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How to shape development of your culture around meaningful and consistently interpreted Core Values?

This is the final of a three part blog series.

As part of its continuing support for leaders at this time Taylor Clarke will be exploring the important subject of values driven culture change at their upcoming ‘Let’s Talk’ event on the 23rd July at 4pm. In the lead up to this event, this article is the last in a three-part series designed to stimulate some thinking and sharing around the subject – looking at the “what”, “why” and “how” around values.

In our first article we looked at what values are, or perhaps should be, in organisations. We built upon this in our second article – when we spent some time looking at why values are so important. However, despite possibly understanding what values are and why they are so important, the majority of leaders would probably admit that values aren’t working as hard for them as they would like in their organisations. So, this week we conclude our series by looking at some principles that will help you develop meaningful values in your organisation:

  1. Have a compelling sense of purpose rooted in success. Start with your Vision, Strategy and Objectives. What are the values that will serve your strategy, connect with the real business issues and over time create competitive differentiation with norms of behaviour that align with your goals? Typically this will be a combination of existing, emergent and the new norms of behaviour required longer term….and probably some that were critical to success in the past but are now getting in the way. Growing apart from these is often the biggest challenge. Values can all look good and worthy in isolation but make sure they also align with your strategy. Is your organisation about innovation? Agility? Resilience? ROI?, Operational excellence? Service? Quality? Then link your values to that.

  2. Work with and within what you have – Never wipe the slate clean and start again. Instead, seek to build on and evolve your real values and commit to a long-term journey. Go with the grain while seeking to shape some more aspirational traits. If you've been in business for a while you've probably already developed some mechanisms that guide "the way we do things around here" and have influence on your prevailing values - consciously or unconsciously. Some will fit with your aspirations, some will be counterproductive and some will be missing. But the key is, build on what’s made you successful. Ensure they are YOUR values – not just something that sounds good. And evolve what’s required to adapt to your competitive environment. Doing this and linking these values to your strategic choices will make your values easier for your people to relate to and incorporate in their daily work.

  3. Unite the senior team around a set of values they can ALL authentically embrace – Here is a great exercise to achieve this. As a team spend some time considering: if you were starting all over again, who in your company, specifically name individuals, are living examples of the values and behaviours you would need to make you successful? Who would you clone within your organisation if you could? This isn’t about skills and experience. What are the attitudes and beliefs they share?

Also consider the following commitment indicators and what your signing up for:

  1. Would you all move someone on from your organisation who consistently ignores your values, or would not hire anyone who couldn’t evidence them in an interview?

  2. Can everyone in your senior team can naturally embrace and role model all the values?

  3. Is there anyone on your senior team who seems out of step with the personal values you seek, that are comfortable for the majority of your team?

  4. Would you invest significantly in embedding these values in your organisation?

4. Support each value with clear behavioural guidelines - Values need to be sufficiently defined in behavioural terms to support consistent interpretation - and help you make difficult choices and take consistent action. You need to remove the ambiguity around whether someone is living the values or not - promoting feedback to test your values and assess real impact.

5. Use your own clean, real language - Go beyond generic statements and avoid management speak to find the clean and simple words that will have common meaning in your organisation and reflect how you think, feel and act …at all levels. Come up with your own specific interpretation of any generic terms you may end up using e.g. customer service, teamwork, and integrity etc. They need to sound like “You’re real” values, not the consultants….they are there to provide process, not content!

6. Let the system articulate the behaviours - It’s important to balance a top down and bottom up approach to articulating the meaning of values. While the leadership team should choose the values required to land the strategy, it really helps to have an inclusive cascade process to engage a broad group of employees to help articulate the behaviours in a meaningful way that’s difficult to copy and delivers a common meaning. Let the system surface the behaviours they would expect to see, and not see, if the organisation fully embraced their values. That’s a key trigger for personally connecting, authenticity, feedback and ownership of action to ensure consequences for appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Use small focus groups to facilitate a dialogue to identify the values people truly embrace and the surface behaviours that are helping and hindering progress - and what’s most relevant to delivering your strategy. You will generate real insight into how your best and worst employees interpret and live the values; including what’s currently in place, and what the next step in the journey looks like. Behaviour changes in a team when people publicly acknowledge the behaviours they want to embrace and leave behind and welcome peer feedback to help them develop new habits.

7. Focus on the critical few…no more than 4 or 5 - There's no rule that you should have exactly five values, many have more. But in our experience having a manageable and memorable list of 5 or less seems to allow people to personally connect with all the values, and has greater overall impact. Similarly, for each of these values – have no more than 4 or 5 unambiguous examples of behaviours that support each value and are relevant to achieving your strategic objectives regardless of the role.

8. Regularly “Exercise” your Values – They are a blueprint to help guide difficult choices so consult your values when you face a challenging situation. What are they telling you? Are you being courageously true to your values or interpreting them inconsistently to avoid a challenging situation or future conversation. The more you use (Exercise!) them, particularly in a team decision making process the more clearly and consistently you will be able to apply them as a team and as individual leaders

So, in conclusion values don’t just happen. And you can’t just reinvent them overnight or impose them on your organisation. They are a key strategic choice, the foundations of your culture and require careful, intentional selection to align with your overall long-term vision, goals, and strategy. An inclusive and engaging process is critical, with a lot of effort and authentic dialogue required, if they are to get real traction and have demonstrable impact. And don’t forget, the process of defining and refining the Values is only part of the challenge! If your organisation is to benefit from the real value in values – the real test is in how you embed those values within your organisations – and perhaps even more critically – how your organisation and people ‘live them out.’

What’s Next?

If you would like to further explore the subject of values why not join other like-minded leaders in our free one hour live, facilitated Let’s Talk Values on Thursday 23rd July at 4 – 5pm. You can book your place here or for further information do get in touch at


Alistair Brown is an experienced multi sector Business leader having worked in leadership positions in global organisations for over 20 years before moving into consulting roles for the last 15 years. My corporate experience was with Johnson and Johnson, Smith & Nephew, Nestle and Hallmark Cards, which included 3 CEO roles and 10 years at board level and cutting my teeth in post M&A integration and cultural change.


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