These are the few—just two or three—behavioral traits that are inherent in an organization. Core values lie at the heart of the organization’s identity, do not change over time, and must already exist. In other words, they cannot be contrived.

An organization knows that it has identified its core values correctly when it will allow itself to be punished for living those values and when it accepts the fact that employees will sometimes take those values too far. Core values are not a matter of convenience. They cannot be extracted from an organization any more than a human being’s conscience can be extracted from his or her person. As a result, they should be used to guide every aspect of an organization, from hiring and firing to strategy and performance management.

Permission-to-Play Values

These values are the minimum behavioral standards that are required in an organization. Although they are extremely important, permission-to-play values don’t serve to clearly define or differentiate an organization from others. Values that commonly fit into this category include honesty, integrity, and respect for others. If those sound generic, something you’ve seen on virtually all of the values statements plastered on the walls of every mediocre company you’ve ever visited, then you understand the problem. Permission-to-play values must be delineated from the core to avoid dilution and genericism.

Aspirational Values

These are the characteristics that an organization wants to have, wishes it already had, and believes it must develop in order to maximize its success in its current market environment. Aspirational values are the qualities that an organization is aspiring to adopt and will do its best to manage intentionally into the organization. However, they are neither natural nor inherent, which is why they must be purposefully inserted into the culture. But they should not be confused with core values, which, again, do not change over time and do not come and go with the needs of the business.

Accidental Values

These values are the traits that are evident in an organization but have come about unintentionally and don’t necessarily serve the good of the organization. In many companies, behavioral tendencies develop over time because of history, or because people start to hire employees who come from similar backgrounds. One day everyone looks around and realizes that just about every employee who works in the organization shares some quality: socioeconomic status, introversion, or good looks. The question that needs to be asked is whether being middle class, introverted, or good looking is something that the company has cultivated for a purpose, or whether it came about accidentally. It’s important that leaders guard against accidental values taking root because they can prevent new ideas and people from flourishing in an organization. Sometimes they even sabotage its success by shutting out new perspectives and even potential customers.