Organizational values – Let’s play a game of buzzword bingo!

Organizational Values are an interesting, fun to explore subject. I challenge you to play a game of buzzword bingo with me. Take out a pen and paper and write down the first ten positively attributed potential organizational values you can think of. I will do the same. Next, check out websites of organizations or brands you regularly interact with. Read their value statements. The first to hit all buzzwords on their list wins. Ready? Go! 

Moral values aren’t necessarily organizational values

My guess is that both our lists contain words such as honesty, fairness, excellence, and other fairly generic but important values. There lies the issue. According to British ethics professor and corporate philosopher Roger Steare these terms are so-called moral values; he lists ten:

  • Wisdom – I think through my decisions carefully
  • Fairness – I treat others fairly and with respect 
  • Courage – I stand up for my beliefs and do what’s right 
  • Self-control – I am patient and self-disciplined 
  • Trust – I am trustworthy, reliable, and also trusting to others  
  • Hope – I encourage others to be positive 
  • Humility – I am less important than the team 
  • Love – I am empathetic and care about other people 
  • Honesty – I speak the truth and encourage others to be open 
  • Excellence – I try to do my best in everything I do 

While Steare covers these moral values related to individual decision-making, it is clear that these values need to be part of an organization’s DNA as well. In fact, I argue that every decent human being and upright organization should strive to achieve these ten. As a consequence, the list helps us understand what corporate values need to be: more than just fundamental moral values. Moral values are must-have values. Without these in place, an organization will not be able to live up to their purpose (purpose is the deeper reason your organization exists, beyond transactional elements such as providing jobs or increasing shareholder value). I am not suggesting moral values cannot be values for an organization; on the contrary: these values must underpin everything you do; hence the term ‘must-have’. There is nothing wrong with including a must-have value in your set of organizational values to substantiate the importance it has for you. However, if all of your values feel like they could be claimed by any other respectable organization out there, then it is time you rework your set of values.



Start by deriving diamond values from your purpose statement

In order to discover what set of values are truly unique to you, values potentially no other organization can claim, you need to understand the values that are at the core of your organization. They should be non-negotiable and enduring, just like your purpose. Ask yourself which values in your organization are clearly linked to and fully support your purpose statement.  

Ideally, they are at the heart of your organization already. There might be two or three; I call these your diamond values: unique, enduring, hard to alter, even under pressure. Just like a diamond. What if you identify values which are not strongly visible today but want to manifest in the near future? Even if they might be more an ambition than a reality, still, include them in your set of values. Then, define a crystal-clear path on how you will engrain them into your culture.  

Your diamond values should be rooted in companionate love

I would like to challenge you to explore your values from a perspective of love. Wait, what? Love? Emotions? In business? Yes. Companionate love, as in feelings of affection, caring, compassion, and tenderness. You might say that emotions should not have a big place in an organization because they might get in the way of rational decision making. While research shows that this is actually not the case, it is also close to impossible to ban emotions from organizations, because we are human beings. Emotional beings! We don’t leave our humanity and emotions at the front door when we walk into our workplaces. Also, it is not desirable, from a financial perspective. Wharton University’s Professor Sigal Barsade studied the effects of values-based cultures and companionate love and found empirical evidence of better employee engagement, more teamwork, less burnout, less absenteeism, and better customer satisfaction.  

Cultures based on diamond values are great for employees and the bottom line

In organizational cultures based on companionate love where people deeply care about one another, employees feel a higher commitment to the organization and show more personal accountability. They do it because they want to, not because they have to. This type of culture is what Barsade calls emotional culture, defining what emotions people should express, promote, and talk about; whereas a cognitive culture defines how people should behave based on rationality (for example being result-oriented or law-abiding).  

If you let companionate love inform your search for values, the outcome will help your employees and your bottom line. The question is this: are you as a leader ready to role model these diamond values, to bring them to life within your organization?

Alexander Brueckmann

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