6 Core Values Exercises for Defining Your Company’s Ethics Culture

6 Core Values Exercises for Determining Your Company's Ethics Culture

Defining your company’s core values shows both employees and customers your top priorities. Use a core values exercise to discover yours.

61 per cent of employees say they choose (or avoid) employers based on their values and beliefs. If your organization’s core values aren’t clear, or if they’re not-so-ethical, you could be driving top talent away.

Your company’s core values tell both internal and external stakeholders what you consider important, as well as how you operate.  But you can’t just slap down any old buzzwords and call it a values statement. A core values exercise helps you figure out your top priorities for day-to-day operations. Below, you’ll find six exercises that will help you determine your corporate values.

Need help getting started?

Watch this webinar with ethics expert, psychologist, author, and speaker Chris Bauer to learn how to write a values statement that encourages ethical behavior.

Watch the Webinar

What are Core Values?

Before you can define your organization’s core values, you must understand what core values are.

According to ethics expert, psychologist, author and speaker Chris Bauer, core values are your company’s “most persistent, most important priorities.” They are the “rules [you] follow when no one is looking” and “who [you] really are as opposed to who [you] . . . say [you] are.”

These definitions apply to personal values, but to your company’s as well. You need to determine the three to five things that are non-negotiable when it comes to employee behavior and how you conduct business, inside and outside the office.

Core values should:

  • Show employees how to behave and make decisions
  • Express what it means to be a part of your organization
  • Form your organization’s identity and are the heart of its culture
  • Stay consistent even if management changes

So, what are some examples of core values? Depending on your organization and its branding and mission, your values might include things like:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Teamwork
  • Accountability
  • Inclusion
  • Respect
  • Customer focus
  • Continuous learning

Once you’ve determined your core values, compile them into a values statement. This sentence or paragraph, says Bauer,“articulates the beliefs behind the company’s goals and mission” to “remind employees and the general public what the company stands for, its ethical philosophy, and its culture.”

Why Defining Your Company’s Core Values is Essential

You may be thinking: “What’s the point of having core values?”

Core values define your company’s image to external stakeholders such as customers and investors, as well as employees. They also provide guidelines for behavior and decision-making.

Bauer notes that your values do the following:

  • show both internal and external stakeholders your most important and persistent priorities
  • let employees immediately and effectively evaluate their own behavior and that of their colleagues
  • help employees make decisions when there are no other guidelines or protocol to follow
  • get everyone on the same page in regards to management, leadership, and customer service decisions
  • build and maintain customers’ trust

While core values reflect what your organization is now, they should also provide insight into where it’s going in the future. Your values should apply to all employees equally, yet inspire even the most accomplished worker to improve on their skills. When employees know what it means to excel in your organization, they’ll work more efficiently and ethically and feel more satisfied in the workplace.

Ready to define your core values? A core values exercise helps you figure out the values you want to present to the world as representing your brand. Complete one or a few of the core values exercises below to illustrate the culture you want for your company.

6 Core Values Exercises

1. Understand Your Company’s Image

Before you can determine your core values, you need to understand your company’s image. This includes your internal image for employees and external image for customers. Knowing how you appear (or want to appear) makes it easier to figure out what is important to your organization.

For this exercise, ask:

  • What makes your company unique?Compare it with competitors in the same industry and companies in other industries. What makes your organization stand out from the crowd?
  • What problems are you working to solve? What do you want to achieve for your employees and for your customers? What solutions can you provide to customers?
  • What do people think of when they hear your company’s name? What feelings or thoughts do you want them to have? Are these the same?
  • What does good work look like in your company? What qualities should employees and finished projects possess? Define what work ethic, progress, and success look like in your workplace.

Discuss questions like these in a working group made up of managers and executives. Come up with a list of values based on the image you’ve defined, then run it by employees at all levels for feedback to finalize the values statement.

2. Identify What’s Important

For this core values exercise, choose a group of employees to brainstorm what they think is important to your company. Include employees from different departments, levels, and tenure in order to get a complete picture of their ideas.

