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Do organisational values matter?

10 November 2021 at 4:48 pm
Mike Davis
Mike Davis breaks down some common values and shares three key things to consider to prevent organisational values leading to counterproductive behaviours.

Mike Davis | 10 November 2021 at 4:48 pm


Do organisational values matter?
10 November 2021 at 4:48 pm

Mike Davis breaks down some common values and shares three key things to consider to prevent organisational values leading to counterproductive behaviours.

 Every organisation has values, whether they are explicit or implied. They have the power to signal and influence desirable behaviours and to deter undesirable behaviours. But are values just a convenient way to window dress and virtue signal to external parties or something more powerful that shapes behaviour internally?

Of course, the continuum is not that simple. It starts with understanding and outlining the beliefs we have about our organisational identity, who we are and our purpose. These beliefs influence an appreciation or divergence from values, shape emergent thoughts and finally lead to observable behaviours.


image of iceberg with behaviour at the top and values, beliefs and thoughts below the water


Let me demonstrate how easily we can break down some common values and how a failure to put in the work can undermine attempts at best practice. 

Excellence: What are you excellent at? How do you know you are excellent at it? Are you producing excellence on a regular basis? How do you measure this?

Collaboration: Does this mean that you are a good external partner for collaborative projects or that your team internally works well together? 

Sustainability: Financial or environmental sustainability or both? Does this mean that previously sustainability wasn’t a priority or is it more important now due to internal and external factors?


Values Beliefs Thoughts Behaviours
Excellence We must always produce excellent work. Anything that isn’t excellent is not acceptable. We become harsh critics of our own and teammates’ work and less nurturing and supportive than we could be.
Collaboration  We get the best outcomes when we work together. I need to always be as collaborative as possible in my approach. We have a hard time encouraging and supporting role and task autonomy where it is needed.
Sustainability Organisational and environmental sustainability are important when making decisions. Sustainability is vital to how we operate as an organisation. We are unsure about investment in certain areas of the organisation and as such propose less innovative ideas that require spending.



You can see from the above analysis that despite the best of intentions, we can draw some counterproductive behaviours from these values. 

Here are some key considerations that will help you avoid such outcomes in setting organisational values.

1. Consider whether your values are actual or aspirational

Do your current values represent that status quo at your organisation? Or are these values aimed at arriving at an optimal future state for the organisation? 

Aspirational values represent “what could be”. They are useful when setting measurable goals, but often counterproductive if they are transmuting reality. 

Current values that are “actual”, should help guide behaviour. Collins and Porras define these as: “being inherent and sacrosanct; they can never be compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain. Corporate core values may reflect the values of the company’s founders.” 

You can distinguish between actual and aspirational values by considering whether the organisation as an ecosystem is already demonstrating this behaviour or adhering to this principle.

2. Consider how values can translate to counterproductive workplace behaviours

If you are writing up some new organisational values, you can use the table template above to consider how a reasonable person might respond to these values in terms of forming beliefs, thoughts and subsequently behaviours. 

This will identify any shifts that need to be made or measures to be taken to ensure values-behavioural alignment. It can also help to mitigate any counterproductive behaviours or misinterpretations that might follow. 

You might also consider running a survey or focus group of staff to consider how they would interpret these values and what sort of beliefs, thoughts and behaviours may result. 

3. Consider how useful the values you’ve chosen are in promoting ‘good behaviours’

Establishing the right set of values should enable you to map out an ideal shared operating code that can apply across the organisation. It can be vital in motivating people and encouraging good behaviours. However, values are only as useful in so far as they are used to motivate behaviour. 

There are a range of ways to enliven your organisational values as part of good practice. One approach is to link praise of employees or performance reviews to the organisation’s values. Another approach is to highlight positive values-aligned behaviours at weekly team meetings. 

You can also strengthen the role of values by linking them to employee feedback sessions, external blogs and communications and to key internal and external initiatives that add value to your organisation and its community.  

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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