop their ‘unique selling proposition’ says that customer service is their point of difference. So, you are not alone when it comes to this goal. What makes you different and excel in your customer service?

Once you have finished brainstorming, narrow down the list to the most important.

Here are some questions to help.

  1. Is it important that this value is recognized in your business?
  2. Is this constantly in play? Is it always important or are there times when it is not an important value?
  3. Would this value be key in any business you started regardless of what that business is?
  4. Would you stick with this value even if it put you at a competitive disadvantage?
  5. Would this value withstand the test of time and be important to your business in the years to come?
  6. If your business found success and you became one of the ‘rich and famous’, would this value hold up?

Use these questions to narrow down your list to the values you want reflected in your business culture along with the way you work with customers, employees, other team members along with vendors, partners, and the community.

Put Your Core Business Values into Action

The time has now come to ensure the core values you have identified are congruent throughout your business.

Review each of the categories we have discussed and look at any action you need to take to ensure your values are consistently applied throughout your business.


Some potential values associated with products include pricing, quality control, involvement of customers and employees, environmental sustainability, passion, and innovation.

  1. Do your products and services consistently align with your values?
  2. If not, what steps can you take to make that happen?
  3. If they do align with your values, what improvements can you do to make them even better aligned?

Customer Service

Your core values need to be interwoven throughout every customer experience.

  1. Your core customer values should be communicated at every opportunity.
  2. There needs to be consistency and SOP’s (standard operating procedures) for every customer contact.
  3. There should be no confusion regarding core customer values. They need to be written and placed where everyone can see them.
  4. Have employees own the values and ensure they are incorporated in the everyday operation of your business.
  5. Involve your customers in your values by gathering their opinions.


Team members need to be aware and kept accountable to meeting your business standards.

  1. When you advertise for an available position in your company, include references to your values
  2. Communicate these to your employees by keeping them visible, as well as in employee manuals.
  3. You and other members of your leadership team must live these values in all you do.
  4. When you deal with other businesses, make sure that they know what values you operate under.

Business Operations

Make sure all business operations are in sync with your values. Although some will already have been covered under people, products and customers, there are others such as office operations and internal communications that should be reviewed.

For example, make sure your financial processes such as expenses, budgets, wages, refunds, investments, and charity donations are in line with your core values.

Keep Them Front and Center

Having identified your core business values and ensured your business activities are in sync, display them prominently as a continual reminder to employees and customers of what your business stands for.

Include them on your website, reports, and other communications.

This will be a continual motivator and reminder as to why you started the business and what you stand for. It is also a rarity in small business and will provide a point of differentiation from your competitors and build trust with your customers when you put them into action.

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