Are Your Values Out of Whack?

Sep 04, 2017 No Comments by

Most organizations have a list of “company values” that they reference in new employee orientation, external advertising and internal reward and recognition programs.

They’re typically a short list of positive affirmations about “who we are and how we think” that link directly to a noble mission statement and an aspirational vision.

Even organizations with no written core values, tend to operate by a list of “assumed values” based on the shared history and experience of key team members.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: In the best of cases, this material serves as the beating heart of a vibrant, productive and aligned team. In the worst of cases, it can sow the seeds of indifference and cynicism.

While the idea is not new, the trend to capture written values really took off about 30 years ago and it shows little sign of slowing down. For the most part that’s a good thing, or at least a neutral thing.

But a poorly-defined set of values or a poorly-executed application of these guiding principles can make it look like a meaningless box the group checked. This can gradually erode into a sarcastic cultural subtext with negative impacts on morale, productivity and eventually, the bottom line.

So while leaders often think of defining core values as a obligatory feel-good exercise where we simply create and roll out a crisp set of idealized behavioral expectations, there is a chance they’re underestimating the work to be done and what’s at risk.

In this series, I’ll address how we can tell if our values need a refresh, how to come up with the right guiding principles for what you’re doing and how to make sure they actually create and nurture an environment where your organization can flourish.


Does it Even Matter? To get started, consider the obvious first question:

“Does our team even need written values?”

If you don’t have documented values, or you just sense the ones you have are fading into irrelevance, you’re probably not alone. The pace of change is furious.

Different demographic segments of your employee population may have a wide range of motivators.

Customers evolve into having radically different needs very quickly.

Hard-won quality levels that were once differentiators become industry-wide minimum standards.

Innovative products and services start out being trendy, then become routine.


In short, the ways of thinking that drove you to your current level of success may be ill-suited to the new challenges you’re facing. The values you wrote down a while back, (or assumed everyone knew), may need to be revisited.

A good first step might be to check how well your current set of assumed or defined values are holding up in the real world for your internal and external stakeholders.



Where to Start: Consider these five questions:

  1.   Can you tell with 95% certainty what decision a given team member will make in a challenging situation?
  2.   Who’s leaving your team and why?
  3.   How well have the last few new hires reflected your advertised values?
  4.   What business metrics are tied to your values? Are you flying blind?
  5.   On your team(s), what’s the ratio of “Cheerleaders” to “Playmakers“?


Noodle on those five questions. Over the next few articles, I’ll dig into how your answers can drive positive action.


More Questions to Consider:

  1. Does your team/organization have written values?
  2. Which of the five questions were easy to answer and which made you just scratch your head? Did any answers indicate potential trouble ahead?
  3. When’s the last time you or a team member openly referenced one of the core values when explaining a tough decision to another team member or to a customer?


Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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