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How to Identify Your Company’s Values, and Why It Matters?

This article references the book Winning by Jack and Suzy Welch.

You can find links to relevant articles at the end.

One of the first stages of personal coaching is identifying personal goals. Not defining, but identifying.
We don’t choose pretty words and decide those are our values only because they look good.
Personal values are an inherent part of us.
A person who values personal freedom highly, will find it difficult to follow instructions or function in a rigid system. So such a person should choose a suitable life course. For example, to be independent and not work for others. Choosing to work for others, and having to follow instructions, will not make such a person happy.
This is a case where we identify freedom as a basic personal value.
In the same way, a person who places a high value on leading, being in the front, being number one - won’t be happy or fulfilled if forced to be behind. Other people say explicitly that they’re not interested in being number one – for them, it's not a personal value.
Some people value meaningfulness highly - that is, being meaningful.
Every person is different, so it only makes sense that we’ll have different personal values.

Identifying Values before Planning Progress

Some of us have few personal values, others have more. But when identifying values we always focus on the main three to seven values.
The more personal values we identify, the more chance they have of contradicting each other - this is the reason why we limit the number of values.
There are several ways to identify personal values, and I won’t get into them right now. It’s an acquired skill.
Personal values are, as I’ve mentioned, part of our personality, and inherent to us. If we build a life-plan, or plan out our career, and ignore our values, we might choose a road that will never lead to happiness or fulfillment.
A person who values freedom highly might choose a career with very little freedom. This person will end up frustrated, will not excel - and will either spend a whole career in frustration, or leave jobs in disappointment.
So it’s very important to identify our goals before embarking on a career or planning our lives.

Why It’s Important to Identify an Organization’s Values?

It's likely that people in an organization will have many personal values, and at times contradictory ones. How does this affect the organization?
Let’s say some people in the organization value teamwork highly, while others are completely opposed to teamwork and would rather work alone. How should the organization work? How would the CEO work?
If the CEO demands teamwork and some employees don’t comply - what will the CEO do?
If teamwork is set as one of the main values of the organization, then people who won’t or can’t work in a team won’t be able to remain.
Many organizations suffer from ego-driven disputes between managers, which damage the company’s focus and achievements. Add to those other disputes, caused by various personal reasons and differing values, and the result is an organization which can’t achieve its goals.
In both cases (clashing ego and clashing values) it’s the CEO’s responsibility to unite the company, and its managers first. The CEO must make sure there are no personal disputes, that everyone operates according to the company’s values, and that those who don’t fit the organizational culture leave.
For example, if it’s important to the CEO that the company always operates with honesty and integrity, and salespeople are known to be cutting corners and are willing to lie in order to close deals - what determines the company’s image will be the salespeople’s actions, not the CEO’s values.
When a company identifies its main values, everyone in it knows how to operate.
Those who can’t operate according to company values, can’t remain in it.

Setting the Organization’s Values

Since personal values are inherent, identifying them is a relatively simple task that shouldn’t take more than a few hours.
Setting an organization’s values is more complex. An organization’s values are set, not identified.
They are a company’s credo, and determine dos and don'ts, and operation protocols.

Setting a Small Team’s Values

A small team can set joint values with a few familiar teamwork techniques. For example, one way would be as follows:

  1. Each team member chooses the top ten values for them personally, out of a list of about a hundred values (you can find such lists online).
  2. Then each team member chooses six out of their ten values.
  3. Everybody’s choice gets put up on a board (or other display method). It’s likely that there will be some overlap.
  4. Each team member chooses three values out of the list.
    1. The top pick gets 3 points.
    2. The second gets 2 points.
    3. The third gets 1 point.
  5. All the points are tallied.
  6. The six highest scoring values are the team’s values. Don’t set more than six values. You’ll see that a limited number of values will get points, and it shouldn’t be difficult to set the top six values.
  7. Look at the list. Are you satisfied? Does it really reflect your values?
  8. The last step is to give the values meaning - what do they mean for you as a team?

