Culture Rules – Part Five “What Are the ‘Values’ for Your Company/Organization?”

Excerpted with permission from Mark Miller’s new book “Culture Rules”

Note from Bob:  Mark has packed so much great content into “Culture Rules” that it simply cannot all be shared in just one post – so we are going to break Rule #1 “Aspire” into five parts!   

Today’s Post, is Part Five: “What Are the ‘Values’ for Your Company/Organization?”

Click HERE to read Part One:  “What Is the ‘Ethos’ of Your Company/Organization?”

Click HERE to read Part Two: “What Is the ‘Purpose’ of Your Company/Organization?”

Click HERE to read Part Three: “What Is your ‘Vision’ for Your Company/Organization?”

Click HERE to read Part Four: What Is the ‘Mission’ for Your Company/Organization?”

Three Rules for Building Your Culture:

These 3 Rules and their accompanying best practices will enable you to:

  • Clarify and communicate your organization’s cultural aspirations.
  • Reinforce the aspiration through your daily activities.
  • Maintain relevance and vitality by constantly enhancing your culture.

Rule #1: Aspire – Share your hopes and dreams for the culture.

Lead with Values

“In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Thomas Jefferson

What drives behavior? This is a huge question, and the answer is obviously multifaceted. However, one of the key drivers is what we believe about the world in which we live and work. As we consider our behaviors in the workplace, countless organizations use values to influence how people think (that is, what they value) in hopes of impacting their day-to-day behavior.

I will begin this chapter with a confession: I have been a fan of core values for a long time. When we began this project, I worked diligently to manage my own bias, but here we are. As we compiled our research, it quickly became clear that I could not talk about articulating one’s cultural Aspiration without discussing values. I am more convinced than ever that the right values, clearly stated and deployed well, are one of the most powerful culture-shaping tools leaders have at their disposal.

When an organization states its values, it is setting expectations and boundaries regarding how people think and work. In essence, leadership is saying, “This is what we believe. This is who we strive to become. This is how we work around here.”

In some organizations, values have been repositioned to make them more personal. If you pursue this route, you may choose to position your values as “cultural commitments” or “common commitments.” This is another case where the language you choose is up to you. Just be clear and consistent. Values, by any name, can clarify and codify what is important in your culture. Well deployed, values are unifying.

Values Create Tension

Yes, values, once articulated and activated, can unify an organization. But on many occasions, they will also create tension; most Aspirations do. When a clear picture of the future exists—stated as vision, mission, purpose, values, or whatever mechanism you choose—the gap between your current reality and your Aspiration will be highlighted. This is good tension! The leader then has the opportunity to rally the organization to close the gap.

There is another type of tension that can arise when values are stated clearly: the gap between stated and operational values. Stated values are what you say. Operational values are what you do. Let me illustrate.

If your organization professes to care deeply about safety, and yet you allow hazardous working conditions to persist unchecked, there is a gap between stated and operational values. This creates tension.

If one of your values is candor, yet no one in recent memory has been willing to confront reality, instead retreating to half-truths and dishonesty masquerading as niceness, this creates tension.

When we live and lead in a fashion inconsistent with our stated values, this creates tension.

If either of these types of gaps exists in your organization, don’t be discouraged. Instead, work to close them. If you want your organization to be more innovative, call people to innovate. As an employee, if you believe the expectation exists for you to innovate, the odds of you doing so go up drastically. If you believe excellence will be honored, you might do one more review of your PowerPoint deck to check for typos.

Deployed wisely and referenced constantly, values can be an active filter for how we think about our work, and as a result, they impact how we do our work. The right values, reinforced through word and deed, impact our mindset and our behaviors.

Values Add Value

When an employee joins your organization, I assume they want to be successful. I have met very few people during my career who didn’t want to be successful. One of the strategies many people employ on their success journey is to do good work in a fashion that will please the boss.

One of the implications of this approach is that the new employee—and all employees, for that matter—will try to figure out what is important to the boss. Acting on this knowledge, combined with having a good work ethic, is a fairly legitimate way to advance in an organization.

However, if the leader doesn’t tell this new person what is important, they will have to guess. The fundamental problem is they may guess incorrectly.

So, another benefit of having core values: there is no more mystery regarding what behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets leadership values.

In addition to clarifying what the leaders and organization value, values can also:

• Help you know who to recruit and select
• Accelerate onboarding and training new employees
• Serve as the cornerstone for coaching conversations
• Anchor performance evaluations
• Provide meaningful points for recognition
• Help you identify future leaders

Every one of these applications helps you create an aligned High Performance Culture.

Forgotten Values?

As I confessed in the opening to this chapter, I have been a fan of shared core values for decades, and perhaps you have been, too. However, even if this is true, there are still a few things you need to know (or be reminded of).

Having stated organizational values is not enough. Today, about 80 percent of large companies have published values. This fact alone is not particularly helpful. All it tells us is that a lot of companies have adopted this relatively new business tool by taking the first step of documenting a set of values. What this statistic fails to address is the efficacy of the values being published. Many employees question the relevance of their organization’s values in the day-today business.

