Setting the Foundation: Defining Your Core Work

Why define your core work? A Mission can typically be approached through many different avenues. Nearly every category has many different companies approaching the same product or similar mission. The Core Work differentiates you, Its the how you achieve the what and is important to define strategically and review regularly.

Core Work is how a company has decided to achieve its mission.

Defining the Core Work is a high level and strategic process. It requires a defined Mission Statement as well as thorough understanding of the market the company is operating in. Defining Core Work, at a minimum, requires a hypothesis as to how the company will achieve its mission or, at most, a thesis on why the company has had success and will continue to have success in the future.

Each Core Work statement should be written in the affirmative ("we will do it this way"), however; each statement represents, either explicitly or implicitly, an equally important negative: What we don't do. Understanding both sides of the Core Work is important in getting the most value from the statements.

What is the value of the Core Work statements? Much like the Values Statements, the Core Work Statements are a decision making tool. While Values provides guidelines on who to hire, Core Work provides guidelines for "how" work should be done in the organization. While Values needs to be adhered to strictly, Core Work should roughly adhere to a Pareto optimum where 80% of the work in an organization fits squarely in the core and 20% may fit outside,

However, 100% of all work should adhere to the "negative image" of the Core Work Statements: You shouldn't ever do what you explicitly (or tacitly) decided not to do. If you are in a situation where this is challenging, it is possible you need ot update your Core Work Statements.

How do you define your Core Work? There is no perfect length or format for Core Work Statements. If the company is operating in a crowded category, Core Work Statements may be nuanced and structured into paragraphs. If you are testing a greenfield product with no true competitors, then a few bulleted affirmations may be enough to communicate your Core Work, Completeness is more important than parsimony.

When I set Core Work, I like to sit down with a small group and list all of the things we do. I then like to list all of the things we could be doing or our competitors are doing. From there I look for themes and visually associate each item to one another based on how interrelated the item. I then like to have a discussion about all of the things listed and talk about which ones we can be best at. I then like to talk about which ones are on trend and of strategic importance (whether we thing we can be good at them or not). From there, its up to either the CEO or a small group of executives to decide on what is the Core Work.

Once you set your Core Work, it may make sense to do an audit of your organization, The easiest way to do this is to take an Org Chart (and if necessary a list of titles and job descriptions) and current hiring plan and then go through each head count and identify if their goals are Core or not Core. The goal is not 100% Core (that is nearly impossible nor would it allow for investment in new areas) but to make sure the plurality of resources (80% or so) are trained on the right objectives.

When you are investing outside of the Core it is imperative to make that clear and to dedicate enough resources so that those efforts may bare fruit (or in the case of sunsetting an old product line; so that they product can continue to serve its intended purpose). Core Work is about prioritization and focus, but employees should know that there is no preference for those working in Core vs Outside of Core. Both are necessary and important parts of the organization.

Over time, your Core Work will be refined and may drastically change as you better understand your market. By defining your Core Work, you ensure that your resources are focused on what is making the business successful

This is the third post in a series covering the foundational statements of an organization, including the Mission, Vision, Core Work and Values. These posts are living documents and are expected to be edited, refined and expounded over time. You can bookmark the Foundation blog post to view the entire series.

Trent Krupp

Co-Founder of ReelBank, connecting creators with the AI economy. Previously, Head of Product at Impact, a market network serving the entertainment industry as well as Head of Revenue at Triplebyte and Hired. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for VCs, growth and public companies. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups, Trusted Health, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.