Valuing Your Values – Avoid These 7 Mistakes!


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Culture is often seen as the ‘soft’ side of business, but the reality is that it’s often the hardest… the hardest to establish, manage and change. The definition of  ‘culture’ I like is ‘The way we do things around here’, although I do also love the founder of Southwest Airlines 3D Thinker Herb Keheller’s  definition It’s what people do when no-one’s looking”.

Our research suggests 3D Businesses work hard to create an UBER Culture that creates real competitive advantage and reinforces their ‘Dramatic Difference’. They ensure that: everyone Understands the culture and what’s expected of the them and that employees consistently behave in line with that culture; Systems and processes are Built to reinforce and support that culture; employees are  Empowered, Engaged and Enabled to live the culture; and they Reward and Recognise those that ‘live’ it!

A starting point is to establish a set of core values. So, what’s the ‘value’ of values?

Well, your values ‘can’ help…

  • Define the fundamental character of your business
  • Shape how “We do things around here”
  • Create a sense of identity and help build the brand and reputation of the business
  • Determine how resources will be allocated
  • Reduce game playing, politics and confusion
  • Provide guidance for acceptable and unacceptable behaviours
  • Recruit and retain the right people

I stress the word ‘can’ because it all seems easy…on paper. In fact, it is easy on paper but unfortunately, it has to go way, way beyond that! Simply producing a ‘set of values’ is NOT the answer! Here are some of the common mistakes I see businesses make when they look to establish their values:

Mistake #1: Lip Service….

Many leaders think once they’ve ‘ticked the box’ of establishing their values, they can leave it at that.  I hear so many directors and business leaders say ‘Oh yes Andy, we have a set of core values’“What are they?” I ask. “Something to do with ‘delighting’ customers, teamwork – all that sort of stuff. You’ll see them on a board down in reception”. They’re just playing ‘lip service’ to it all and there’s no meaning to them. Even worse, their actions as leaders actually contradict what those lovely posters say! That’s a common occurrence – According to the Mercer Hr Consulting Report only 45% of UK employees feel that their managers behave in a way which is consistent with organisational values!

Mistake #2: Too Many….

They are basically a list of things put together that don’t really define how you want things to be. This ‘catch all’ approach dilutes things and the result is they all become meaningless, and even contradictory.

Mistake #3: They’re Somebody Else’s….

Someone’s seen another organisation’s values and says ‘We’ll have them too’! They actually believe that by using the values of a ‘successful’ organisation, they too will be like them. Even worse, they bring in a management consultant to provide them! Let’s be honest, Zappos is Zappos! Pinching their 10 core values isn’t going to work in your business… that’s not to say that you can’t learn from them when it comes to establishing a culture that works (Check out 40 lessons here)

Mistake #4: They’re ‘Off The Shelf’….

Even worse, they pick out some nice ‘common sense’ words and phrases. The problem is that they don’t shape the behaviours they want and certainly don’t help establish the things that are unique about the business.  According to Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, most organisations’ values include similar words and ideas: 90% of them talk about ‘ethical behaviour’ or ‘integrity’, 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust. There’s nothing wrong with those words per se, but, let’s be honest, they’re just ‘the same as’ and ‘same as’ sucks!

Mistake #5: The Focus Is All On Making A Nice Word….

This is when they start to get all creative and make sure that the values they create a nice word when they are read in a row… For example, we offer

  • Good quality…
  • build Relationships…
  • Exceed expectations…
  • take Action and…
  • work as a Team!

It often feels ‘forced’ and lacks credibility, especially with the employees who see all the effort that’s gone in to making a nice word, rather than something that spells out how they want things to be!

Mistake #6: The Meaning’s Missing…

We’re back to the idea of lots of lovely words and phrases, but people don’t really understand what they mean for them in their day to day. It’s often a result of some of the things above,  but a key reason is that they don’t shape behaviours because the behaviours themselves are not spelt out. In other words, the value statements are open to interpretation.

Mistake #7: They’re Not A Leadership Thing…

3D Businesses live and breath their values and this is set and driven by the leaders. That doesn’t mean that they are the only ones involved, but they do reflect their passion, personal drivers and the things they value and think are important. That’s not to say they don’t involve and engage others in the development of them – in fact the best leaders do invite people to get involved in shaping the behaviours they want. It’s not about ‘designing them by committee’ and it’s definitely not about abandoning them to HR, or even worse those management consultants again!

So, what can you do?  Here are 3 basic steps to consider..

Step 1: Get Thinking, Get Writing…

Take some time out and establish ‘How do we want things to be around here?’ Don’t worry yet about the  ‘wordsmithing’ of things, just get stuff written down. Write lots – ‘Post It’ notes are good!

Here are some questions to consider to help shape things up.

  • What’s important to us in terms of how we do business?
  • What beliefs and principles shape our decisions?
  • What would we / do we never compromise?
  • What do we do that differentiates our business?
  • What do we dislike about how other businesses do things?
  • What would we never do?
  • What behaviours should we demonstrate in everything we do?

