Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. These guiding principles dictate behavior and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Core values also help companies to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their goals by creating an unwavering guide. There are many different types of core values in the world, depending upon the context.
Often, when you hear someone discuss why they fell in love with their other half, they will mention that they have the same values. In this case, they are often talking about core values, or internal beliefs that dictate how life should be lived.
Some examples of core values people might have about life include the following:
- A belief, or lack thereof, in God or an affiliation with a religious/spiritual institution
- A belief in being a good steward of resources and in exercising frugality
- A belief that family is of fundamental importance
- A belief that honesty is always the best policy and that trust has to be earned
- A belief in maintaining a healthy work/life balance
Parents also try to instill these types of positive core values in children in an effort to give them guiding principles for living a good life.
Of course, core values aren’t always positive. Some people may be driven by self-interest or greed, and these are core values, too, if they dictate the way the people live their lives. Negative core values can also develop when people live in fear or insecurity and are forced to focus on survival in difficult circumstances.
Some examples of negative core values include the following:
- A belief that the world is a fundamentally brutal place and that only the strong survive
- A belief that people are powerless to change their fates or personal situations
- A belief that you don’t deserve good things or relationships in life
- A belief that other people are fundamentally untrustworthy and unloving
- A belief that life is meaningless
Corporate Core Values
Companies can have core values as well. These are the guiding principles that help to define how the corporation should behave in business and perhaps beyond, if they have an additional mission to serve the community. Core values are usually expressed in the corporation’s mission statement.
Some examples of core values for a company include:
- A commitment to sustainability and to acting in an environmentally friendly way. Companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s have environmental sustainability as a core value.
- A commitment to innovation and excellence. Apple Computer is perhaps best known for having a commitment to innovation as a core value. This is embodied by their “Think Different” motto.
- A commitment to doing good for the whole. Google, for example, believes in making a great search engine and building a great company without being evil.
- A commitment to helping those less fortunate. TOMS shoe company gives away a pair of shoes to a needy person for every pair it sells in an effort to alleviate poverty and make life better for others.
- A commitment to building strong communities. Shell oil company donates millions of dollars to the University of Texas to improve student education and to match employee charitable donations.
As you can see, often the core values that companies have are similar to those that individuals might choose as guiding principles as well.
Some Types of Core Values
There are countless types of core values, as you can see, so you will need to choose the ones that are right for you or your organization. It’s natural to want to choose a long list of core values in an effort to be the best you can be, but limiting your selection to two or three helps you focus on your mission in life without becoming distracted.
Here are some examples of core values from which you may wish to choose:
- Good humor
- Spirit of adventure
- Service to others
Identifying Core Values
While some people or organizations might expressly share their core values, often the best way to identify these values is to watch how they behave. For example, a tobacco company that emphasizes profits over public health acts in a way that is not consistent with a stated core value of caring for others. No company will advertise negative core values, of course, but you can judge what really lies at the heart of a business’ mission by examining how they act when it counts. A core value is only true if it has an active influence and if the people or company manage to live by it, at least most of the time.
It’s also important to remember that individuals don’t necessarily choose their core values. Many people have these values instilled in them by the way their parents and community raise them. You may already live by strong core values without realizing it. To get a sense of what your core values are, ask yourself what activities bring you the most joy, or what you couldn’t live without. What gives your life meaning or what do you want to achieve? If you can articulate those answers, you’ll likely see a pattern that you can boil down into a single concept, such as a consistently positive attitude or using your creativity to make the world a better place.