The Beating Heart of Your Business

By David Mammano, an EO Western New York member, founder and CEO of Next Step Education Group, and author of “Make Love in the Workplace”

The Latin word for heart is “cor.”
The Italian word for heart is “cuore.”
The French word for heart is “coeur.”
The Spanish word for heart is corazón.”

Are you beginning to understand where the English word “core” comes from and how it relates to your values? I laugh when I hear about a business owner who gets his team together and says, “OK, this meeting is about creating our core values. Let’s decide what they are and then work toward living them.” You can’t invent your company’s core values at a meeting. They are inherently intertwined in the DNA of your organization. You can’t decide to have integrity and then strive to make it happen, just like you can’t be a little pregnant (you are or you aren’t). You either have integrity or you don’t.

In my experience, when tackling core values, it’s always best to start with discussions that “pull out” the innate values that already exist in the organization. When we identified our core values at Next Step, we pretended our company was a person. We named this person “Fred” and then attempted to describe him: What was he like? What were his characteristics? What values did he have? After an hour, we had 40 words and “Fred” phrases listed— too many to have a focused “core,” so we pinpointed the ones that resonated the most. We eventually pared them down to four core values:

  1. We aim to WOW
  2. We’re accountable
  3. We do whatever it takes
  4. We’re helpful

Everything we do goes back to these four core values. They are ingrained in our DNA. It also speaks to the type of employees, customers and vendors we attract. One could say that the core values stem from the leader of the organization. There’s certainly some truth to that. Just like the Sicilian phrase states, “A fish rots from the head down,” the opposite also rings true. It has to start with the leader and then ripple down. In my experience, core values only truly come alive once the entire organization is in sync. At Next Step, we defined our core values so that it became crystal clear how to (and how NOT to) make them come alive. This has served us well, and has made living our core values easy.

As the leader, you will start to realize your core values have come to life when your team starts talking about them without your instigation. For me, I became a “proud papa” of our values when I started to see company-wide emails mentioning them. Team members would announce they “caught someone in the act” of living our core values and want to give them a shout-out. I was equally proud when team members began using our values as a rudder when talking strategy. It’s a beautiful thing to sit back, smile and know that the core value fly-wheel is spinning on its own.

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