Use these questions to get the words and phrases out there. Feel free to involve others, but if you’re the leader, please do not compromise on your core beliefs. Here’s an example of a design business client we worked with and the words and phrases they came up with….

Step 2: Shape Them Up…

Once you’ve written everything down, look for groups of words and phrases that can be linked together – don’t be afraid to add words and phrases prompted by what you see. Equally, feel free to ‘delete’ any words and phrases that, on reflection, don’t fit.

From this mix, aim to establish your ‘core values’. Use words and phrases that means things to you and your business – Don’t just generate words that will look nice on your website. Make sure they reflect how you want your business to be and what you are looking for in your people. Here’s what the design business came up with…. (They have a lot of young, creative employees and chose the words to mean things to them – not suggesting you have to use the same phrases!)

(You’ll note they didn’t create these to be published externally!)

Step 3: Make Them Meaningful…

Your challenge now is to make them meaningful and that means turning them into ‘tangible behaviours’… the things people would be doing if they were living these values in the ‘day to day’. The more ‘tangible’ they are, the easier it is use these things to make things ‘real’ and to help you reward and recognise those who are acting in line with them, and, importantly…. dealing with those who aren’t!

Our experience suggests involving your people in this process has real benefits too – It’s not about ‘designing things by committee’, but it’s about getting ‘buy in’ and, shaping them, making them meaningful and creating ‘ownership’!

This is what one of them looked like for my design business client….

Be Honest…. We are honest in our approach to customers, suppliers, each other and ourselves

A team member will demonstrate this by...

  • Being truthful with colleagues and customers so problems aren’t masked
  • Being as transparent with customers as possible
  • Being prepared to admit mistakes and learn from them
  • Ensuring transparency so people can step in to help – not being a ‘lone wolf’
  • Being self-aware and acknowledging strengths and weaknesses so they can play to their strengths
  • Not promising what they can’t or won’t deliver
  • Speaking up and sharing their opinion

It’s important to make them ‘measurable’ to allow you to assess whether a particular individual consistently does this, occasionally, rarely, never.  In the design business, to reinforce how serious we were about these things, we got all the staff to anonymously rate the directors and senior managers against each of the behaviours and published the results!

Now, that’s much more impactive than just a simple set of words on a wall! Saying that, I absolutely love this picture of Julian Hearn, the founder of nutrition food business Huel demonstrating the behaviours he wants from his people!

Clearly, it doesn’t stop there… it’s just the start, but hopefully, it will get you ‘on your way’.

So, 5 Questions For You…….

  1. Do you have a set of ‘core values’?
  2. Have you spelt out the preferred behaviours you want your people to display to live these values?
  3. Have all your people ‘bought in’ to these values and behaviours?
  4. Do you recognise and reward those who consistently display them?
  5. Are your leaders ‘role models’ when it comes to this stuff?

If the answer is ‘no’ to these questions, then there’s a fair chance that you’ve got some work to do!

A starting point might be todownload our Free eBookwhich expands on the key elements of UBER Culture, and crucially helps you see how you measure up – The answers you get might not be pleasant, but at least you could start doing something about establishing and reinforcing your core values now! JUST CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO GET IT!

Hope you find it ‘valuable’!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Andy Hanselman
Hi there! I help businesses and their people create competitive advantage by 'Thinking in 3D'! That means being 'Dramatically and Demonstrably Different'! I research, speak about, write about and work with businesses to help them maximise their sales and marketing, their customer service and their customer relationships.


  1. Hi Andy: unless we’re living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a corporation cannot expect its employees to imprint on the values the corporation has defined for them, or expect them to “consistently behave in line with that culture.” There are two reasons: 1) lists of corporate values do not and cannot cover every situation or instance of employee conduct, and 2) employees bring their own values to the workplace. Although those might be nominally the same or similar to the company’s (e.g. honesty), they are interpreted and acted on through the employee’s unique set of circumstances.

    Whenever I work with senior managers, I have them conduct their own internal exercise on their stated (and unstated) corporate values by articulating the business reality that offsets the vision. I could draw on any item from your list, but for brevity I’ll offer one example: work as one team in everything we do. In my experience, no organization is internally frictionless. That is, goal conflict always exists. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s slight, but it’s there.

    Yet, I don’t malign the vision, or any company that puts it in writing. For any organization, striving to achieve internal harmony is a worthwhile endeavor. The reason I use the exercise is to underscore the presence and impact of each employee’s personal values because, like it or not, those are what fill in the gap between the company’s vision (I think dream is more befitting than vision), and what actually gets done.

    The impact and value (both positive and negative) of every employee’s personal values cannot be overstated. They matter, always. And ultimately, they make or break whether the company executes on its own values.

  2. Hi Andrew – totally agree. These things cannot be ‘imposed’ on people. I believe it’s about winning ‘hearts and minds’ and creating alignment between company values and personal values. That’s why I advocate involving people in shaping up these things. However, I do feel that if someone’s personal values are out of line with the company ones they might have to question whether they are in the right company!


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