Core values help organizations develop a roadmap to success. Harvard Business Review defines core values as “the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.” But when is the best time for the leadership to install these core values? And how do you determine what your values actually are?

If a company is interested in acquiring your business, they’ll want to know what your values are – and if you’re looking to buy a company, you’ll want to know the same about the company you hope to purchase. At Indian River Advisors, we work with clients to help maximize enterprise value and to prepare them to enter into transactions. Indian River was founded to combine corporate development consulting and investment banking services to help companies amplify corporate competitive advantage, profitability, and enterprise value. Our unique valuation assessment program measures current corporate worth and identifies any issues affecting that worth – and identifying core values are an essential part of this work.

In “Words to Live By: 5 Steps to Choosing Your Team’s Core Values,” Forbes highlights how values can help unify a team – informing hiring decisions, setting high standards, and helping people work together toward shared goals. The author suggests five steps for developing your team’s core values.

First, determine who should be involved in developing your team’s core values. Are you a full time employee who runs a team of part-time folks? Are you the team-leader in a family-owned business? Are all managers involved in this process? Do you want every employee to have a say? “But above everything,” the author writes, “make sure all the decision makers you involve are on the same page.” Everyone at the company should be committed to the values, which will set a foundation as you move your company forward.

Second, brainstorm. Brainstorming is an excellent opportunity for taking the pulse of your organization. Do you already share the same working values? Are your employees and colleagues able to state values you couldn’t see by yourself? This exercise will give you insight about what individuals at the company find to be essential – and it also creates a sense of buy-in as people feel heard.

Third, consolidate. Brainstorming is fun, but you’ll probably end up with more values than you can count – and too many values can lead to a lack of focus. Often, many of the brainstormed values will point to a larger, umbrella value. For example – “listening to the customer,” “putting the customer first,” “knowing what the customer wants” all point to the importance of a client-centered business. While “being trusted,” “not being questioned about how I spend my time,” “being heard when I offer new ideas” all point to running a business with empowered employees.

Fourth, frame your values. It’s imperative that your core values match your company’s ethic and feel. If you have a formal company structure, the values should be expressed in more formal language. If you’re more laid back, how you express your values should reflect that. Personalize your core values; don’t just fall into corporate speak that sounds like every other business out there.

Fifth, evaluate. Once you’ve developed your list of values, take a careful look at them. Do they feel right? Are you willing to hold yourself to them? Are they substantive or is it just a bunch of bland executive speak that sounds good on paper but doesn’t match what you beliefe? Remember – these values will help set the course for your company’s future. They need to reflect what matters to your company now and point you toward what you hope it will become.

But here’s the trick: you can’t just start talking about values that don’t exist at your company and hope they will show up. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Make Your Values Mean Something,” Patrick M. Lencioni tells a story about a business leader who realized his employees were “complacent as hell.” So he named “A Sense of Urgency” as one of his company’s values. But it doesn’t work like that. “A sense of urgency,” in his case, was a hope – not a value.

Core values are essential for business success. Do you know what your business’s core values are? Do your colleagues? Your employees? Are the values aspirations – or do they actually reflect what’s happening at your company? If you’d like to discuss core values – or maximizing enterprise value more generally – please contact Marshall Graham, the founder and Managing Partner of Indian River Advisors, at (202) 494-0360 or email him at graham@ir-advisors.com. Marshall has over 30 years of experience as an investment banker and corporate development consultant. He founded Indian River because he recognized that few middle market firms were well prepared to enter into a corporate transaction. Part of that preparation includes understanding your core values or the values of the company you’re considering purchasing. Marshall looks forward to working with you.