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How to Create Your Organization’s Core Values

Before using a Core Values List to determine your company’s core values, STOP!  Using a core values list as a first step in setting your values can actually prevent you from uncovering the real core values of your organization.

At Threads, we have developed a better method. This post will walk you through the basic steps of creating your own core values list and selecting your core values.  There is also a complete guide on how to select your organization’s core values with your management team linked at the bottom of this post.

The Wrong Way to Use a Core Values List


Every core values exercise we have seen at conferences, on Google or from so-called "thought leaders" goes somethign like this:

  1. Start with a large list of core values provided by the speaker, executive coach or consultant.

  2. Use a method of sorting or ranking the core values list to narrow it down to your top 5 core values.

  3. Define your top 5 values that you selected from their core values list.

  4. Publish your new values and move on to the next step of your strategic plan.

The problem with this method is that the creator of the exercise ends up influencing the core values you choose for your company.  These exercises start with the creators’ pre-selected ideas on what you should choose as your core values, not what actually fits your organization.

When you see a noble and/or popular value on their core values list, you are subconsciously influenced to choose it even if it isn’t one of your company’s core values.

Threads Method to Make Your Own Core Values List

The Threads method doesn’t start with a pre-selected core values list.  Our method assumes that as the leader of your organization, you know the more about your company than any outsider ever could.  You know the personalities, the history and what makes your organization successful.

Every leader already has their core values list.  You just need a way to help you get your core values out of your head and down on paper, so they can be communicated throughout your organization.

What You Need

You don’t need much to make your own core values list.  You need a quiet place, between 30-60 minutes and the following items:

  • 40-50 Index Cards or Post-It Notes

  • Pen

  • Open space for 40-50 index cards

  • Core Values List Question (see below)

Step #1 – The Core Values List Question

To create your own core values list you start with this question:

“What is important at our company and what is unique about working here?”


The exercise works best if the question is visible to you throughout the rest of the exercise.  You can:

  • Click on the above graphic with the core values list question so it is the only thing open on your computer monitor.

  • You can print the graphic and place it on the table in front of you

  • You can also write the question on a whiteboard.


Step #2 – Creating the Core Values List

Take 10 minutes to answer this question.  Write down every answer that comes to mind, putting each idea on its own separate index card or post-it note.  You can stop writing ideas when your 10 minutes are up or when your index cards are full.   These cards are your core values list.  Display the cards randomly so every idea is visible.

When you are done your core values list should look something like this:


For the exercise to work well you should have a minimum of 20-25 ideas written down on your cards before moving on.  If your idea flow slows, try inverting the question.  Ask yourself, “What is our company NOT?” or “What do similar companies do that our organization would never do?”  Inverting the question often helps come up with a fresh group of ideas.


Step #3 – Organizing Your Core Values List

Now you are ready to organize your core values list.  Instead of picking cards at random that sound good to you, begin to sort the cards into 5-7 groups that feature similar ideas.  This process is commonly referred to as affinity mapping or creating an affinity diagram. Affinity mapping helps you find patterns in a large set of data by identifying underlying relationships.

For example, if you wrote down “Teamwork” on one card and “Good Communication” on another card, you may decide those two ideas are similar and should be grouped together. Here are a couple of thoughts to help with sorting your core values list:

  • Make sure every card remains visible throughout the sorting process, so you can be flexible as you notice new relationships.

  • Move ideas (cards) that don’t have a place in to a “parking lot” on the side of your sorting area. Come back to the parking lot later in the sorting process to see if these ideas now have a place.

  • Do not discard any ideas even if they are repeated. Repetition is a signal of importance or shared thinking if you created the core values list with multiple people from your management team.

When you are done your core values list should be organized in to groups and look something like this:


Step #4 – Selecting Your Core Values

Now you are ready to choose your core values from your organized core values list.  Look at each of the 5-7 groups you created. Choose a key word or concept that summarizes the entire group of cards.  This is where a large list of core values can actually come in handy. Viewing a large list of ideas can help you capture the right words to summarize each of your groups.

The key word or concept you chose from each group is one of your core values.  The core values you have selected will be amazingly accurate because each group of ideas is weighted by significance (# of cards) and is made up of everything you identified as most important or unique about your organization.


Step #5 – Defining Your Core Values

You can easily come up with the definitions for your core values using the ideas found in each group of cards.  Look for key concepts that appear on multiple cards within a group. The definitions should use the terminology found on the actual cards as much as possible.  It will be easier to communicate your core values when their definitions are in your own words and understood by everyone in the organization.


Next Steps

We recommend saving these cards or taking pictures of the completed exercise.  Your core values make up half the equation for measuring your company culture.  They are too important to only end up on the pages of a strategic plan or as a poster on your conference room wall.

The ideas that make up your core values list can be used in many applications throughout your business.  We would recommend you use them when setting up core values based performance management rating criteria for employees, creating core values interview questions and when on-boarding new people in to your organization.

If you are planning on doing this exercise with your management team or if you are an executive coach who wants to use this method with your clients, you should download the complete guide below.  There are some additional factors to consider when making and organizing a core values list with a group of participants.  


Use our helpful guide during your core values exercise.

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