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Business owners often come to me, frustrated about their teams. They tell me that something isn’t quite right. They are having to spend lots of time managing their employees, leaving time and energy for little else. It’s sadly quite common for SME business owners and managers, to consider their employees to be the most significant risk to their business.

Common Symptoms

In situations like these, there are some common symptoms:

1) Communication throughout the business tends to be one-directional; from the top down.

2) The business tends to value skill over behaviour (how good is a person as at their job vs how well they behave).

3) There will be a rigid work schedule in place (for example, a ‘be at your desk’ policy) because the management doesn’t trust their employees to function otherwise.

4) The employees work for the weekend; they come in on a Monday morning complaining about being back at work, and by Wednesday, they are already thinking about next weekend.

As a business owner, if you can relate to some of these symptoms, chances are, you do not have adequately defined core values. As a result, the culture inside your business may not be quite right and even possibly toxic.

Over the past twenty years, the terms ‘core values’ and ‘company culture’ have become more prevalent. However, they are still something generally associated with big corporate businesses. SME’s, however, tend to struggle because they don’t put these guidelines in place; owners then often find themselves confused as to why they don’t have the team that they want.

What Are Core Values?

Core values are a handful of rules and guiding principles, which are put in place to influence behaviour. Most importantly, however, they are your rules for your business.

As a business owner, you need to identify what the core values for your company are, then get them written down. Too often, I come across businesses who have gone to the trouble of writing core values, but then keep them hidden in a drawer. Get them written down, get them displayed; if you do not communicate your core values to your team, then surprise, nothing will ever change! Unfortunately, once your core values are shared throughout the company, your work is not done.

At this stage, it’s common to realise that you have already hired many people without taking core values into account. There may be a mismatch. Typically, you might say that time and adversity are the best tests as to whether a person is a culture fit or not, but this takes time. I’m sure you don’t want to have to wait until the next recession to act.

Try These Basic Tests

For that reason, there are three necessary tests to identify if your core values are alive within your organisation.

1) Are you prepared to fire an offender? Let’s say you have got your core values: Trust, respect, teamwork. If somebody violates these core values, are you going to fire them?

Many people hesitate when I ask this question. They tell me ‘it’s easy for you to say that we’ve had to pay recruitment fees’; they come out with numerous reasons as to why they can’t do it.

The reality is that you need to take ownership and be prepared to fire the offender; otherwise, your core values are worthless.

2) Are you prepared to take a financial hit? Let’s say your best salesperson, who is bringing a lot of money into the business, is violating your core values left, right and centre. Are you prepared to get rid of them, to take the financial hit and rebuild?

3) Are your core values alive amongst your people today? Many business owners get confused with this and think that their core values are something to aspire to meet and not for the company they are today. It doesn’t work like that. You have to make sure the people within your company are living your core values NOW; if they are not, then you have got the wrong team. If you have got the wrong team, then you are going to continue to deal with the symptoms we discussed earlier.


How do you know when you have got it right?

You will have a fantastic atmosphere in your business; there will be open communication, with no hiding things.

As a manager, you won’t dread speaking with your employees, and you will actually like hanging out with them; you will see your employees as being your biggest asset.

You will have a team which you can empower to get results, and you will not have to micromanage them. This is because they will already have a good attitude and the attributes to do the right thing.

You will be freer with their time; it won’t be a be out how many hours they have worked, it will be about how effective they are when they come into work.

Your employees will be doing something that they love; they will not just be thinking about the weekend because they will be enjoying their working week.

There will be genuine honesty within the business and one standard; there won’t be the hypocrisy of ‘these people do one thing, and these people do another’. Your team will be united; they will be as one. Having core values in place will have encouraged you to hire people based on their behaviour, rather than skill because you can always teach skills. 

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great (https://www.jimcollins.com/books.html), talks about your first twenty hires being the most important. This isn’t the first 20 people that you hire ever, but the first 20 people that you hire and align to your core values. If you get those 20 people right, they will scale up your organisation and become the keepers of your culture. They will help you with recruitment and ensure that your business continues to operate the way you intend.

That all sounds great, doesn’t it?

So, if you’re interested in finding more about core values, company culture, the pathway to determining these things and how to make them alive in your organisation – get in contact.

Remember, failing to learn is learning to fail.

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