Core Values or Guiding Principles…Is There a Difference?

Core Values or Guiding Principles and is there a difference? Until a few days ago, I’ve never really given this much thought. I’m a firm believer in the importance of discovering – note I didn’t say creating – Core Values in your organization but I myself have often interchangeably used the terms Core Values and Guiding Principles and right about now you may be thinking, well duhhh, they seem to be the same thing – but hear me out.

Whenever I work with clients, one of the things I always look forward to is the Core Values discovery process. Last week while working with a leadership team they had nearly 50 things listed on the whiteboard that described their culture and were important to this company. Now there’s nothing wrong with having lots of great terms or phrases that describe your organization but you certainly don’t want a list of 50 Core Values…that would never work! As we constantly remind all our Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®)clients – “less is more” and therefore we encourage them to get it down to 3 – 7 things that are truly Core Values

When working through this exercise we always have our clients read two fantastic HBR articles called Building Your Company’s Vision by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras as well as Make Your Values Mean Something by Patrick M. Lencioni. Between these articles – which help clarify what Cove Values really are – and using a few other exercises our client was able to get the list down to about 12 things, but they insisted they couldn’t really reduce the list any further.

In the Lencioni article he describes three other types of “values” that he refers to as Permission to Play, Accidental and Aspirational, but even running this final list of 12 through this “filter” they insisted these were in-fact Core Values. The client then asked, “can we have another list of things that are important to the success and culture at our company” and so I thought about it for a minute and said – Yes! Why not have a second list you call “Guiding Principles” and so that’s what they did.

Now, how to differentiate which were Core Values and which were simply Guiding Principles?

I’m not sure how you ingrain your Core Values into your organization (most companies don’t) but what we teach at Tribridge through EOS is that Core Values are the filtering tool used to hire, reward and recognize the “right people” and fire the wrong people specific to your organization. If your list has more than 5 – 7 Core Values you’re likely never going to find people to hire that are “above the bar”. That isn’t to say there can’t be several other traits or character qualities that are important to you or your company that may not be deal breakers or maybe only apply to specific roles within the company – why not just call these things Guiding Principles. The only thing I caution you is to clearly communicate to everyone in your organization the difference between the two, and clearly define “the bar” for both. 

Jon Weening

Jon Weening

I have two passions that are the driving force behind my work; the first, to help business owners and leadership teams become their best and the second – a natural result of the first – to help create fulfilling and engaging work places for their teams.

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