How to refresh your company values

Jerome Parisse-Brassens

Do you feel your company values may not fully represent who you are any more and therefore need updating? If so, you’re not the only one. At Walking the Talk, we are currently working with many of our clients who wish to do exactly that: refresh their values.

There may several reasons why our may want to refresh your company values. Some of the most common ones include:

  • You have defined a new vision or strategy for the next 5 to 10 years. The current values were set-up to enable your previous strategy. You need new values to enable your new strategy.
  • Your values were established a few years ago and they represent your culture of the past. Your organisation has evolved and needs a new set of values.
  • Your values were never embedded in the organisation and have remained words on the wall. You are now re-focusing on your culture and want to signal change. You might be thinking about rewording your values or about redefining them.
  • Your environment has changed. Increased competition. New customers. New geographies. Your values need to adapt to the new world you now operate in.
  • Your values are still the right ones, but the way they are worded is not inspiring. You feel you need to redefine them to take people with you on the journey.
  • You have too many values and you want to help people focus. We often see organisation with up to 6 or 8 values. Our advice is to go for three, in any case not more than four. With too many values, you run the risk of confusing people, not being clear on who you are, and taking years to embed them.

Regardless of the reason why you want to refresh your company values, here are a few principles you may want to keep in mind:

  • Link your values to your strategy. Your culture should be an enabler of your ambition and success. To do so, start from your strategic pillars and identify the values and behaviours you need to see people displaying to deliver. This is usually best done by the top of your organisation, who are those who closest to your strategy.
  • Conduct a culture assessment. This exercise will tell you which values are already embedded, which ones are not, and what are the potential blockers that may prevent you from embedding new values and behaviours. This will be very helpful when selecting the right set of values.
  • Engage your organisation in fine-tuning the wording of the values. Conduct a few focus groups or large virtual sessions to gather feedback on the values you have identified. Use this activity to start sharing messages about the importance of values and role-modelling them.
  • Build a plan to roll out your refreshed values. Values will remain words on the wall without actions to embed them in the daily business. The plan will include communications and engagement activities, but also coaching support for leaders and managers, and system/process realignment.
  • Regularly measure the extent to which your values are being adopted by the business. Use a pulse or a customised survey to measure the adoption of each of your values.

Most businesses use one of the following three methods to express their values:

  • A simple noun, such as an adjective. For example: Courage, Ownership, Innovation, Teamplay, Integrity, Respect (Adidas). Or: Curious, Fearless, United (One of our clients).
  • An action or a behaviour. For example: We back our customers, We make it great, We do what’s right, We embrace diversity, We win as a team etc (American Express). Or: Stretch and grow, Look up and out, All in one (One of our clients).
  • A principle or a metaphor. For example: You can make money without doing evil, You can be serious without a suit, It’s best to do one thing really well, Fast is better than slow, Democracy on the web work etc (Google).

Other businesses use longer statements for each value, but this goes against our principle of clarity, conciseness, and impact/memorability. 

We advise our clients to not change their values too often. They are the DNA, the identity of the business, and should therefore be treated with care. Between 5 to 10 years is a good rule of thumb. At Walking the Talk, we like working on behaviours underpinned by the values. Behaviours make culture do-able because they are visible, therefore tangible. Behaviours are more precise than values, they create clarity and alignment. And they are easier to change when things change in the environment. 

At the end of the day, to be successful in refreshing your company values, you need to be clear on why you’re doing it. This will help you select the most appropriate values for your strategy as well as the best way to express them. It will also set you up for success in the key phase that follows, the embedding of aspired values into the business.

Contact us to learn how we can help your organisation

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