Core Values vs. Company Belief Systems

Category: Internal Brand

One of the questions I frequently encounter from small business owners is: How do I know if something is a core value or a company belief system?

There are 2 questions that differentiate values and company belief systems:

  • Will it ever change?
  • Is it who you are or simply something you provide?

The values of an organization are unchanging. How they are expressed over time may change, but the core idea being shared is so important to this organization that it is entrenched in the brand and the company culture. To be clear, the core values are much more than being honest or loyal. They also include things like “Love What You Do” (RedKnight Print) or “Embrace and Drive Change” (Zappos).

Frequently, company belief systems are a merging of the vision, mission, and values with daily business practices. However, there are times when a company has a strong belief that does not qualify as a core value simply because if the market were to change, this belief would also change. This willingness to abandon or modify a belief disqualifies it as a core value. It is still important to the company and that is why it is included in the brand definition.

Company belief systems change over time. They may change because of a change in any of the following areas:

  • Regulations
  • Competition
  • Market maturation
  • Technology
  • Customer demographics, etc.

Jeffrey A. Krames in the book Lead with Humility describes the difference very succinctly: “Pope Francis does not want to change the Catholic Church’s core values; he simply wants to update its operating system to be compatible with the world’s ever-evolving networks.” In this case, the operating system is the Church’s company belief systems.

While values are the central, unchanging core that anchors a company and its brand to something significant and important, company belief systems change to allow the same organization to remain relevant and profitable over time.

Have you clearly defined your company’s core values and separated them from your belief systems? If not, what is holding you back?