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Core Values – Do They Really Matter?

So, how do companies like Patagonia rise above? How do they actually create a culture that lives and breathes ethical behavior guided by a core set of values – and do so sustainably and profitably? It can’t be easy, right? You might be asking, “Who leads such transformation?” “Would my company’s people widely adopt a core-values initiative?”

“How would we measure success?” “How long and how much money would it take?” These are all valid C-suite questions. But if this is what’s swirling around in your head, you’re looking at this challenge from the wrong angle.

It’s time to stop looking outward and start looking inward.

Patagonia Founder, Yvon Chouinard, is the son of a French Canadian handyman and an avid climber, surfer, and environmentalist. He started Patagonia simply to create better equipment and clothing for the life he led. Baked into that lifestyle was a profound respect for nature. This became the ethos of his company. As Chouinard matured as the company’s first CEO, his belief system drove innovation, attracted the right people and customers (those aligned with his values), and resulted in tremendous growth. If you want to study what it looks like to have well-defined core values embedded into the DNA of a company, read a couple of Chouinard’s books. I recommend Let My People Go Surfing and The Responsible Company to start.

A specific and unique set of core values inform Patagonia’s culture. These values guide everything and everyone at the company. When team members discovered the cotton used to make Patagonia’s clothing was grown and harvested with harmful chemicals and unsustainable practices, they quickly shifted to organic cotton. Anyone in manufacturing would cringe at the complexity of this type of change. At the time, such a shift was unprecedented, but that didn’t stop Chouinard’s team. Once they realized regular cotton clashed with their core values, the decision was clear and swift. Everyone at every level in the company supported the move, despite the challenges. CEO, Yvon Chouinard, was not only on board; he led the charge. And that is exactly how Patagonia rises above and creates a high-performance culture. Living and breathing Patagonia’s values begins at the top.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “While Chouinard’s idealism is all well and good, he was a founder. He was able to shape Patagonia’s values and culture from the beginning. I’m not a founder. I’ve also got to deal with my board, our investors, a global pandemic, and an ever-shifting economy. I’m an ethical person, and I believe in certain values, but don’t have a life’s passion like Chouinard.”

Keep thinking that way and you’re not likely to get very far – but more on that later. Satya Nadella is a great example of someone who is successfully orchestrating transformative change around a new set of values at Microsoft. There are many others.

Whether or not your organization has exposed core values, they can and do matter if the people at the top lead the charge.

For more information on how to create and integrate core values into our culture watch this video series –


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