Eve Smith Davies is the Co-Founder and Brand Director of UME, an inside-out brand consultancy that aligns strategy, identity and culture.
Workplace values are the foundation of every organization. As guiding principles, they provide purpose and direction: shaping how we show up and lead, empowering mission-driven progress, and keeping teams grounded when the future feels uncertain.
It’s no secret that leadership teams invest ample time and resources into developing core values. You’ve probably seen them on any “Who We Are” company page, pitch deck or annual report.
But here’s the harsh truth: Few companies actually live by their values.
Take Theranos, for instance. On paper, the company was committed to advancing human health care through rapid blood testing—but in practice, CEO Elizabeth Holmes deceived the public with promises of technology that never actually existed.
Even for aboveboard organizations, inking your company values is only the beginning. The real work comes next.
Why Feel-Good Words Aren’t Enough
In a competitive business landscape, core values can be make or break. Millennials and Gen Z employees in particular care significantly about values, and are less willing to compromise them in the workplace. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, almost 2 in 5 workers have rejected a job because of their personal ethics, with that number increasing to nearly 50% for Gen Zs and Millennials in senior positions.
Values form every facet of our being: the things we say, think and do. They play a pivotal role in business growth and success, with the power to spark organizational cohesion, innovation and resilience.
As co-founder of UME, an inside-out brand consultancy, I want to share some concrete solutions that can help you develop meaningful core values—and embed them into every level of your organization. Here are a few ways to get started.
1. Identify your values.
Who are you? What do you stand for? How do you want to grow in the future? Strong core values answer all of these questions, powerfully bringing your purpose into focus. While leadership needs to champion the process, it’s important to give all team members the opportunity to participate. The values you prioritize should be both authentic to who you are today and aspirational to who you seek to become in the future. Oftentimes, working with an external partner can make the process more effective and efficient.
2. Articulate your values.
Next step: Unpack the words. Define what each value means in the unique context of your organization. Go beneath the surface and map out the facets of each one. For instance, if you value curiosity, consider what you’re curious about—whether that’s reimagining the future of food or scaling new climate technologies. Specificity is key.
3. Map inside-out practices.
Now that you’ve clearly articulated your values, it’s time to move from theory to practice. How does each value inspire you to elevate how you show up? Create a clear road map of the specific mindsets, language and behaviors you want to embrace and uphold—as well as those to let go of or unlearn.
4. Communicate your values with confidence.
Communicate your core values with confidence and care, as you would for any mission-critical initiative. Select a team of messengers, including company leaders and grassroots advocates. Inform employees of your new values with engaging, easy-to-use educational resources, showcasing the origin story of each value and explaining how this foundation is critical to your shared success. Most of all, be sure to model behavior at the leadership level—demonstrating your commitment to core values by living them out yourself.
5. Integrate your values across the organization.
Finally, focus on building both the skills and motivation needed to bring each value to life across your organization. For example, if learning is one of your core values, you might introduce resources like peer coaching, development stipends and companywide workshops. To make sure your values stay top of mind, integrate them into every stage of the employee journey: from hiring and onboarding, to learning and development, to reviews, compensation and promotions.
When Value Becomes Tangible es, this process requires a lot of effort upfront—but it’s all worth it in the end. Core values are an investment in your company’s future, keeping you grounded and helping you withstand any challenges that might come your way. When backed by strong values, companies benefit from:
- Clearer expectations. By making values explicit, you create a blueprint for how your team should work together to reach shared goals.
- Strengthened trust. Clear values show employees, clients and partners what you stand for and what to expect from your interactions.
- Strategic decision making. Your values serve as an organizational compass, providing direction in even the toughest of times and consistently guiding you toward your greater purpose.
By following these best practices, I hope you can confidently develop core values that push your organization forward, building cohesion, resilience and inside-out integrity along the way.