by Juliet Hancock

Values in practice

Values may seem like an abstract concept, but once you start looking you will constantly become aware of them in yourself and others. You will hear what is most important to people by what they say, what they choose to do and where you see their energy and enthusiasm (or lack of it). And you will learn to recognise your own values in the way you feel and react at work and outside.

Values in a word

To articulate and share values it helps to ‘name’ them. Below is a list of some of the values identified by the UK Values Alliance as important to people and organisations.

Acceptance Decency Independence Recognition
Accountability Dependability Inner strength Reliability
Achievement Development Innovation Resourcefulness
Adaptability Diversity Integrity Respect
Appreciation Dignity Information sharing Responsibility
Authenticity Duty Kindness Results orientation
Balance Efficiency Knowledge Safety
Being valued Empathy Learning Security
Being the best Empowerment Listening Sense of Purpose
Belonging Enthusiasm Love Service
Calmness Environmental awareness Loyalty Sharing
Caring Equality Making a difference Simplicity
Caution Excellence Openness Spirituality
Challenge Fairness Order Stability
Cleanliness Financial stability Partnership Success
Collaboration Forgiveness Patience Support
Commitment Freedom Peace Team
Community Friendship Perseverance Tolerance
Compassion Fun Positivity Trust
Competence Goal orientation Pride Truth
Connection Gratitude Productivity Variety
Continuous improvement Growth Professional Well being
Control Harmony Protection Wisdom
Contribution Helpfulness Quality
Cooperation Honesty
Courage Humility
Customer satisfaction

This is not an exhaustive list and you can use other inventories. For example, the Minessence Values framework consists of 128 discrete and universal values and descriptions.


The Minessence Values Inventory

This differentiates between foundation, focus and vision values.

If foundation values are not fully met, they increase in importance and can cause stress. They will need additional energy and effort to satisfy them. We tend to run to foundation values emotionally if we feel under stress/pressure – those times are when the foundation values are at their ‘hungriest’. Examples of foundation values are

 - Financial security
 - Self-preservation
 - Family belonging
 - Care/nurture
 - Self-worth
 - Tradition.

Focus values tend to occupy our waking hours and form the ideas that drive our daily activities. When ‘lived’, they provide a sense of fulfilment and richness of meaning. If they can’t or aren’t being lived, this may cause stress. Example of focus values are

 - Achievement
 - Self-confidence/competence
 - Financial success
 - Loyalty
 - Workmanship/quality
 - Health and wellbeing.

Vision values paint a picture of the type of world we would like to live in or work in. Vision values are powerful motivators, pull us forward, a source of inspiration. Typically they are energy giving rather than energy draining and will provide great value to any organisation that can harness these. Examples of vision values are

 - Service/vocation
 - Pioneering/progress
 - Generosity
 - Human dignity
 - Discovery and insight
 - Interdependence.

Steve Pavlina gives you an inventory of 418 to choose from to get started. The Barrett inventory of values is also wieldy used.


The Barrett Values Centre

The Barrett Values Centre defines seven levels of consciousness and aligns values to these.

 - Basic needs:

  • Survival (for example health, security, financial stability)
  • Relationship – feeling protected and loved
  • Self-esteem – feeling a sense of self-worth
 - Growth needs:
  • Transformation (for example adaptability, learning, personal growth)
  • Internal cohesion (for example integrity, honesty, creativity)
  • Making a difference – living your purpose
  • Selfless service – caring for humanity and the planet

The importance of clarity

You can identify values from what people say about what matters and why – to them and to others. Listening to employees, customers and other stakeholders, as well as people outside work, will tell you a lot about what their values are. And it is fine to use their own ‘values’ words.

However, different words will mean different things to different people. It is therefore important that whatever words we choose to describe values, we understand and clarify what we mean by the word, what it gives us, and what it looks like ‘in action’.

This is particularly important when it comes to choosing and defining what we mean by organisation values. This is because the organisation is describing to employees and customers what is important, why it is important, and what can therefore be expected from that organisation and its people.

If we engage employees and customers in this process, the organisation values are much more likely to align to their personal values, and to be meaningful and motivational to them.

For more information about values inventories and other ways to identify individual and organisation values, see here.

The relationship between values, needs and motivation

Values are the things that are most important to us and which we prioritise above other things in the choices we make. Values are therefore a collection of what we need (or have to have) and what we desire (the things we would like or want to have).

Some values/needs describe the outcome we seek (for example, making a difference, equality, justice); others are more about how we experience life’s journey (such as collaboration, caring or integrity).

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is well known and ‘universal’. . Most people in the western world would take their basic needs for granted. Beyond that, our needs are heavily influenced by context, so different needs will be important to each of us, and may be more or less important at different times in our lives.

Maslow suggests that in each case we cannot experience ‘higher level’ needs if the ‘lower levels’ are unmet.


Patterns of values are unique to each individual. They change in priority and time.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

For example, safety and survival can be threatened by job insecurity or safety at work/where we live. Physiological needs would rise in importance if you broke your leg and couldn’t get to work or do your job. Equally, if an elderly relative of one of your team gets ill, being able to care for them becomes a priority. The carer won’t be able to perform to the best of their abilities without this priority being understood and accepted.

Unmet needs divert energy from the real work we want to do or we want our teams to achieve. For example, we cannot be creative if the office is too cold to work in. If someone relies on the team to feel a sense of belonging, we cannot expect them to work from home all the time unless we put measures in place to meet this need in some other way.

Similarly, Herzberg’s motivation theory states a difference between motivation needs, which link to the work we do, and hygiene (or maintenance) needs, which are more about the context of our work and what needs to be in place. Hygiene needs will act as demotivators if they are not met. Examples of Herzberg’s hygiene needs in the workplace are

  • Relationship with supervisor
  • Work conditions
  • Salary
  • Company car
  • Status, security
  • Relationship with subordinates (linked to the lower three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy).

Examples of motivation needs are completely different:

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Nature of work
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement.

Of course, we don’t always have infinite choices or resources. But if, as a manager, you understand and pay attention to the lower level or ‘maintenance needs’ of your people, which may be absorbing energy or creating dissatisfaction if unmet, then this will allow more energy to go into the higher level needs and motivators of your team members. This will create and bring more value to the team and organisation in terms of energy, commitment and productivity.