Vision Building Part 2: Core Values

By: Jeff Gardner

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on developing vision for your organization. This series is written by Jeff Gardner using the Collins-Porras Vision Framework. You can read Part 1 here. 

Core values are the fundamental set of beliefs that your organization holds as absolute. This is how you behave as an organization. Your core values should not be aspirational. You must believe in your core values and you must live them—personally and organizationally. They are non-negotiable and are used to create the behavioral expectations of your team. You will utilize your core values to select your people, develop your people and remove people from your team when necessary.

Core values are essential to an organization because they provide guideposts by which to navigate. Martin Luther King’s stated core values included Equality, Faith, Love and Nonviolence. If someone in his organization was to become a violent protester, they would have contradicted the stated core value of nonviolence and would therefore not have been supported by Dr. King. By communicating his core values, everyone was crystal clear on what values must be held true by everyone in the organization.

In one of my businesses, Honor was one of our core values. In our early years, we found out that our lead salesperson, who was generating more than half of our new revenue, was coming in early and taking new sales leads before the sales manager had a chance to equitably distribute the leads.

My head of sales asked, “What should we do?”

I responded, “What do you think we should do?”

He reminded me, “I think the right thing to do is to let him go. However, we are in the middle of raising capital and if we let our best salesperson go, we will likely fall behind our sales goal and risk raising capital.”

I shared, “And if we keep him, we violate a core value and our people will forever think we are full of it.”

As bad as this situation was, it created an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our belief system. Not only did we walk this person out the door 10 minutes later, but when we told the team, they expressed gratitude and a commitment to deliver. In the end, they beat our sales numbers by 25%.

Never sacrifice your core values.

Keep it simple

Every one of your people should be able to talk about your core values at any time. I used to meet with people and ask them what their favorite core value was, and why. I would also ask who they thought most exemplified that core value (besides themselves, of course). These fun and robust conversations helped keep our core values front and center.

For everyone to know the core values, you need to keep them simple. Aim for 3–5 core values. Any more than that and people will not remember them, and you will lose impact.


Airbnb Core Values

  • Be a host
  • Champion the mission
  • Be a cereal entrepreneur
  • Embrace the adventure

Gusto Core Values

  • Ownership mentality
  • Don’t optimize for the short term
  • We are all builders
  • Go the extra mile
  • Do what’s right
  • Be transparent

GoDaddy Core Values

  • Be extraordinary
  • Own outcomes
  • Join forces
  • Work fearlessly
  • Live passionately

Adobe Core Values

  • Genuine
  • Exceptional
  • Innovative
  • Involved

USAA Core Values

  • Service
  • Loyalty
  • Honesty
  • Integrity

If you are looking for a way to make your core values easy to remember, consider using alliteration or an acronym. (A word of caution: forcing your core values into an acronym for the sake of it, is a huge mistake. Find your core values first, then see if you can work them into a memory-jogging tool.)


At PaySimple, there are many PATHS:

  • Passion. Bring vibrant energy to everything you do.
  • Authenticity. Be honest and genuine.
  • Teamwork. Be supportive to one another.
  • Happiness. Exude happiness.
  • Service. Improve the lives of everyone you touch.

At ThrivePass, we CARE. We care about our team, we care about our customers, and we care about all of our interactions.

  • Be Courageous – Have the confidence to think differently, innovate, and act.
  • Be Authentic – Embrace vulnerability be open, honest, and true with yourself and others.
  • Be Resourceful – Go above and beyond to create opportunities and solutions.
  • Be Excellent – Hold yourself accountable and always deliver your best.

Spread the word

In Part 1 of this series on vision-setting, we discussed the importance of sharing your organization’s purpose with everyone, to make it stick. Similarly, you will need to share your core values across the company and with everyone who interacts with your business. By reiterating and reinforcing your core values, you will demonstrate your commitment to them and increase the chances of them sticking and making a meaningful difference.

Next up in this series: Part 3, Mission

Jeff is the former CEO of ZenPlanner, a Mainsail portfolio company. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at JobNimbus and Fullbay.
More by Jeff Gardner
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