Determine your organisation's values*

Values are the core of an organisation's being, they help to distinguish an organisation from others.

They underpin policies, objectives, procedures and strategies because they provide an anchor and a reference point for all things that happen.

Values should be stated explicitly and unambiguously, and be feasible so that they provide guidance and motivation for people's actions in all of the organisation's activities.

To build and maintain the organisation's reputation, boards should look once a year at the way the statement of values applies in practice.

Surveys of employees, customers and suppliers can help test the statement of values against the reality of what's going on. Such surveys are best carried out by professional third parties.

Values development process

When reviewing an organisation's values to ensure that they support the desired culture: -

  • identify the values that currently exist in the workplace
  • determine if these are the right values for the organisation
  • review processes and establish behaviours that will reinforce the chosen values

Boards have a choice between determining and communicating values in a top down manner, or involving staff and other stakeholders in at least identifying current values – both those that are preached or believed and those that are demonstrated in practice.

A first stage is for participants to establish a database (or list) of values that they believe are important, and those that distinguish this organisation from others. The objective is to contribute to defining the culture – not just to promote a set of generic platitudes.

All organisations should believe in 'honesty', 'fairness' and 'integrity'. However, it is only certain types of organisation for which these will either be of absolute importance, or will distinguish this organisation from others.

Consider carefully how issues such as 'risk', 'initiative' and 'innovation', or 'blame' and 'accountability' are represented in the values. Are they in alignment; do they represent the desired balance?

In order to avoid the obvious values, use brainstorming exercises and then sort for common traits and repetitive ideas. Include values that might not currently be practised but can be aspired to.

When you have established a list, the next task is to prioritise the values. This could involve a period of consultation until a consensus is reached.

When you have an agreed core list of no more than ten values, define each value by describing the behaviours and actions that will be exhibited when this value is truly incorporated into the organisation's belief system and culture. The more graphic that these statements can be, the better for producing shared meaning.

Finally, check that the values are congruent with each other and compatible with the organisation's vision and mission. Then polish the wording and adopt the top five or so.

When you have determined your values statement, decide whether any values represent a change in behaviour, require extra emphasis or even a change in process. Then devise a strategy to communicate and reinforce them throughout the organisation. It is better to do this through a series of values alignment workshops than by issuing an edict!

Corporate governance

When you have determined the values to be promoted throughout the organisation's operations, taking account of future developments, they should be championed by the board throughout the organisation.

  • Are they sufficiently robust to withstand conflicts requiring clarification or resolution?
  • Are they sensitive to the various interests of shareholders and other interested parties?
  • Are they communicated to shareholders and other interested parties in a way that attract their support?
  • Are they pursued throughout the company's operations?
  • Are they reviewed regularly to ensure their continued appropriateness, support and effectiveness?

* Inspired by the Institute of Directors Standards for the Board

What to do next

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