by Juliet Hancock

Identifying/refreshing organisation values

Values are always personal but some organisations chose to define ‘corporate values’ which describe the sort of organisation they are, what the organisation stands for and how people will behave collectively.

For organisation values to be meaningful they need to be ‘core’; in other words, the foundation of the organisation’s identity and decision making. Employees and customers will be able to describe the sort of behaviours that demonstrate the organisation values (and those that don’t). The values will describe the organisations most important, persistent priorities – the ones that always come first when there is a decision to make.

Your staff and your customers have their own values which will influence their behaviour. The greater the alignment between their personal and your organisational values, and the greater the alignment between people’s values with one another, the greater the rapport, loyalty and commitment people will have to your organisation and its success.

Some organisations spend a lot of effort and money in defining and updating their corporate brand, normally using consultants, stakeholder surveys and focus groups – and always using their customers to tell them what is most important to them. These organisations aim to describe in their brand what is unique to them, and is therefore better or more attractive than their competitors.

In contrast, while some organisations also spend a lot of time and effort creating their written organisation values, for many this is a token exercise, created round a board room table or by the HR team.

The result can be very bland values. Every organisation wants and needs ‘integrity’, ‘respect for people’, ‘quality’ and ‘customer satisfaction’. How can you select values which provide meaning and engagement for your staff, so you will attract the best people to join you and create the loyalty and commitment that is critical to your organisation’s success?

Below are some golden rules

Some golden rules in creating corporate values
  1. Be clear from the top about why you need organisation values; how they will fit with your business identity, purpose and objectives, and how your values will be used.
  2. Distil your values into what is really important: the values you can’t do without because they represent the essence of the organisation.
  3. Engage your employees and your customers. However you do it, ask them what is most important to them in the organisation and the work they do/service they receive – what people do and how they do it.
  4. Actively listen and use the language your employees and customers use to describe what is important and why it is important. Explain each value in a straightforward sentence, describing clearly what people understand this value to mean.
  5. Translate the chosen values into behaviours. Describe what this value looks like in action. Role model the behaviour at all levels, starting from the top.
  6. Embed the values in your corporate processes, systems and measures.
  7. Refine the process. Culture and behaviour never stand still. Values must live, breathe and evolve in the same way people and organisations do if they are to survive, develop and thrive.

A sample process to create organisation values

Depending on the size of your organisation, you can use the same process as you would use when creating shared values for teams (see here). The best way to do this is to start at the top with the board/executive and then to cascade the process thorough each level of your organisation.

You can also do this in ‘diagonal’ slices, using representatives from different levels, teams and roles.

Or, if this fits with your desired corporate culture, you may decide to start at the ‘ground floor’ of the organisation and work upwards.

Identifying shared values across teams

Below are three exercises to help you identify shared values across teams.

Exercise 1 - Using metaphor

This can work well in some organisation cultures and teams. It has the advantage of engaging the imagination and a range of senses. It can be fun and engage a wide range of people and styles if facilitated well, with willing participants. It can be quick and simple, or cascaded to a whole organisation and visually captured.

Ask team members to choose a metaphor to represent the organisation – a car, a place or an animal, for example. Ask team members what sort of ‘x’ (car, place, animal) the organisation is and why. Next, get them to describe the key characteristics of their choice. You can do this verbally or get them to describe their ideas visually.

Some organisations do this by providing magazines to enable participants to choose pictures and words that they feel are appropriate.

Use facilitation to draw out the common themes and shared images that describe what is best about the organisation, and essential to its future.


Exercise 2 - Using cards

Either buy or create cards defining different values. You can select these from your chosen values inventory, including the ones in this guide.

Ask team members to select a card with the value that is essential to them for delivering the work of their team. Ask them to talk about the card(s) they have chosen and why. Group the ones that are similar and those that are different.

Facilitate discussion in the whole group or smaller groups to agree and define the values that are core to the organisation.


Exercise 3 - Using a questionnaire (this requires more time)
  • Stage 1: Ask individual team members to select from the table here (or similar) the five values that are most important to them personally. From these, summarise the top ten values that are shared by the group. This can also be cumulated for the whole organisation if required.
  • Stage 2: Ask individual team members to select from the table below (or similar) the five values that they believe are most important to the organisation. From these summarise the top ten shared values by team. This exercise can also be carried out across the organisation.
  • Stage 3 (optional): Ask individual team members to select from the table below (or similar) the five values that they believe are most important for colleagues to demonstrate. From these summarise the top ten shared values by team. This can also be cumulated across the organisation.
  • Stage 4: From the three lists of ten values, select five or six values that are shared across all three lists.
  • Stage 5: Once the five shared values are agreed (by group or across the organisation), use focus groups or further team events to come up with strong organisation statements which describe what the value means in the context of your organisation and the individual and team behaviours which support the achievement of that value.
  • Stage 6: You may want to include other stakeholders, including service users or customers in the process, particularly at stage 5.

Beware of using/including the values such as ‘integrity’, ‘respect for people’, ‘quality’ and ‘customer satisfaction’. These are common to most organisations and you will have other measures of these. Include organisation values which can also be personal values to get maximum alignment.

If you include values such as ‘Contribution to society’ or ‘Customer satisfaction’ in your inventory and they are selected, use stages 5 and 6 to find strong values statements which describe what is unique to your organisation, such as the contribution it makes to society, or what it is that makes your customers satisfied.

For some examples of organisations with clearly defined values that define the organisation culture and brand, see here.