The Value of Values

by: May 11, 2016

The value of values

I was at a client’s offices recently, and the discussion moved to the subject of Values. I asked if the organisation had clearly defined Values, to which I was told ‘yes’ by the directors in the meeting. However, they were unable to clearly tell me the values, or define, describe or explain the value of these values!

Are your values real?

So what’s the value of having values written on the website, seemingly just for show, when people don’t understand or connect with them – or in this case, even know what they are? 

What percentages of businesses have Values (and perhaps vision or mission) stated on their website or literature? Of those, how many have created them effectively, developed, communicated and genuinely live them?

How many customers could clearly tell others about these values and detail when they had seen or felt them? Remember, your values and culture – even your brand – is not what you say they are but what others say they are. 

What have you heard about Sports Direct recently and their Share Price ‘crash’? They may have some nice values for investors to read about, but their issues around minimum wages and rumours of physically ‘searching’ staff at work might reflect a different reality – perhaps one of low respect, mistrust and shareholder profit before the health and well-being of employees?

Values define us

So what are values? In effect they are a set of words that define us, our standards, our way of being that when amassed and aligned help create our DNA. Tim Cadogan notes that, ‘Values are one of those things that can sound soft and squishy, especially in the context of a company. The reality – I have found – is actually quite the opposite. They form the most solid bedrock of any group or organisation and really matter to the individuals.’

Jim Collins wrote ‘Core values educate clients and potential customers about what the company is about and clarify the identity of the company. Especially in this competitive world, having a set of specific core values that speak to the public is definitely a competitive advantage.’ At LEAP we have witnessed firsthand how having clearly defined values, with the right supporting narrative, helps teams and organisations to realise their value – in terms of performance, engagement , innovation – and ultimately financial value, in some cases leading to a more successful MBO or M&A. 

Conversely we have seen Mergers falter where values are not clearly defined and therefore a common culture – or set of values – does not exist, which can prove costly. Some 80% of M&A fail to meet expectations, and there is experience to show that one of the reasons is a lack of clearly defined values. 

Engage with your values

Having Values that people engage with will help with recruitment, staff retention, engagement, customer satisfaction and daily actions such as making decisions. In turn this will save time and money, reduce issues such as bullying and misunderstanding, and help create an even better place to work.

Common Mistakes include: 

  1. Start-ups often think they have a great culture and that ‘we all share the same values’. However this is sadly not the case and if it was, the value in talking about them and agreeing them will, as above, would serve as a bedrock for years to come.
  2. Larger businesses think that the management should create the values, or that a comms expert should be brought in to craft a wonderful set of values. Wrong! They won’t work, they won’t be owned or be lived! They may even confuse clients and staff, and at worst they will create conflict and breakdowns.
  3. ‘We don’t talk about values here, it’s all about the money!’ Is a common phrase we used to hear, which was supported by ‘we all just get on with it’. The problem is ‘we’ don’t all get it or get on with it in the same way. The results of this culture are often signified by individual performance focused attitudes with silo arse-covering mentality.

Don’t state the blooming obvious

Commonly misused values include Professional. What does professional mean, is it a value, is it engaging and meaningful, does it tell you about the culture or define the business? Importantly how does it help a client choose to do business with you? In reality, it does not help at all! We all expect businesses to be professional. Imagine visiting half a dozen accountancy firms to choose one and they all note they are professional, what does that tell or you what insights does it afford you? Zero. I am sure the FCA or the ACCA check their ‘professional’ standards. But as a client, what do you really want to know? And as a business, how do you want to be remembered?

Say it, believe it, be it

Finally, a Value is only a value – or of value – to us as individuals, if we say it is. Some companies create Values – you’ll see them on their web site and documentation – but they have no value, because – if they have failed to create, share and bring them to life effectively – nobody values or understands them as discussed earlier. I include Values like Integrity and Professionalism in these. Conversely Virgins ‘Red Hot’ is a very distinctive value that is lived and loved by staff and customers. I expect the Virgin Pilot to be professional, experienced and skilled, so I don’t need to hear that, but I choose Virgin because I perceive it as fun, vibrant and a bit cheeky…. It’s Red Hot….

Facilitated workshops will help connect with people, tap into the knowledge and values that exists in the business, and help clearly understand what staff – and customers and suppliers – think about what the values are or should be, and why to bring them to life.


PJ is the owner of Leap – a business that helps other businesses to maximise their potential through team building, facilitation and individual personal development.

(This article was first published by PJ on LinkedIn – he has kindly given Zonata permission to republish it here).

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About Author

Paul J Stevens is passionate about people and performance. He's a game changer, facilitator and coach. Loves a challenge. Works with the likes of HSBC Private Bank, Barclays, EY and ECB , touches lightly on M&A and VC in Mid-Cap. Loves fishing, skiing, speed.

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