Institutionalize Your Core Values: The Fourth of Five Keys to Success through Values-Centered Leadership

The following is the fourth in a series of articles by Lisa Huetteman

Read the series introduction

Core value one

Core value two

Core value three

Recently, I called a company to request a rebate. The customer service representative cheerfully answered the phone, “Thank you for calling XYZ Company, where customer service is our top priority!” After I explained that I had been a customer of this company for more than five years and that I earned a rebate under their loyalty program, she proceeded to give me the following runaround:

“Yes, I see that you are in fact due a rebate, but it’s not my decision. Your request will go before our executive committee to review. They meet once a week on Fridays.

Because today is Thursday, I won’t be able to get your request to them in time. So it won’t be considered until next Friday’s meeting. Then we’ll mail you some paperwork for you to complete. You must return it to us within 30 days.

If any part of the paperwork is not completed correctly, your rebate may not be granted. Once we receive all your paperwork, it will take 6-8 weeks for you to receive your payment.”

This rep, like thousands of others in hundreds of companies, was not able to deliver on the core value of “excellent customer service” because the company’s leadership failed to institutionalize it. Imagine the negative impact on morale when the employee knows what to do, how to do it and yet is prevented from executing because of failed corporate policies and procedures.

Organizations that gain the most value from core values incorporate them into all of their policies, systems, processes and procedures. They refer to them when hiring and training people, selecting vendors, setting goals, developing marketing strategies, purchasing goods and services, and approving projects and budgets. They institutionalize them so they permeate virtually every aspect of their business.

To have a positive impact day after day, year after year, core values must be woven into the fabric of the organization. What is included in institutionalizing your core values?

  • Screening potential candidates for cultural fit based on core values
  • An onboarding process that includes an introduction to the mission, vision, and values
  • A Code of Conduct signed by employees and reviewed annually, so employees understand and commit to comply with expected behaviors.
  • Soliciting feedback from new employees after 30-days regarding how the organization practices what it preaches
  • Annual performance reviews to evaluate employee performance against behavioral standards
  • A performance developmental plan for each employee that stresses the alignment of individual and organizational goals and behaviors consistent with the core values.
  • Two-way evaluations where employees evaluate the organization and its leadership on how they live the core values and suggest improvements.
  • A compliance hotline for employees to report illegal or unethical behavior.
  • Budgeting processes that align resources with priorities and address deficiencies
  • Design and layout of physical building reflecting values
  • Artwork, furniture, and physical plant consistent with the core values
  • Computer systems designed to support core values
  • Incorporating core values into all training classes, regardless of topic

Review all human resource policies, quality control procedures, marketing practices, compensation and rewards arrangements, decision-making processes, and other components of your operations to make sure they incorporate your core values. Ask questions such as the following:

  • How do our information systems support living our values?
  • Do our customer service systems encourage our employees to serve our customers well, or do they promote efficiency and economy at our customers’ expense?
  • Do our budgeting processes motivate all departments to develop plans that support our values?

After examining all of your systems and procedures, make the necessary upgrades to support your values.

To be effective, core values must be institutionalized. Institutionalizing core values doesn’t require bureaucracy, but it does demand creativity and intentionality. Institutionalizing means that core values are integrated into the structure, processes, policies, and procedures in a way that supports living them every day.

Once you have defined, communicated, and institutionalized your core values, expect people to live them. In the next article, I’ll outline how successful companies honor their core values.

About the Author

Lisa Huetteman

About the Author
Lisa Huetteman is Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Black Diamond Associates, Executive Coach and Author of The Value of Core Values: Five Keys to Success through Values-Centered Leadership. After 20+ years in corporate strategic business development roles, Lisa launched Black Diamond Associates in 2003 to help leaders transform themselves and their organizations to achieve the next level of success. She has a proven track record of helping clients achieve sustainable improved results by implementing personal and organizational change. Lisa has spoken to audiences across the globe and coached executives in public, private, government and non-profit organizations. Lisa has a BBA from University of Michigan Ross School of Business Administration and an MBA from The University of Tampa. Lisa is a Certified Business Coach, a Certified Quality Facilitator, a Certified Professional Behavior Analyst, Certified Professional Values Analyst, and Certified Professional TriMetrix Analyst. She has received the Chairman’s Award from TTI Performance Systems for extraordinary community service. Lisa has served the community through volunteer and leadership positions at the United Way Suncoast, Impact Tampa Bay, St. Stephen Catholic Church and School, Tampa Catholic High School, the City of Tampa Mayor’s Youth Corps, STAR Technology Center, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. To learn more about Lisa, visit