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A Guiding Star During Coronavirus: Your Company Values

A Guiding Star During Coronavirus: Your Company Values

by Nate Dvorak and Jessica Schatz

Story Highlights

  • Having a cultural "true north" is a business necessity
  • Allow your core values to guide tough decisions
  • Customers and employees prize values-driven decisions

Leaders are facing constant disruption.

To keep their people focused, strong leaders start every decision-making process with a spotlight on their organization's mission or purpose (why their organization exists) and its culture and values (how work gets done).

Starting every decision this way not only sharpens decisions but also creates a blueprint for strategic decision-making.

Examples of this type of leadership have been on display in the news during the past few weeks.

Portillo's Hot Dogs has seen a 20% drop in revenue because of the pandemic -- and CEO Michael Osanloo is proud of that number, considering the circumstances.


He calls it a "relative success story" in the current business climate:

"Osanloo has been impressed with the way his team has responded to all of the pivots that have been required across the brand's footprint. They will roll out initiatives in the morning and have them up and running at each store by the afternoon."

How did they do this? "Our core values are family, greatness, energy and fun," Osanloo said, "and those concepts have guided everything that we've done as an organization." So, for example, when stores in certain markets weren't required to close for dine-in, Portillo's did anyway -- because it was "the right thing to do" based on their values.

In the end, Osanloo points to leaning on those core values as a key success factor for his team. "If you're an organization that lacks a 'true north' in values, you don't know exactly what your goals are, and that's going to hurt you."

That is sound advice. So, do you know what your organization's core values are?

Only 41% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for, and only 27% strongly agree that they believe in their organization's values.

Culture is a huge opportunity for most leaders.

Clearly defined organizational values underpin your workplace culture. They're essential to achieving employee and customer engagement -- but only 26% of U.S. workers believe their organization always delivers on the promises it makes to customers.

The decisions your organization makes today will affect how people see your company for years to come.

In one Gallup case study, a financial institution increased its net profit by 85% in a five-year period by undergoing a culture transformation process that started with clarifying its core values.

The client was unstable after the Great Recession. Challenges included turnover in top leadership, a demanding global operating environment and systems overwhelmed by rapid growth into new markets.

Gallup analytics determined that the client needed to begin by building its organizational culture, starting with defining a set of core values. The client then used those values to guide all organizational efforts moving forward -- from its talent management strategy to its employee recognition practices and customer experience programs.

Identifying and clarifying an organization's values, purpose, mission and vision are critical to developing its unique cultural identity. That identity enables company leaders to focus on those shared values when making decisions. While this matters every day, it is especially important during times of disruption.

Leaders, it's time to highlight and reinforce your organization's identity.

  1. Start with your organization's mission and purpose to establish a clear set of company values.

As a leader during a crisis, your followers look to you for trust, compassion, stability and hope. They want to know that you have a clear plan of action for everything. So, remind them of your company's purpose and core values, and explain how you'll use those values to guide the tough choices you need to make along the way.

  1. Use your organization's identity to help guide your decisions, including how you handle your workforce, your customers and your contributions to the community.

Now, as you make decisions, consult your values for inspiration. When you get to the tough choices, rely on your organizational identity and values to guide the "why" behind what you decide to do.

  1. Communicate about the decisions you've made, underscoring why you made them, by pointing to the mission your organization serves and the values you uphold.

Allow your values to be the strong support everyone needs during times of crisis by reminding your teams about them in regular communications. This is a huge opportunity, as only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization's values to their work every day.

Is wellbeing a core value for your organization? If so, cite that value as a source of inspiration for office closures, or work-from-home policies, or the decision to continue payroll despite no work for an interim period. Express how each of these choices relates to protecting the wellbeing of your employees, your customers or your community. Are you offering free content so that the community has access to essential information? Make that clear in your communications -- that the offering is about community wellbeing (and not about marketing).

The decisions your organization makes today will affect how people see your company for years to come. When those decisions are predicated on company values, your organization reinforces and clearly communicates its identity.

And your customers aren't the only ones who will remember the choices you make now. Your employees will too, including your future hires. Those lasting memories are what will follow and potentially define your brand for years to come.

Make great decisions that will be remembered after COVID-19:


Jessica Schatz is a Content Editor at Gallup.

Shannon Mullen O'Keefe contributed to this article.

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