Are you getting real value from your Values?

Values are a vital part of every organisation’s communications arsenal and a key pillar in its cultural framework. If thoughtful and well-constructed, they provide personnel with a greater understanding of the kind of attitudes, actions and beliefs that the company rewards, and a clear and inspirational set of behavioural signposts.

For clients and customers, the values can offer an insight into the organisation’s ideology – an appreciation of ‘why’ things are done.

The trouble is, far too many organisations see values as one of those tedious corporate mandatories that are easily dealt with by simply constructing a list of desirable personal qualities.

Often cribbed from the values of their associates, competitors or companies they admire, they comprise catch-all, motherhood statements that could apply to any organisation in any category.

Catch-all, motherhood statements that could apply to any organisation in any category.

Consider the following list of trite, overworked, over-generalised and therefore ultimately meaningless words that appear too often as values, and which should therefore be expunged from your corporate vocabulary as soon as possible.

Integrity – Shakespeare said it best in Hamlet: “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”. If you have to make a big deal of your integrity, it will make people wonder why. At what point did it come under question, and why are you at such pains to reassure people that it’s now fixed? From an HR perspective, if any candidate is even slightly suspected of lacking integrity they surely will not survive the selection process. So telling them you value Integrity is like telling them you value them coming to work clean and dressed.

Customer-focused – the implication for the employee here is that they need to be customer-focused because their leaders are not. From a client/customer point of view, to come out and say you are customer-focused begs unhelpful questions as to your real motivations.

Excellence – striving for excellence is admirable, and highly recommended, but it really does not need to be said. Because if you’re not striving for excellence, you probably should not be in business at all. In other words, nobody strives for mediocrity, so the most you can hope for in using this term is to lump your company with every other company in the world.

Teamwork – yes, teamwork is essential to any successful organisation – but every stakeholder worthy of the term understands that. Rather than make nebulous statements to your staff about working as a team, give them the tools and the space to do so, provide explicit feedback where necessary, and reward truly effective teamwork. In other words, don’t talk about it, do it.

Honesty – this is similar to Integrity, in that it should be an absolute given, and to bring it up at all raises doubts.

They are lazy and don’t provide any useful information for staff or customers.

You can also put Professional, Responsive, Respectful and Accountable in this list. These are essential qualities that you would expect of any employee, and that your customers demand of you. Indeed, you would require all of these characteristics and more of any brand you deal with, and would rightly be worried if they felt they had to promote such central features as part of their offering.

If you read this list of worthless words and compare it to your present values, you may be disheartened. But you’re not alone. Employee engagement specialists 6Q have posted a blog titled “190 Brilliant Examples of Company Values”[1] and in far too many cases the “brilliant” examples are regurgitations of words on this list with even more wasteful additions.

They are lazy – they don’t require any true thought or introspection, and they don’t provide any useful information for staff or customers.

So why bother?

When they’re carefully considered, uniquely relevant and well crafted it’s clear how powerful  values can be. Consider Build-A-Bear, whose values include Reach, Learn and Give; Ikea, whose values embrace Humbleness and Willpower, Leadership by Example, and Daring to be Different; or Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream, who emphasise minimising the company’s negative impact on the environment, striving to create economic opportunities for those who have been denied them, and supporting the economic viability of family farms and rural communities.

Carefully considered, relevant and well crafted values are extremely powerful.

These companies have deeply examined what values would make them great, are achievable, and will set them apart.

Reading them, customers are inspired by the vision of the company’s leaders and the depth of their commitment. Employees are absolutely clear about what’s expected of them, and if they don’t feel their own values are compatible, they can leave. And HR people are given solid, actionable guidelines about the type of people they should hire.



Ideology founders, Jaimie Ratten and Colin Mackay-Coghill, are the creators of the Ideology Model, the revolutionary new way for CEOs and founders to close the Vision-Action gap.

Thousands of people around the world are now working in ideology-led companies. We’re excited to be helping ambitious leaders, dissatisfied with the status quo, set a clear direction and rapidly mobilise their workforces to action.

Jaimie Ratten
Posted by Jaimie Ratten
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