Determining what is important and not important to your organization ensures your core values are relevant, focused, and unique to you. Ask each member to answer the following questions, then compare answers.

What are the top five:

  • most important qualities in a [company name] employee?
  • least important, or five qualities that are detrimental to performance at [company name]?
  • stand-out things that your organization does to shape employees’ career paths?

The answers to these questions will reveal the core values that you will never compromise on. Not only will you discover where you company is right now, but also where you are going and where you do not want to go.

To hone your values even further, conduct this exercise again, this time with just managers and C-suite executives. Compare their answers to the employees’. If they don’t match, consider why this miscommunication has occurred, how to correct it, and which set of values is more representative of your organization.

Ready for the Next Step?

After you’ve identified your company’s core values, revise your policies and procedures to reflect them. Our free policies and procedures template can help you get started.

Download the Template

3. Focus Your Values

When defining your organization’s core values, you may find it hard to focus. There are many attributes that you want your employees and organization to have, so how do you choose which ones to prioritize?

For this company core values exercise, work with a group of employees to focus your organization’s values. First, ask employees to brainstorm any values they think fit with your brand. Then, choose the top 10 words or phrases that resonate with your company.

Next, separate those into groups based on common theme (e.g. kindness, courtesy, compassion; balance and well-being). Choose the one value from each group that your organization would never compromise on.

From the smaller list, select the three to five values that are the most important to your company. These are values that you would fight for, hire and fire people for, and take or decline business deals for. Make sure your core values are clear, easy to understand for employees at every level, and specific to your work.

An example of this exercise could look like this:

4. Uncover Shared Values

Many executives have a personal set of core values, even if their company doesn’t. Ask your owners, founders, executives, and/or managers about the core values they follow in their careers. Take note of the words or phrases that are repeated and consider turning those into the organization’s core values. Choosing values that are already shared makes instilling them into your culture easier and smoother.

Want to make this core values exercise more inclusive? Send out surveys to random employees at all levels. While you may not choose to use lower-level employees’ values for the whole organization (they may not have a strong grasp of the company’s vision and goals), they may offer perspectives or ideas you hadn’t considered for your values statement.

5. Link Values to Behaviors

Defining your values is important, but how do you practice your core values and apply them to your work?

In this exercise, write a short description for each value with a specific example linking it back to employee behavior. You could also demonstrate a core value by describing what not to do.

For example, if you you might choose teamwork as one of your core values. You could link this value to behavior by saying, “We will help teammates when they are struggling on a project.” Or, you could say, “We will not put personal achievement ahead of team success.”

Having these concrete examples also makes it easier to create training programs, a code of conduct, and a code of ethics that work hand-in-hand with your values statement.

6. Review Your Core Values

Determining your core values isn’t a one-time exercise. In order to see if your values still fit with your organization and the path it’s going in, you need to reassess your values statement every few years.


  • Which values are you falling short on?
  • Are there any values that no longer feel relevant? Will they still be relevant decades in the future?
  • Would you be willing to uphold each value even if it put your company at a disadvantage (e.g. financial, ethical, competitive)?

Before you get rid of a core value, though, try changing employees’ behavior to fit it. Revise your code of conduct or code of ethics, or create or edit relevant training programs. Equipped with the right tools, employees may uphold your core values better. If you’re still falling short after another year or two, consider permanently revising your values statement.

Not quite ready to start the process yet?

Keep our core values exercises cheat sheet handy for when you need a quick refresher, or to use later.

Get the Cheat Sheet

How Case IQ Can Help

If you’re still simply reacting to ethics incidents and other misconduct, you’re putting your organization, your employees, and your reputation at risk.

Case IQ’s powerful case management software lets you analyze historic case data so you can take preventive measures, reducing future incidents.

Case IQ is a flexible and configurable solution that can be integrated with your existing reporting systems and third-party hotlines, ensuring no reports slip through the cracks.

Learn more about how Case IQ can reduce resolution time and improve your organization’s investigations here.