It Really Matters that You Have Core Values. It Really Doesn't Matter What They Are!

Audio Transcript

One of the true tests of good research is that you find things that you don’t expect. One of the best tests of good research in the social sciences is that you find things that you don’t like. One of the crucial findings from Built to Last is a finding entirely supported by the data, by the evidence, by all our research, but I really don’t like it.  

As you’re probably aware, we found in Built to Last that one of the key underlying variables enabling a company to go from good to greatness to enduring greatness and to stay there—not just go from good to great, but to stay great and become an iconic institution like Sony, like Disney, like General Electric, like 3M, these enduring iconic institutions—is that they have an underlying set of core values that do not change. Everything else is open for change: the practices, the strategies, the structures. If you go to our website, we lay this out in the Building Your Company’s Vision section.  

At the same time, though, we began to ask the question, “Well, wait a minute. If the core values must remain fixed, if it’s all about having a guiding framework of core values—we hold these truths to be self-evident, they will not, they should not, we will not ever change them while everything else pivots off them”—the question comes up, “What are the right core values?” 

As we began to rip apart the data, we began coding and looking for some consistent set of core values that were the same across all the built-to-last visionary companies. And what did we find? A giant zero. Every single enduring, great company had a timeless set of passionately held core values,  but there was no one single core value that cut across all the enduring, great, visionary companies. 

If you take a value like respect for the individual, you will find that core value in HP as it became a great company, but you will not find it in Disney when it became a great company. Disney had different core values that had to do with imagination and fanatical consistency and attention to detail and the notion of wholesomeness and magic. These were all part of the Disney core values—not respect for the individual.  

So, what you find when you tear it apart is the real punchline is this. It doesn’t matter what core values you have. It matters that you have core values, that you preserve them over time, that you are passionately committed to them, and that you align your behaviors and your organizational practices and structures and strategies with those core values. 

Now, I find this disturbing because I believe deeply in my own core values and that I should live them, but that does not necessarily mean that there is any one universally right set of core values, at least in the world of building great companies and great organizations. The question for you is not, What core value should you have? but What core values do you have and you hold down to your tippy-tippy toes?

Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.