4 mistakes “values-driven” organizations make

In the six years since the first edition of The 31 Practices book was published, the topic of values has caught the imagination all over the world.  It has become fashionable for organizations to describe themselves as values-driven and yet, for the stakeholders (employees, customers, service partners, local communities, investors, members, citizens) of some, if not many, of these organizations, there is a disconnect between the aspirational words and the experienced reality. To quote the legendary baseball coach, Yogi Berra “In theory there is no difference between practice and theory. In practice, there is”.

So why is it such a challenge to be a values-driven organisation… in practice?  Here are four mistakes organizations can make, and you might be able to add more to the list.   Consider the questions in each section and how they relate to your own organization.

1) Lack of clarity

Clarity means identifying the true values and clearly describing what they mean.  

Have the values been decided by a few senior leaders or a branding or communications consultancy?

Do the words chosen feel completely disconnected from the reality of the organization?

Is the values language soulless, ambiguous, management-speak?

Is there confusion about what the values are and what they mean?


2) The values exist in theory rather than in practice

In practice means putting the values into action throughout the organization.

Are they hidden on the website or on a values presentation or even displayed on an impressive plaque on the wall but not lived?

To what extent are they expressed in policies and processes?

Are they referred to when making decisions about the direction and development of the business?

Are they reflected in how the organization spends time and resources?

How active are leaders in recognising examples of values-driven behaviour?


3) Insufficient assessment of Impact

Assessment means measuring the impact the values have internally and externally.

To what extent do employees give each other constructive feedback and is everybody held accountable?

How are the perceptions of employees, customers, service partners/suppliers and other stakeholders sought, measured, shared and acted upon?

Are the values and culture metrics and achievements publicly reported alongside financial and other business indicators?


4) Lack of a development mindset

Development means learning from efforts and continuously developing the way the values are brought to life in everything that happens in the organization.

Do people take time to reflect on key decisions, consciously referring to the values?

What is the approach to learning, individually and collectively from all the available information (including perceptions) to live the values more fully?

How prevalent is open and robust debate to tackle the complexity of competing values?

How are policies and processes reviewed and updated to reflect learning?

How are learnings shared with other organizations and groups, and lessons learned from their experience?


If you were to reflect on these four mistakes and ask yourself the question: “Which is the most important one to address?”  Which one would you choose?  It’s an unfair question because all four challenges need to be addressed …. all at the same time. If any one area Is not addressed, then the organization will not be able to function in a truly values-driven way. The question asked at the start of this post was “So why is it such a challenge to be a values-driven organisation… in practice?” Perhaps you now have a better understanding of why this is the case. And yet, none of these four challenges are impossible to overcome. Far from it. Improvement across the four areas does not involve a huge investment of time, money or other resources. What it does take though is a collective commitment led from the most senior level and throughout the organisation followed by a relentless determination to follow a values-driven path.



Global Values Alliance will be launching a Values Pledge in October 2019 to coincide with World Values Day.  If you are interested to register your interest in signing up to the Values Pledge or taking part in the Beta test you can do this at https://valuesalliance.net/join-us/


About the Author

Alan Williams


Alan Williams, SERVICEBRAND GLOBAL, coaches leaders of progressive service sector organisations, internationally and in the UK, to deliver values-driven service for sustained performance. He created the 31Practices approach to translating values into practical day-to-day behaviour and is a published author and speaker whose award-winning projects have delivered measurable business impact across a balanced scorecard.

Alan is a past President of the Meetings Industry Association, a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, a Board member of BQF, a Founding Faculty Member of Culture University, a Steering Group member of the UK Values Alliance, and Founder of the Global Values Alliance.