The Secret Steps to Shaping Values


What’s your perspective on corporate values? Are they silly, meaningless words that have to be invented to complete a vision, mission and values trio? Or are values a competitive edge that helps attract and retain the right people for your organization?

I was recently involved in a session with the CEO’s and Senior Leaders that are participating in a cohort leadership development program. The heart of the discussion was about values. We talked about what they are, why they mattered, who defines them and whether or not they make a difference. The debate was healthy and the learnings from this group of seasoned leaders regarding values was rich.

Learning from Senior Leaders on Values:

Learning #1 – Values always exist; the question is whether they are intentional, accidental or hypocritical.

Learning #2 – It doesn’t matter who creates them; it matters how they are defined and lived out. Research shows that whether values are created by a democratic process with employees or defined by leadership, the reason for success or failure is connected to how well they are defined. Are there specific behaviors that make it clear what each value means and does every employee, from the top to the bottom of the organization, live in accordance with those definitions?

Learning #3 – There is always a cost; the question is whether you want to pay now or later. Volkswagen is a great example of a company that chose to pay later. They violated values and are paying a price.

Learning #4 – Values inspire people, rules squash ethical engagement (and people look for ways around them.) You can never make enough rules to cover all potential situations. The more rules you have; the less compliance you get with them. This is why lived out values are so impactful, they create the “playing field” within which people can do their work.

Learning #5 – There is no magic number; as few as one and as many as six. Ken Blanchard advocated for three values. The reality is that you need to keep it simple enough to remember and sufficient enough to serve the purpose of defining HOW you do your work.

Values are highly beneficial for an organization. It is values that can separate you from the competition and connect with customers. Employees use values a basis for bringing competence to what they do and how they do it.

Development and Implementation of Values:
When developing and implementing values here are the secret steps to shaping values and bringing them to life within an organization:

1. Pick the right words – the right words are within what matters most to the organization. Find out what matters most by asking:

a. How will we work together?

b. How will we serve customers?

c. How will we make decisions?

d. How we treat each other?

2. Define the words – give real meaning to each of your value terms by defining them explicitly with a supporting behavior statement that tells everyone what living out the values can look like.

3. Animate with story – bring values to life by identifying and telling the story of a real person inside the company exemplifying the values in real situations.

4. Bring to the front line – make your values stick by having each employee make a pledge to do one action that supports the values on an ongoing basis. Here is one way that an organization achieved all 300 employees making that pledge:

a. The CEO shared a story about why the values matter personally.

b. The executive team was prepared to present in teams, on one of values per team, to define the value and to give a story about somebody in the room living that value concretely.

c. The room was broken into work teams of 6 – 8 people. Each team was challenged to come up with a minimum of 10 values illustrating stories of real people from inside the company, with real names, who were taking actions that exemplified a value. No negative stories allowed.

d. Each team presented the stories and the stories where captured for sharing later.

e. Then each individual person wrote their pledge and shared it with the rest of the room.

Take advantage of the numerous benefits of values that are rich and specific. Identify what is important to the organization, name the right words, define the behaviors and then take them to the front line of the organization in an engaging, compelling and lively manner.

How is your organization taking its values to the people at the front of the organization? I invite your comments and ideas below. 

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Vice President, Brighton Leadership Group

I am a results partner who can help you lead your organization through new challenges, strengthen the people around you to perform at their best, and confidently confront disruptive change head on. As CEO of Brighton Leadership Group, I have had the privilege of advising executives, leadership teams and boards of large, mid-market and emerging organizations throughout the world. I share some of my culture and transformational change experiences in the 2014 book - Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed, and as a founding faculty member of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mark A. Hernandez

    Scott, Big Gracias. Great post! I love the exercise that will get people actively involved in the process to identify core values and modeled behaviors. When values and behaviors are not clear, people are left to guessing at best. At that point what was a core value is now an aspired value.


  • Stephen Doiron

    Excellent post Scott Beilke. Informative, concise & actionable.Thanks for this!

  • susanmrushworth

    Great post. Confirms my research and observations on the way values work in organisations and gives me confidence to apply what I have learned in the workplace.

  • patrick trottier

    In my graduate research regarding values and culture (early 1980s), the critical element in the research was not the ‘values’ themselves but in the congruency of the stated values and ‘the patterns’ which people (internal and external) actually experienced in their interaction with the organization, their immediate manager and with the business systems, technology and business processes of the organization.

    Thus, I now define culture not as the ‘values’ but what people actually ‘experience’ in their interactions with the organization as described above. If one wants to evolve ‘the culture’, give people a different experience.

  • Jacqueline Le Fèvre

    Lots of good stuff in this post – thank you Scott. Whilst it is true in my experience that the values are already there, being able to drill down and put your finger on the ‘hottest’ ones for the company as a whole in real life (rather than some idealised or theoretical version) is tricky. Because values exist in the unconscious and are about what we ‘feel’ rather than ‘think’ they aren’t naturally formed in words. Going with the first ideas/front of mind stuff carries a risk of the value articulated being a poor relation of the actual deeper big idea which gives people and projects momentum. So I would just encourage anyone embarking upon this, very worthwhile, process to take enough time to go deep and engage in some form of patterned investigation to get at what it is really hot.

  • Alan Williams

    if you enjoyed this post, you may be interested to watch this video