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This is the second of three articles in our series about ‘the value of values’. Last week we defined what values are and how they’re used. Today, we’ll begin to ‘walk the talk’ – exploring how to identify your unique values and committing to them with action. The final article will capture the multiple levels of opportunity realized by being values-led – the proverbial “value of values.” In the midst of major change and disruption to life as it was, we are happy to be able to engage with you on the important role of values as guiding principles for positive impact.


Values are our compass, our conviction, our North Star. They’re guiding principles that help catalyse change in support of positive impact at the individual, corporate and societal level. If we rely on our values to support decision-making and action – evidence shows we can live more authentically, navigate change more easily, connect more fully, and grow more surely from who/what/where we are today to our desired tomorrow.

But how do we identify our own unique values and begin to leverage their power by putting them into
action? 

 

Your Values

For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on corporate values, because as we previously established – the bigger the ship, the more essential to have clear GPS coordinates.

So how do we start?

The first step in identifying one’s values is to take inventory of what makes us unique? What traits or characteristics, beliefs or even specific assets distinguish your organisation? American Express and Hermès are good examples of organisations whose values stem from the company’s unique heritage.

A second step is to consider what matters most to your customer audience(s) and where your business intersects in terms of their lives? Equifax, the large American credit monitoring company needed to significantly reassess their values and retrench after the private data of 148 million users was hacked in 2017. Now they claim, among basics like integrity and teamwork – “driven to achieve excellence in all that we do”.

A third step is to imagine staring deeply at your organisation in a mirror. Who or what is reflected back to you? What are the core motivations and inspirations? Apple provides an incredible example of an organisation who – through years, leaders, expansion, and reinvention – stands unwaveringly for design: “We build products we believe in.”

As you can see, values lie at the heart of an organisation and its resulting culture. The 4-6 words or short phrases used to summarise your values not only speak to who you are, but also who you want to become. They are your GPS coordinates on the journey forward.

 

Action

As filters and guardrails for decision-making, values become our #1 guide for action-taking. Values not only help define what we stand for, but also highlight expected (or accepted) behaviors for all stakeholders. When we ‘walk the talk’, we’re operationalising the beliefs our organisation holds
most valuable.

But how exactly? Let’s work backwards.

Abiding by our values means aligning them with our goals. As an organisation, this means not only answering: What do we hope to achieve? But also: How do we measure progress against these aims?

There are sometimes thousands of potentially relevant metrics given the business and industry – but beyond operating basics, the KPIs we select inevitably tie to what we value. For example, do we track: topline revenue or customer acquisition; profit or dividends; brand awareness or loyalty; market penetration or new products launched; finished product waste or line efficiency; problem resolution or total customer service calls; employee retention or actual cost of benefits?

Two examples of how this translates in practice:

  1. Southwest Airlines: The low-cost American carrier obsessively measures customer and employee satisfaction, because it aligns with their people-first values.
  2. Patagonia: The outdoor apparel company regularly calls attention NOT to their products, but to their work as environmental stewards, adding consumer calls to action on sustainability.

In any business, at any given moment – there are a host of short-, mid-, and long-term tactical and strategic decisions to take: digital marketing or CapX; offshoring or infrastructure; charitable giving or bonus? Metrics matter, because what we measure gets supported by specific actions. By choosing that ‘x is more important than y’, an organisation takes a meaningful stance in support of its closest held beliefs – clearly stating to all stakeholders, “this is what we value”.

Here are two examples of companies where I’ve seen firsthand how metrics translate to action:

  1. Chobani: The yogurt company and social impact darling so deeply values new product innovation that heavy investments are continuously made in food science, R&D, and engineering – landing them the world’s largest yogurt factory and many accolades, along with a long tail of NPD trial and error.
  2. Walmart: the world’s largest retailer, is so laser-focused on service to customers and striving for excellence – that they’ve summarised these principles into a bold customer-facing tagline: “Save Money. Live Better.” This simple statement guides the organisation’s daily business operations, as well as its efforts to futureproof the promise for tomorrow.

‘Walking the talk’ is ultimately about being clear on what matters most to us – our values – then orienting our goals, how we measure them, and the actions taken to achieve them around this.

 

Commitment

Given the shifting seas and cloudy horizon of today – clearly stating our values and acting consistently on them, is as important as ever before. So too is ensuring the whole organisation can action them in service of the business regardless of what may arise. Success and impact are both team efforts, and values help keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

Failing to walk the talk is also a liability. Especially so in a world where transparency and accountability are increasingly in demand. Volkswagen understands this well, given its not-so-distant diesel emissions scandal. Having spent decades gaining consumer trust and loyalty around core values of reliability and integrity – Volkswagen quickly fell from grace. Despite enormous brand equity setbacks and millions in payouts, their handling of the crisis gave them space to retrench and rebuild.

As individuals and organisations, we each have something unique to share with the world. The more authentically we show up and more consistently we act – the more likely we are to have the positive impact we desire. Values guide this journey, so committing to them – even in the face of constant performance pressure and continuous change – helps us stay on course no matter what storms we encounter.

 

Closing

There is a growing sense of urgency in the world; a growing demand for positive action around a host of issues. As a result, the relevance of values is growing too – at individual, corporate, and governmental levels. How we identify our values, take action, and stay committed has much to do with our potential outcomes.

In the next article, we’ll bring evidence of what this looks like in a global business context. By showing specific results from consumer, corporate, investor, and systems perspectives – we prove how ‘walking the talk’ leads to positive impact, the ultimate ‘value of values’.



This post was written and contributed by:

Lisa Gralnek
Principal & Founder, LVG & Co.

An expert brand builder and changemaker, Lisa has spent more than twenty years creating and executing growth strategies for leading fashion, retail, and CPG brands, along with diverse start-ups, SMEs and nonprofits. Dedicated to helping values-led brands grow and innovate, she believes fundamentally in the power and responsibility of each of us to do better- for ourselves and the world we share. Lisa holds a BA in Political Science and French, and an MBA from INSEAD. Learn more at www.lvg-co.com.