Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Why Core Values Matter

Core values, does anyone care anymore? Taken from the corporate playbook, core values seem to have gone the way of mission and vision statements: quaintly nice but meaningless. Relegated to dusty shelves holding the rest of our good intentions, core values seem to be just more marketing-speak meant to convince us of the reality we’d like to believe rather than the one we actually encounter on the street.


Call me old-fashioned or perhaps idealistic, but I believe that core values are not only incredibly important, still relevant, and worth pursuing; I believe they are alive and well in that portion of the universe not jaded by the darker elements of capitalism’s excesses. The act of declaring core values is the first step toward marking yourself or your organization as standing for something specific. Simply having core values means that you took the time to care and capture some collection of attributes you believe to be meaningful. At their minimum, core values reveal what the sharer believes the observer values; at their maximum, core values embody the essence of a person or organization and a collective aspiration to his, her, or its best version.

The problem with core values comes when they are made meaningless by a failure to exhibit them in how we behave. When we don’t live our core values in our choices, words, and actions, we relegate them to empty words said or written out of duty or worse, a deliberate intent to manipulate. In this place, they are worse than never having been written or said, they become a caricature of intent and render us empty purveyors of rhetoric. Don’t we all feel so completely done with empty rhetoric?

Real Efforts

But when they are lived, when they are more than words but are brought to life in attitude and deed, they become powerful. Here, they not only reflect our best intentions but our very real efforts to actualize them. The words “real efforts” are used here because we will inevitably fall short of our highest ideals in some fashion. Stating our core values is the capturing of intent. Living them is an ongoing struggle to be what we view as the best version of our self. To be human is to fail, but even here, our core values re-emerge and affirm that, even in failure, our values mean something and signal us as different. They mean everything as we work to realign our attitude and recalibrate our actions. Powerful.

I founded Northwind Pharmaceuticals with a higher ideal in mind. At first, that ideal was a bit fuzzy – it was merely an inclination to a standard of thought and behavior. Collecting a few notions of my own higher ideal, I created a list and put it on the shelf, occasionally dusting it off. Over time, I realized that those ideals, those values, began to re-emerge in the choices I made. They appeared in the conviction of regret amid poor choices, the whisper of conscience amid questionable choices, and the thundering certitude of good choices. The fuzziness disappeared as my own conviction in those values appeared, win or lose, consistently in my behavior and that of my team. In this sense, they were lived first, then written into our DNA. A core values-driven culture is not a point of arrival but an ongoing journey.

Yours, Mine, and Theirs

Core values matter, not just mine or my company’s, but also yours and all of those with whom you do business. Your core values express your worldview and reflect your DNA. They inform your decisions and signal to all of those around you what is expected and what they can expect. If you don’t live by them, that sends a message as well. For those with whom you work, how they express and live their own core values becomes a barometer for the value they provide regardless of competency. In this sense, you may work with a competent supplier who becomes incompetent, or unreliable, at that edge where an empty or fluid set of core values tips into the relativistic purgatory of situational justification. A place where what was exhibited before melts away in the face of the opportunistic or expeditious. It is here that capitalism is skewered in the selfish motivations that plague all of humanity in its worst moments.

Watch closely now, are you watching me now?” So sings Kris Kristofferson in 1976’s A Star is Born. Hear what I say, but watch what I do. What are those around you saying and doing? What do they claim and what do they deliver? The platitudes of marketing-speak and manipulations of the moment will fade alongside the definite and consistent actions that reflect the convictions of one’s core values. Or, they will reveal a set of core values, written or not, that may not align with yours.  In a world of “me-too,” “also ran,” and “been there, done that,” what really makes a person or a company different? Yes, we need competency, but core values really do matter.

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