The impact of values

The impact of values

“You must get involved to have an impact. No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.” Napoleon Hilli

“To make a difference”…. How often do you hear this answer when people are asked what they want to achieve in their lives (at work, for their community or at an individual level)? To impact means to have a marked influence, a strong effect on someone or something.

From concept to practical reality

When dealing with the topic of organisational values, sometimes there can be a tendency for the focus to remain at a conceptual level, without making a connection to the more practical day to day behaviours and decisions in the organisation. The award-winning 31Practicesii approach was designed to close this gap and it helps organisations translate their stated values into the practical day to day behaviour of employees. Assessing the impact of action is the third pillar of the 31Practicesiii framework:

  • Identify
  • Action
  • Impact
  • Refine

Values are for living not for laminating.

What is impact?

Impact is often associated with measurement and reward in organizations, and the phrase “What gets measured gets done” has been attributed to Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Edwards Deming, Lord Kelvin and others – it is true. Impact is only seen historically, after the fact.

And measuring something does not always lead to the intended impact. It’s easy, very easy, to reward the wrong things, and have actions and behaviours emerge that run counter to what you are aiming to achieve.iv It’s also possible to get it very right. Consider the case of Zappos: in their call centres they will measure time per call, but reward satisfaction and loyalty measures.

With the 31Practices approach, impact is to notice what happens as a result of the behaviours that are now being practised consistently across the organization. What is the impact on different stakeholder groups? What is the impact on employees? … on customers? … on service partners? What’s the impact on the bottom line? What are the stories that are circulating from different sources? As individuals, people directly experience the impact. An employee’s stories to self are likely to change, perhaps they start to embed some different skills, or a different awareness, or feel more engaged with the “bigger purpose” of their organization.

At the early stages after the launch of 31Practices, it is very powerful to gather immediate feedback and share the instant stories to keep the values and practices real and relevant to daily work life. It helps to build them into ‘business as usual’ behaviours faster. At Berwyn, the recently opened prison in Wrexham, Wales, one of the values is “Embrace Welsh language and culture” and a Practice in honour of this is “We learn and share words and phrase in Welsh and greet each other” #Boreda. Visitors are often amazed at how frequently they hear the Welsh language when being shown around and these incidents become reinforcing stories.

How often have you visited an organisation and can tell from the way people are behaving what sort of place it is….without the need to see any quantitative measurement?

Measuring behaviour

So how to measure impact in this area, especially when an over-reliance on simplistic measurement by numbers can be dangerous – it is valuable to also assess impact at a less quantitative, more qualitative level. A combination of carefully considered metrics or quantitative measures (to provide direction) and a collection of qualitative data (narrative, story, open comments) clarifying the impact on individuals and groups of stakeholders provides a meaningful picture of impact and the context within which this happens. The corevaluescore survey is one measurement tool that combines these approaches: a Net Promoter Score style perception rating of the extent to which organisational values are “lived” provides the “hard” measure, and free form responses about the specific observable behaviours witnessed (both those which support a given value as well as those which detract from the value) provides a rich backdrop of data.

Recognition for reinforcement

A critical step to habit formation, reward, has been clearly documented over the decades by behaviour specialists such as Ivan Pavlovv and BF Skinnervi.

“Reward is the most important part [of a habit] – that’s why habits exist”. Charles Duhiggvii

From this perspective, to build new behaviours, it is important to create a reward system that enables people to gain a quick insight into the impact of 31Practices, through the choices and actions that they and their colleagues take. This positively reinforces the value of using the Practices.

In the 31Practices methodology, the organization’s “heritage”, folklore and culture is created through communication of stories, data and accounts sharing what people have done to live the core values through the daily Practices. Connecting these stories with a formal recognition (not necessarily monetary reward) programme can be very powerful. Sincere, heartfelt recognition has major positive impact.

Sustained performance

Evidence exists in the field of neural plasticityviii to suggest Practices become easier over time. The more we practice, the more tuned in we become to the cues or triggers that indicate an opportunity to practice. With practice, we create neural pathways, the more comfortable we become with the behaviour and, over time it just becomes natural.

This article is based on Chapter 8, Impact in the internationally acclaimed book “THE 31 PRACTICES: release the power of your organisational values….every day” by Alan Williams and Alison Whybrow, published in 2013 by LID Publishing. You can read the full version by filling in your details below.


i Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883–November 8, 1970) was an American author, one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal-success literature ( He is widely considered to be one of the great writers on success.
ii 31Practices is an award winning approach, which results in congruent behaviour, alignment and a greater sense of fulfilment
iii Alan Williams and Alison Whybrow (2013) THE 31 PRACTICES: how to release the power of your organisational values…every day. LID Publishing. London
iv Simon Caulkin (2008). The Rule is simple: Be careful what you measure. Observer Newspaper, Feb 10, 2008.
v Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), a famous Russian physiologist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology in 1904.
vi Burrhus Frederic “B. F.” Skinner (March 20, 1904–August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.