C is for Concentrating On Your Core Values  

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Can you recall a situation when you concentrated on your core values to do creative work or tackle a challenge? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have been doing satisfying work, leading a project, recovering from a setback, dealing with an illness or managing a transition. You may have been facing a crisis or been surrounded by chaos.

What did you do to stay calm, buy time and give yourself chance to recentre? How did you then focus on your core values? How did you use these as a guiding compass?

How did you translate these into a clear vision? How did you establish clarity – the real results to achieve? How did you clarify the strategies you wanted to follow? How did you then translate these into action plans and achieve visible results?

People sometimes adopt this approach when working to achieve peak performance. Sometime they adopt it when dealing with painful problems.

Vulnerability can be a great teacher. Sometimes we learn about our deepest values during such times. Sometimes we also apply these lessons in the future.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you concentrated on your core values, translated these into a clear vision and achieved visible results.

Describe the specific things you did then to concentrate on these steps.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

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Individuals Can Focus
On Their Core Values

Imagine that a person is facing a crisis. They will obviously need to stabilise the situation and stop things haemorrhaging. They may then try to buy time to consider the potential strategies for going forwards, rather than rush into knee jerk reactions.

Good decision makers recognise that choices have consequences. They therefore explore: a) The possible options for going forwards; b) The pluses and minuses of each option; c) The attractiveness of each option; d) The other potential creative solutions.

They then take time to reflect. Sometimes this reflection takes only a few minutes; sometimes it calls for sleeping on the decision; sometimes it takes longer.

Good decision makers settle on their chosen option. They clarify the key strategies they can follow to achieve the goal and translate these into a clear action plan. They then implement the plan and do whatever is required to achieve success.

Such people often base their decisions on an internal guiding compass. They may focus on their moral compass, spiritual faith or personal credo. They root their decisions in their basic beliefs.

Some people use their core values as a guiding compass. An individual may buy time to reflect and ask the following questions.

What are my core values? What do I believe is important in life? What is my lifetime picture of success? What are the things I want people to be saying, thinking and feeling about what I did during my life?

How can I follow my values to achieve these things? What are the strategies I can follow? How can I translate these values into action? How can I do my best to achieve this picture of success?  

Different people apply this approach in different ways. One person explained their experience in the following way.

“Ten years ago our family was hit by several setbacks. My wife suffered a serious illness. My job also came under threat, so our income was threatened.

“My first reaction was to simply want everything to be like it was before. But then I realised that things had changed forever. We could give up or learn to manage the new reality.

“We spent some time exploring what we believed was important in life. These included our health, being together as a family and ensuring the kids had a good future.

“These sound obvious, but the setbacks taught us to go back to this base. We then moved into action.

“Starting to research my wife’s illness, we scoured the web for information and met with patient groups. This paid dividends. She eventually chose a specific form of treatment with a fine doctor.

“We also took stock of our assets – our finances, relationships, professional contacts and other resources. We soon realised how wealthy we were in real terms.

“We explored the possibility of downshifting. This would mean moving to another part of the country, perhaps near my wife’s parents, and starting a different kind of life.

“My wife recovered and my job survived. But we also heeded the lessons. One year later we moved closer to her parents. She returned to part time teaching, which she loves, and I set up my own business.

“Our daughter likes living in the country and has started doing part time work at a stable. Our son changed his chosen subjects at university. Rediscovering his youthful idealism, he plans to become an environmental journalist.”

Organisations Can Focus
On Their Core Values

Some organisations use their core values as a guiding compass. They then focus on how to live these values to perform good work or manage during times of chaos.

Johnson & Johnson, for example, has sometimes followed this approach successfully. Sometimes it has failed to follow its stated values.

Let’s start with the positive example, which is the famous Tylenol case. Below is a brief overview of what happened. You can discover more via the following link.


In 1982 several batches of its Tylenol medication were found to have been injected with cyanide. Despite the loss of earnings involved, the company immediately withdrew every packet of Tylenol from the market.

Why did Johnson & Johnson act so quickly? The company said that it returned to the first line of its Credo. This read:

We believe our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.

The company put its long-term reputation before short-term cash and withdrew Tylenol from the shelves.

Johnson & Johnson prepared for such moments. During the 1970s it involved its employees in a programme called The Credo Challenge. People were invited:

To envisage specific situations that might challenge the Credo. 

To explore how to follow the Credo in such situations.

To then consider whether the company could actually be true to its Credo.

If people found it was possible to follow the guidelines, then the Credo should be published. If not, then there was little point in just using it as a PR exercise.

Johnson & Johnson found that the Credo withstood robust challenges. They therefore chose to use it as their guide during difficult situations. This led to the company being lauded for its ethical approach.

Johnson & Johnson has since fallen from grace. Professor Michael Santoro of Rutgers Business School wrote an article on this theme for Medical Marketing and Media.

The article outlines the mistakes that have been made and the litigation that followed. Michael also explores whether it would be valuable for Johnson & Johnson to challenge it credo again. Here is a link to the article.


The core values approach was one I drew on when working with leadership teams during the recession. We worked through the following steps to help the organisation to shape its future course.


Good leaders are like good parents. They are positive and predictable rather than negative and unpredictable. They also stay calm and buy time to make good decisions during crises.

The leaders I worked with were positive realists. Whilst having a positive attitude, they were good at reading reality. They sat down together and focused on the following themes.

The specific things we can do to manage the crisis. 

The specific strategies we can follow to build a successful future.

The specific things we can do to encourage our people, communicate the action plan and get some quick successes.

Good leaders recognise they are always on stage. So it was vital for the leaders to stay calm, treat people like adults but also outline a specific plan.

Different leaders do this in different ways. The ones I worked with asked questions under the following headings.

Values, Vision and Visible Results

What are the core values we want to follow in our work? Why do we believe it is important to follow these values? What will be the pluses and minuses of living these values? Are we serious? Are we really prepared to follow these values?

What are the real results we want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What are the key strategies we can follow to give ourselves the greatest chance of success? How can we give our people the support they need to do the job? How can we anticipate and manage any potential challenges?

How can we translate these strategies into specific action plans? How can we make clear contracts about who is responsible for delivering what and by when? How can we perform superb work? How can we help our people to deliver the required concrete results? How can we get some quick successes?


The leaders also rehearsed the key communications with their people. Before presenting to people, they asked some of the following things. 

What are the results we want to achieve by making this communication? What are the actual things we want people to be saying, thinking and feeling afterwards? How can we do our best to achieve these results? 

How can we be calm and clear when we communicate? How can we treat people like adults? How can we give people context and explain the big picture? How can we describe the strategies we aim to follow? How can we explain the rationale behind the strategies?

What are the key messages we want to give people? How can we give these messages in a way that people can accept and use? How can we communicate with people in a real and human way? What are the questions people may ask? How can we answer these questions?

How do we want to conclude the session? How can we encourage people to take the next steps towards achieving the goals? How can we deliver some quick successes?

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to focus on your core values, translate these into a clear vision and achieve visible results? You may want to explore these themes when making a key decision, doing a piece of creative work or dealing with a crisis.

 If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to concentrate on your core values, translate these into a clear vision and achieve visible results.

Describe the specific things you can do then to concentrate on these steps.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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