• A mere 27 percent of US employees strongly believe in their organization’s values.
• Only 23 percent of US employees feel confident that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.

I have yet to find a statistic that reveals how many employees even know their organization’s values. I would guess the number would be extremely low.

Here’s another challenge for you to watch out for.

I was with a group of leaders a few years ago that wanted to change their organization’s core values. I began to probe. As far as I could tell, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with their existing core values. There had been no significant strategic shift, senior leadership had not changed, there was no new vision. I couldn’t figure out what was up, so I asked why they felt the need to change the values. What they told me was revealing. “These core values are not working.”

You can guess what they meant by this statement. My assumption was that the organization was not receiving any perceived benefit from their current values.

My response was simple: values never work unless leaders do.

Leaders must constantly share, reinforce, and celebrate their values, as well as challenge those who fail to uphold them. I am not aware of any organization that can merely articulate their values and poof—the values are immediately embraced, recruiting materials change, selection criteria changes, recognition programs miraculously morph to align with the new values, and so on. Leaders determine the value and impact of core values in an organization.

The sad ending to this story is that the leaders I spoke to did change their values, and now, just a few years later, the new values aren’t working any better than the old ones did. The problem wasn’t the values.

Good Values?

If you do a Google search for “core values,” you will find examples such as:

• Integrity
• Boldness
• Honesty
• Trust
• Accountability
• Commitment to customers
• Passion
• Fun
• Humility
• Continuous learning
• Ownership
• Improvement
• Leadership
• Diversity
• Innovation
• Quality
• Teamwork
• Simplicity
• Employee development
• Discipline
• Empowerment
• Authenticity

Here’s the potential problem with this list: most of these descriptors could apply to any organization. Also, several of these are character traits. Let’s examine these two issues independently.

Differentiate with values. What is it about the way your people think or work that differentiates you? If you select empowerment, improvement, and diversity as your core values, how do they set you apart from millions of other organizations? If you include only generic terms to define your Aspiration, it may not be worth the effort. Values should add value, not describe something obvious or articulate attributes that should be table stakes.

Will your list of core values be totally unique? Probably not. However, it should help your employees understand what is different about your approach to the work. The more your values can differentiate you from your competition, the more value they will add.

Select for character. If you include character traits as core values, you miss a huge opportunity—you actually forfeit the power of having values in the first place. Calling out honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness as your core values is suspect. Every organization should be able to select people who possess basic and fundamental character traits. Use your values to say more and do more—with some effort, they may even enable you to articulate your competitive advantage.

Name the thing. I have been asked many times if it is okay to include Aspirational values on your list of core values. I think all values are Aspirational—some just may require more work to become a reality than others. It is always helpful to name the thing you want to become. Be prepared: some will push back. For instance, “How can we say one of our values is creativity when we are not creative?” A value is never fully inculcated. Every person, every day, should strive to make the thing real to the fullest extent possible. Values are an ongoing and daily pursuit.

If you do include values that are clearly and perhaps fully Aspirational, the trick is in communications. Don’t try to convince your organization that it’s something it’s not. However, if you have attributes in mind that you hope will become core to who you are as an organization, be sure to tell everyone the truth. Cast a compelling vision for why these values must become a reality.

Please don’t miss what’s most important here—whether values are currently reflected in your organization or are purely a vision of your preferred future state, they must align with and support your overall Aspiration for the organization.

Learn from Others

If you have yet to codify your core values or feel that your current values need a refresh, you may find it helpful to see some examples from other organizations. I am not endorsing the following values nor suggesting you should copy them. Remember, your values must be your own. However, I think we can learn a lot from others.

As you read the following examples, ask yourself a few questions:

• Would these values influence my thinking and my actions?
• Would these values help our organization excel in our chosen marketplace?
• Which of these values would help us articulate what is distinctive about the way we think and work?
• Are these values to instill, or are they character traits we should select for?

Starbucks:  A global coffee company founded in Seattle in 1971, Starbucks now operates in eighty countries and employs over 380,000 partners. Global sales in 2021 were over $29 billion. With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values:

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.

Royal DSM: is a global company in health, nutrition and bioscience, applying science to improve the health of people, animals, and the Earth. It manufactures specialty ingredients for the food industry: yeast extracts, food enzymes, and much more. When the leaders decided to refresh their business strategy, they wanted a complementary set of values to drive the new behaviors. Given their multinational presence and few native-English-speaking employees, their values needed to be simple, easy to translate, and memorable. After a lot of work, Royal DSM leaders landed on:

  • Caring
  • Collaborative
  • Courageous

HubSpot: is a software company specializing in inbound marketing, sales, and customer service.
Founded in 2006, the company consistently ranks as a best place to work and is touted for its culture. Its values center on being:

  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Remarkable
  • Transparent

Headspace:  is a mobile application specializing in meditation and mindfulness. Through science backed meditation and mindfulness tools, Headspace seeks to help customers around the world
create life-changing habits to support their mental health and pursue a happier and healthier self. Headspace has three core values:

  • Selfless Drive: We accelerate each other and are accountable to each other to deliver on our
  • Courageous Heart: We bravely go to new places knowing we have the support of our
  • Curious Mind: We learn that when we listen to others, we cultivate the curiosity and
    empathy to unlock innovation.