Setting Values for a Large Organization

Large organizations can’t follow the above method. Unless the management team sets the values for the entire organization, and then you can do as described above. One thing is completely clear - the organization's values should never be set by the marketing team. Values can’t be a marketing gimmick or part of building a brand. If they are, it’s very likely that they won’t reflect the organization's real values (if it has any) - and no one will take them seriously.
They’ll be nothing but empty words in marketing campaigns.
Not all companies see a point in setting values, or once values have been set, don’t bother to implement them with employees.
Who sets the company’s values if management can’t agree? The CEO? And if the CEO is only there for a short term?
There’s no one and only way or an absolute definition of how to set company values, and each company must find its own way.

How Morton Mandel Set Values for Organizations

Morton Mandel was CEO and co-founder of Premier Industrial Corporation. He always made sure to thoroughly examine the values of managers he recruited. In his book It’s All About Who, he describes how he chose managers who fit the values he saw as important - integrity, decency, respect, kindness, and generosity.
We must admit that knowing a person’s values can be a tricky task. It’s easier to do when that person already works in your organization, and much harder to do in an interview.
In a 2016 interview (in The Marker magazine), Mandel said that while he used to think that intellectual powers were the most important thing in a leader, whether in business or politics, he came to rather think that values were the most important. Leaders need intellect, but it’s not enough, and for a better world leaders must have values.
But which values? According to Mandel, by values he means kindness, respect for others, and integrity. According to him, the world is full of smart people, but has a paucity of people with values. Because many institutions and organizations don’t set guiding values, people don’t see what place they have in professional and political life.
Morton Mandel molded the organizations he owned by picking managers who shared his values.

Jack Welch on an Organization’s Values, and Why I Partially Disagree

Jack Welch was chairman and CEO of GE for twenty years. According to him, a good mission statement and values have real world implications. A mission statement defines where you’re going, and values define your behavior while getting there. But Welch prefers the term behavioral norms over values - marching orders to tell you how to achieve your goal.
I think in this, Welch changes the meaning of the term “values”. He confuses values with behavioral norms, which are byproducts of the values set.
From reading Welch’s writing, it seems to me that values like integrity and excellence are inherent to him. He doesn’t explicitly set them as his or his organization’s values, but he builds the entire tower of his actions on them. He defined GE’s mission accordingly, and let go managers who failed to achieve it. Maybe because they didn’t fit the organization’s values.
When discussing integrity, he said that it’s an entry ticket. People without integrity shouldn’t be part of the business world.
Excellence as a value shaped GE’s strategy. A drive to be market leaders, and fixing or closing any business that failed that goal.
As I understand the term values, Welch defined GE’s mission according to his values, and not the other way around. According to his values, he set his “marching orders” and the ways to achieve the company’s mission.
Welch also importantly discussed how many companies let their top managers set the company’s values, usually in an attempt to create a nice plaque to hang in HQ. Too often, such exercises result in a series of corny statements with no real meaning, and employees remain directionless.

Interpreting Values and Writing an Action Plan or Operational Norms

Different people will have different interpretations of values. That’s why once you’ve identified your personal values, or set your company’s values, you should write your interpretation of them: what they mean to you.
The next step, after defining your mission or vision, is to create a work plan. Or as Welch calls it, marching orders. So that everyone in the organization knows what they should do to achieve the mission, within the set values.

Summary and Recommendations

Personal values are part of us. We can’t decide what they’ll be. Morton Mandel said similarly, though he believed that it’s possible to mold our values before we’re 30 years old.
It’s important that your vision or mission for the future brings you happiness and fulfillment. If our vision doesn’t take our values into consideration, we won’t be happy. So in our personal life, we identify values before creating a vision.
The same should also happen in business. Carrying out our strategy or achieving our mission depends on our values. We can’t fulfill our organization’s vision if it doesn’t fit the organization’s values.
The difference between personal and company values is that we can’t decide what our personal values are. A company’s values, however, might change as management changes.
I recommend you define your company's values, and then its vision. If the two don’t fit each other, examine necessary changes. It’s possible that aligning your values with your mission will require personnel changes.

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Other Articles Using Jack Welch’s Book

  1. How to Initiate Change and Deal with Objections
  2. "Stars" and Professional Workers We Can't Do Without
  3. How Do You Maintain the Human Machine?

Others Articles on the Subject

  1. Does Improving the Organizational Culture Improve Profits?
  2. Old Kibbutz Values Have Been Revived in Leading Global Companies

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