November 17, 2013

How often have you found that a business you are dealing with has an inspired set of core value words and promises that have little relevance to reality when things go awry. They are often  written by sales and marketing consultants. Personally I always hold them to account on their value statements and shame them into action. I have had some excellent results particularly with senior managers who are genuinely embarrassed. Try it and see how it goes. Here is an example of the kind of words they use.

Integrity ,Teamwork , Quality, Efficiency, Safety ,Sustainability, Creativity, Innovation, Engagement, Integrity, Responsiveness, Confidentiality etc etc

I recently had a delivery problem with an internationally recognized logistics company. Not only had they failed in their value promises, they also had designed an access system to get redress that had many of the features of a 15th century castle complete with a  drawbridge and moat making it nearly impossible to get any real responsive action to my problems. I persevered on the web and tracked down a senior manager in the US and reminded him of their stated core values and value promises which did not pass the test of authenticity and alignment with reality.

By illuminating their value failures It got immediate action.  They really hate it when you hold them accountable to their values

Consider this  and ask yourself would your organization live up to these commitment to values ? 

Thomas J Watson Jr, CEO of IBM from 1956 to 1971, identified the first element of a guiding philosophy, its core values and beliefs and eloquently described its role in the life of an organisation:

I firmly believe than any organisation, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe [the organisation] must be willing to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.

Core values and beliefs are the organisation’s basic precepts about what is important in both business and life, how business should be conducted, its view of humanity, its role in society, the way the world works and what is to be held inviolate. In outstanding organisations, the values and beliefs are deeply felt and reinforced by key individuals at critical junctures in the organisation’s history.…

Indeed, core values and beliefs can span across a range of categories:  people, customers, products, management and business, society, ethical conduct and the role of profitability, among others.  Not every company has core values and beliefs about all of these areas and some address categories not mentioned above.  But in all cases where the vision is effective as a guiding force, the values are clear and authentic.


The key question in articulating core values and beliefs is not, “What values and beliefs should we have?”  Instead, the key question is, “What values and beliefs do we actually hold in our gut?”  Otherwise rhetorical statements rather than authentic value-driven behaviour will result and people will respond with justifiable cynicism.

A core value or belief is not to be violated.  Granted, there may be times when core values need to be balanced against each other, but under no circumstances should a core value be breached in response to pressures outside of the core set.  “Organisational Vision and Visionary Organisations”, Collins and Porras in California Management Review 1991

Walker Wilson methodology implementing Core value statements that work

Experience over many years  has informed us that core values must  be written by a carefully selected representative core value writing team carefully selected from every organizational level and not by sales and marketers. The value statements and promises are tested across the departments they represent before being signed off.

This team must meet certain criteria and be prepared to articulate for feedback the values and descriptions across their departments within a change management context. The consultant’s role is not to write the values for them but to generate the thinking and creative writing necessary to give them power. As a group they are aware  of the strengths and weaknesses in how the organization functions and they are passionate about how to make improvements. Time and resources will be needed to produce the values. At Walker Wilson we consider about 6 – 8 weeks meeting for 3 hours once a week to be a minimum depending on the size and complexity of the organization.

The core action words e.g. ‘Integrity’ or ‘responsiveness’ must be backed up with clear, literate and powerful descriptions that connect with stakeholders in a meaningful, authentic and  heartfelt way. This is not easy to do. Not everyone is a poet and we use literature and poetry as a means to achieve results. My literature background from a earlier life as a teacher is a great asset.

We then move on to developing  behavioural descriptions, and at Walker Wilson that means our writing team facilitation produces the ABOVE THE LINE and the BELOW THE LINE BEHAVIOURS aligned with the value descriptions that employees at every level must be rewarded for living up to, and being held accountable to.

If  a manager or a fellow worker at the logistics company had the power to say “ your behaviour or processes are way below the line of our values and we have let down a customer” ” The message would have stuck and something would get done, perhaps through a team meeting, so that it didn’t happen again. The core values have to migrate from statements on the wall to the hearts, minds and actions of everyone in the organization.

A detailed description of the process is available through:

John Walker