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Values – meaningful labelling or marketing hype?

Well thought through values, identified honestly and applied consistently, are incredibly powerful – and that applies to the values you define for your business, and even more so, for the values you identify with personally.

A sound approach to business values enforces the identity of your business, gives direction to everyone associated with it, and makes it easier for clients to get a valid view of what makes you different. However, do beware – a weak approach to values – for example, having ones that you wish reflected your business rather than actually do, or that are not lived by your organisation – just make your business look false and untrustworthy. For example, Communication; Respect; Integrity; Excellence. Impressive, punchy, admirable. Sadly Enron, who stated these in 2000, didn’t quite live up to them. Sounded good though.

At a personal level, having clarity of your own values can be very helpful in having a happier, more fulfilled life with more good times and fewer bad times. If whatever you are doing resonates with your values, you are likely to feel alive, positive and unstoppable. The reverse is also true – if you’re stuck with things that embody values you dislike, you’ll feel edgy, stressed and wanting to be elsewhere. And it’s surprising how much influence you can have, once you’re clear on what your own values are. Decisions on what to do, who to spend time with and what to avoid are often within your gift, and better-informed choices just make life better.

How do you come up with a list of values? Here are a few ideas:

  1. For personal values, you could Google a list of values, tick those you like and cross out those you actively dislike: then group the ones you like into just a few clusters, and find a word or perhaps a sentence that represents each

  2. For business values, imagine you have to take two people on a crucial mission to set up a new venture elsewhere, and you need people who get what your business is really about, people everyone in the business respects. It doesn’t need to be the best performers or those with particular skills – this is about mindset and culture. Once you’ve picked them, think about what values make them stand out, and whether these actually are the values your business exhibits, and that you’re keen to stand by and promote

  3. You could think of three times when you felt on-top-of-the-world, energised, proud, and then tease out (perhaps with help from someone else), what it was that made those times feel so special. Then you could do the same with the reverse – three times when things didn’t feel at all good

Some tips to make this more meaningful:

  • Beware aspirational values – they can have a place but label them as such and work towards them becoming real and core

  • Beware “permission-to-play” values – these are values that you have to have to be on the pitch at all. Quality, excellence, trustworthiness. Nearly all business have to have these, and they don’t really define you. In fact they probably just dilute the rest. You don’t often come across a business that says “quality is not one of our values”….

  • Try using the expression “This is the [your company name] way” to see if your values feel right and work for you.

  • Don’t rush it! Come back to the list, chat it over with others, let it develop in your mind, see how it fits over the coming weeks.

And once you’re there and you have your current list (and they can change over time), then tell everyone, and LIVE IT AND BREATHE IT!

For more, have a look at this old but great article on values from Harvard Business Review.

And if you’re interested, the values I’ve come up with for me are:

Leadership – I value enthusiastic upbeat leadership, delivered with confidence and humility

Clarity – I value calm clarity, with confident decisiveness, logic and order

Fairness – Fairness, openness and dependability matter to me, delivered with courtesy and respect

Buzz – I value the buzz from challenging, intelligent, pragmatic activity, where insightful thinking happens

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