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How many times have you visited a company boardroom and noticed an expensively framed and lavishly displayed mission statement or core values list? Ever wonder what percentage of employees can recite the words? Can explain the words? Are putting into practice behaviors aligned with the words?

Culture is extremely important to the C-suite, and for good reason — business research underscores that culture trumps virtually every other business discipline in driving organizational performance. But a 2013 survey released by revealed that only 42% of employees reported knowing their company’s mission statement, vision and values. What really makes all of those words come off the wall and into the brand culture of a business?

For more on what a brand actually is, check out Co-Principal Martin Thoma’s definition.

Thoma Thoma has been fortunate to work with businesses passionately committed to living their brands by investing in hiring protocols, training programs and recognition and rewards incentives that are tied to their core values and mission statement. An effective rewards program aligned with your mission statement and/or core values is key to bringing your brand to life and making it real, not only to your employees, but to your customers. Here are the principles and practices designed to drive success with rewards programs.

First, make sure your core values are the right core values.

The best core values statements are simple, direct and understandable. Too many companies have core values that are generic to the point of uselessness. “Deliver Great Service Everyday!” is not a core value. Who doesn’t value doing that? A core value should point to a definable difference in service delivery that defines it as being in line with your brand culture. For Ritz-Carlton that means being responsive to the expressed and unexpressed needs of the guest. For Zappos Shoes that means delivering WOW through service.

And less is more here. Southwest Airlines has a mere four core values, easy to remember, understand and act upon.

Southwest’s “Live the Southwest Way”

1. Warrior Spirit

  • Work hard
  • Desire to be the best
  • Be courageous
  • Display a sense of urgency
  • Persevere
  • Innovate

2. Servant’s Heart

  • Follow the Golden Rule
  • Adhere to the Basic Principles
  • Treat others with respect
  • Put others first
  • Be egalitarian
  • Demonstrate proactive customer service
  • Embrace the SWA Family

3. Fun-LUVing Attitude

  • Have FUN
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Maintain perspective (balance)
  • Celebrate successes
  • Enjoy your work
  • Be a passionate team player

4. Work the Southwest Way

  • Safety and Reliability
  • Friendly Customer Service
  • Low Cost
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Zappos has 10 (that’s an awful lot), but few companies spend as much time and money to train and live by those values. It’s paid off for them, but would be hard for many companies to succeed with.

Zappos Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Companies we work with tend to settle on five or six strong, vibrant core values that are truly relevant to keep their brand promise.

Now Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Do I sound like a broken record? Good! Because these core values have to be in your employees’ faces and spaces — every day. Your team needs education around them, concrete examples of behavior and just plain old reminders in order to really absorb the words and align behavior.

One of our clients put the core values on the digital readout of everyone’s desk phone. At Thoma, our core values are posted on the wall above our workflow and scheduling office white board.


Now you are ready to launch a Recognition Program around these core values.

Rolling out an employee incentive program around your core values and mission statement is super effective. We’ve helped clients of all sizes create vibrant programs that reward brand-centric behavior using core values. Common elements of all programs are:

  • Core values rollout celebration: This can be elaborate or simple. At Thoma, we rolled out our core values recognition program during a lunch, but our friends at Southern Bancorp did a series of events complete with pre-event teasers, messages from the CEO, and even a follow-up video to keep their employees amped up about their internal mantra, “One Southern. One Mission.”


  • Exciting theme and graphic elements: Creating a vivid image for employees can be very helpful.
  • Clear and timely rewards: Research is clear that rewarding or recognizing at or near the time of the behavior is the best reinforcement for future behavior. At Thoma, we announce rewards for our core values heroes on a weekly basis.
  • Employee, as well as manager, recognition: While praise from management is highly valued, according to’s 2014 Employee Engagement Survey, “employees are ready, willing, and able to give each other high fives. When offered a simple tool to do so, 44% of all workers will provide peer recognition on an ongoing basis.” So make sure to build your program around creating opportunities for employees to recognize each other in addition to management praise.
  • Praise in the public square: Recognizing employees publicly really makes living the core values contagious. Not only do the rewardees enjoy that praise, but sharing these stories offers additional opportunities for clarifying, training and rewarding brand-centric behavior. Tell stories about your core values heroes. Give examples of how these values are lived out in each department.
  • True perceived value: Companies who are successful in building a culture consistent with their core values must hire, fire and promote with core values as a yardstick. Lip service will never create aligned culture, so a rewards program must be exactly that: rewarding. We’re not talking about just money here. Employees value so much more than that. So think through your rewards program and survey employees to make sure what you offer is truly rewarding in the eyes of your team.

Check out Account Executive Suzanne Sage’s tips for “behaving your brand” and building a brand your team can follow.

Obtaining a culture of brand-centric behavior is about encouragement, education and reinforcement. It is not built overnight, but will self-perpetuate in the right environment. Your rewards and recognition program will prove to be an invaluable tool in nurturing the values you are driving your business by. It’s how you get those values off the wall and into your company’s DNA!

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Author Thoma Thoma

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