From My World:  I’ll close this section with a personal example. I have had the privilege to be a part of and lead many fantastic teams over the years. Here are the values from one of them. I share this to illustrate that sometimes the uniqueness of a word or phrase is in how you define it.

  • Radical Collaboration: Our collaboration will not be a consequence of convenience or happenstance; it will be the product of a conscious decision and disciplined actions required to leverage our individual strengths.
  • Courageous Curiosity: Our efforts to create and add more value will be fueled by our willingness to play the role of the explorer. We will ask the hard questions, pursue the unknown, and never stop learning.
  • Strategic Creativity: Our creative thinking will be focused and purposeful. We are not interested in change for change’s sake. Creative thinking may pave the way to a preferred future, but it is not the destination.
  • Breakthrough Results: Incremental improvement is not our goal. We will prioritize, plan, and work to help the organization achieve extraordinary results. We will think big and act with conviction and boldness.

Your Next Step

Your next step is to decide if you want to use values to shape the culture of your organization. I know some great leaders who don’t, and you certainly don’t have to. However, if you do, here are a few tips to conclude this chapter.

Simple and clear language. Clarity is your friend and a gift that you, as the leader, can give to the organization. The values are intended to inform, not impress. You probably want to express your values using language that requires little explanation. As an example, “innovation” as a value is fairly clear. However, “do good” leaves a lot of room for interpretation and questions. I will add that I think provocative and descriptive language is also a good thing—it can conjure up vivid images, which can help convey the underlying intent of the value (e.g., “customer obsessed” is stronger than “we value customers”; “radical collaboration” is stronger than “collaboration”).

Distinctive (typically) trumps generic. Are there unique attributes of your organization you want to leverage or enhance? (e.g., scrappy, courageous, audacious). If so, these could be candidate values. I am not suggesting that excellence or innovation be removed from your list of values. Perhaps if you are manufacturing critical medical implants or if you are a design firm, these could make perfect sense. However, virtually every organization in the world could include excellence and innovation on their list of desired values.

Fewer is better. The more core values you have, the greater the likelihood that they won’t add value. I don’t think there is a magic number, but from my experience, the “right” answer is closer to five than ten. One of the benefits of having a shorter list is that you increase the likelihood of people actually using the values as a point of reference when making day-today decisions.

Stay the course. If you get the values right, they should stand the test of time. I am not suggesting that they will never change. Some of the reasons for changing them have already been mentioned—new leadership with a new Aspiration, new strategy, new behaviors needed to meet the demands of a changing world, and so on. However, if your values change too often, you will confuse your people and slow your progress toward your Aspiration. There is also a good chance you’ll hurt your credibility and undermine your leadership.

What you don’t want to happen is for people to say (or think), “This too will pass.” If people don’t believe that the values are going to stick, they may assume a passive or indifferent posture toward them. If this happens, you will undermine the Aspiration and make it even more difficult to build the culture you want. Strategies and tactics change frequently—values should be much more durable.


At this point, you know why you should strive to build a High Performance Culture and the critical importance of crystallizing and sharing your Aspiration. But, even if this was an epiphany, you cannot stop now . . . your work is not done. Let’s move to the second rule and learn more about how to Amplify your Aspiration!

Your Move . . .

If you could create a list of three to five purely Aspirational values for your organization, which values would you choose?

Instant Replay: Lead with Values

Values are a profound way to influence the behavior of an organization. The vast majority of organizations (80 percent) now have stated values. However, in many organizations, the process of creating them was perfunctory at best, and the values have little positive impact on the business. If values are professed but ignored by leaders, they will do more harm than good.

How Values Add Value

  • Create tension between your Aspiration and your current reality
  • Clarify what is valued by the leaders and the organization
  • Help you know who to recruit and select
  • Accelerate onboarding and training new employees
  • Serve as the cornerstone for coaching conversations
  • Anchor performance evaluations
  • Provide meaningful points for recognition
  • Help you identify future leaders

If You Use Values . . .

  • Simple and clear language is preferred.
  • Distinctive (typically) trumps generic.
  • Fewer is better.
  • Stay the course.
Caution - Values don’t work unless leaders do! - Mark Miller in his book “Culture Rules”

Click HERE to purchase your “Culture Rules” book today!

You can also view the one hour Webinar on “Culture Rules” Mark did on February 6 by clicking  HERE  

Mark Miller


Mark Miller is a business leader, best-selling author, and a communicator. He is currently serving as the Vice President of High Performance Leadership for Chick-fil-A, Inc. Beyond chicken, Mark’s global influence continues to grow. Today, there are over a million copies of his books in print, in twenty-five languages. Culture Rules is his eleventh  title.


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