One of the central elements used by many companies to help simplify and tell what the company stands for in a way that generates commitment is through a list of stated core values or what I call Commitment Beliefs.

Jeff Kubina via Flickr

Now, it’s quite possible you’ve worked for an organization that’s hung a list of impressive sounding attributes on a wall somewhere and said here’s what we stand for. Maybe you’ve done this in your business.

Of course, for this to be anything more than an exercise you have to live your beliefs. That’s why stories are so important; they become tangible illustrations of what’s real.

Funny thing is every company has a set of core beliefs – some positive, some negative. It’s a lot like your brand, you can’t really hide it or fake it because ultimately is comes through in who you’re being, how the leadership team treats employees and customers, how you respond to adversity.

The key to tapping and leveraging your core beliefs is to find a way to capture the best of what your organization stands for and create, instill and live those things as often as you can.

The process of uncovering a set of core beliefs can be a little frustrating and highly personal, but what about generating purpose isn’t?


The key to creating a great list of commitment beliefs is to throw off any notion of what they should be and simply brainstorm a bit about the best traits of your organization. Think about your people. Who on your team embodies what your company stands for?

Gather your leadership team, even if that’s just you, and spend some time pondering attributes that feel right, that inspire, that you’ve seen and heard used by staff and customers and record as many as you like. I know this will sound a little corny to some, but you’re looking for words and phrases that have to power to send a chill through the room.

You might even consider including a handful of customers in this exercise. Ask them to describe what they experience as a customer. You might be surprised how insightful some of their comments are.

Once you have a list that seems comprehensive it’s time to start paring it down to the most essential elements that are true beliefs. There is no perfect number, but as you move to make these beliefs the foundation of your message and story, there’s a case to be made for less is more. Strive for six or seven candidates for the final list.

Once more for emphasis. This is not a list of what ought to be or what sounds impressive. This is a list of what is, even if what is today isn’t as fully developed as you know it can be.

For example here’s a list for my organization

  1. Practice your magic – do what you preach
  2. Simplify everything – elegance over complexity
  3. Extend trust – give what you need to earn
  4. Make progress – failure is okay
  5. Everyone leads – teach and learn
  6. Create more – the value equation
  7. Be a gift – love each other

The idea behind these 7 elements is that we try to live them in our interactions with each other, our customers and the market as a whole – they become what we communicate as elements of our brand, but more importantly we use them to make decisions individually and as an organization.


Appletree Answers, a professional telephone answering service and call center headquartered in Delaware, has distilled their list to the following elements with detailed descriptions attached to each:

  • Employees are Critical
  • Think Like a Customer
  • Integrity Matters
  • Small Details are Huge
  • Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry
  • Take Care of Each Other
  • Spirited Fun

Company founder John Ratcliff admits that after creating the above list the elements remained little more than words on paper until he started finding way to drive them home repeatedly.

Ratcliff and other key leaders routinely visited Appletree’s eighteen locations to meet with staff employed there. Ratcliff started challenging members of these gatherings to recite the seven core values. He offered a $20 bill to the first person who could do it.

After seventeen meetings without a winner, a young man jumped up and recited the list verbatim. Ratcliff was so please he reached in his pocket and pulled out what ended up being $100 bill as a reward. Word spread quickly soon after and now everyone in the organization can readily recite the organization’s core values upon request.

Of course simply paying people to get closer to the words chosen to represent the core values isn’t what makes the pay for Appletree, it’s the shared language and actual decision making that’s come about through repeatedly emphasizing this set of words.

The core values show up everywhere at Appletree, including on applications completed by potential new hires.


The thing about anything you state as true, it’s your actions that make them so.

All the brainstorming sessions, all hands meetings and bronze plaques in the world won’t bring any life to your stated core values unless you live them and reinforce them in your everyday acts and decisions.

Your commitment beliefs must become part of the story that employees share with each other, with customers and with new hires.

Committing to this practice can prove to be expensive in the short run, but pay huge dividends in the long run.

Ratcliff recounts a story about an employee that was found to be effectively stealing through various practices of manipulating lead sources and falsifying reports. Appletree immediately let him go, but was faced with a bit of decision after a large sale that the employee had worked on came through creating a commission of several thousand dollars.

“We knew that no one in the organization would have faulted us for keeping that commission, but that was the point. The money was due him and in accord with our ‘Integrity Matters’ belief, we determined paying him was the right thing to do.”

Ratcliff claims that writing that check was hard at the time, but doing so did more to bring life to the plank of integrity than any amount of words could do.

So, have you crystallized your commitment beliefs? Care to share how these beliefs impact your organization?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Some great stuff in here, particularly the importance of telling stories and brainstorming around this.

    At Shirlaws we do a lot of work with companies around this area. As one new client said last week, “we need this, this is the fuel we need for our engine”.

    What is “this” though ? Having a set of values or beliefs is great, and having the stories and ideas that surround them adds strength.

    However, what is it that sits over the top of those values or beliefs and gives  them real strength ? At Shirlaws we call is the Intent of the business. Another way of putting it, as Simon Sinek puts it so well, is the “Why” of the business.

    Why does your business exist ? Clue. Your Intent isn’t about making money.

    When we are coaching businesses we work on both their Intent and their Values together. When we do this, we find companies can distil their values down to only three (no need to memorise seven or more), as aligning them to their Intent (often just one word) helps keep that brief.

    To me, Intent is one of the most powerful things a business can have… as well as one’s Personal Intent. It is that “fuel” for the engine, it helps drive alignment and energy.

    With the US economy looking more and more likely to stagnate at current levels for some time to come, if your business can only say “we’re in the business of making money”, it is quite possible you and your staff will run out of “fuel” for your “engine”.

    What is your “Why” ?

    • Thanks for the great comment Tom – this post of course can’t contain all of the context – it already ran to about 1000 works, but know that I firmly agree and quite frankly the notion of higher purpose is really the only thing that can inform these values. This post is part of the work I’m doing on a new book that I’m writing called The Commitment Engine and you’ll see that what you call intent is definitely at the heart of this process.

  • My organization is new, and I am still trying to think about how to list and instill those belief in my business.  But I am big on respect, integrity, and teaching, so my values will revolve around that.

  • It’s true though, making it is far easier than actually applying it in the workforce. For an idea to penetrate to each level, it must be practiced and instigated at all times.