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Organizational values only work when tied to behaviors

There’s a big push in companies today to create healthy cultures. Many organizations go through detailed processes to identify where culture is going astray and dive into implementing tactics, including defining company values. The problem is too many companies create values without meaning.

Written values are often vague and ignored. Many companies have nice-sounding values, such as “integrity”, “respect”, “communication” and “excellence”. But these values mean nothing without the behaviors to underline and reinforce them. (As a side note, Enron had those same ‘values’ displayed in their lobby).

Actual values are behaviors. Behaviors which are true to the organization today, but can also continually improve and grow. These behaviors have significance to the organization – where without it, the culture wouldn’t be the same. These behaviors need to be distinct and genuine – generic values are meaningless.

Take, for example, the value of “excellence”. What does excellence mean? How does excellence manifest into a series of behaviors? How does excellence impact not only customers but employees? What does excellence look like for each and every department? Is it the same or different? What kind of excellence is important (i.e. work quality, work efficiency, etc.)? This is the fundamental problem with generic values – they lack structure, meaning, relevance and most importantly, impact.

Alternatively, think about framing that vague value as a behavior, such as “selflessness”. This word has much more meaning. It’s something you can do and be. While open to interpretation, uniform examples can be provided to clarify the behavior, such as “be open-minded” and “make time to help others” which provides a broader framework for selfless behavior. This behavior becomes something that can be held up as an example across roles and departments, and even integrated into employee performance reviews.

The real values of a company are shown by who gets rewarded or let go. The real values of a company are reflected in the behaviors of each and every person within the organization. You can’t simply create your “values list” and call it a day. Your values shape your organizational culture, your hiring practices, and much more. Values are too important to simply be a display in your lobby. They drive culture, and at their core are behaviors.

About the Author:

Andrea’s 22-year, field-tested background provides unique, applicable approaches to creating more customer-centric organizations. A 4-time ADDY® award-winner, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic marketing efforts at two global industrial manufacturers.

In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, Andrea speaks to organizations around the world on how to craft effective customer-facing operational strategies to effectively differentiate and build healthy, efficient organizational cultures.

Connect with Andrea to access information on her books, workshops, keynote speeches, training or consulting. More information is also available on and