What are values without behaviours?

28 February 2023

Values have long been touted as the crowning glory of a culture.

Yet also a guilty conscience.

When Barclays was embroiled in a banking scandal, out came the values in six-foot Perspex in the reception area of the Canary Wharf headquarters.

Enron was known to have much lauded values, until it met its maker.

Google say that you can make money without being evil – but have sacked colleagues in an email.

Twitter has four priorities – healthy conversations, security and privacy, the open internet and [drumroll] civic integrity.  But still alienated colleagues and consumers almost overnight with a big lack of integrity.

In fact, as MIT highlighted back in 2020, there remains a real and ongoing Values Gap.  This graphic highlights the difference between what companies say about themselves and what employees think.  It shows a real disparity between projection and perception.

Which leads us to our opening premis – what are values without behaviours?

Values shouldn’t be a passive, words-on-a-wall, cultural feel-good fantasia.  They must be articulated, actionable and accountable.

Articulated – i.e. rather than simply words on a page or statements of intent; show how these values impact on the success, wellbeing and performance of individuals, team and the organisation at large.

Actionable – i.e. a suite of behaviours that help leaders and colleagues to live the values not simply at events and at the company away-day.

Accountable – i.e. leaders and colleagues are measured on how well they perform against a set of behaviours borne out of the values of the organisation.


Without behaviours, without giving colleagues at every level a specific guide on how they can live the values in their everyday roles, how can you really make the values the conscience of the organisation?  Equally, by providing a behavioural framework and making sure it runs through every aspect of the employee experience, it becomes part of the everyday human reflex.  We’ve seen it with organisations such as Mars, where colleagues purposefully take a stand if they feel others are not living up to the values.  We’ve seen it with Nationwide and their PRIDE values, which are directly linked to business performance.  And we’ve seen it with Amazon where their Day 1 culture is fundamental to making the right decisions for the customer.

Starting to build that behavioural framework requires you to consider what makes the company successful and how individuals and teams can perform at their best.  It places an emphasis on what really makes the business tick (now and in the future) rather than what value sounds good.  And it’s not simply what people say; it’s about how people behave.

But when you get this in place and get people thinking and acting in this way, the results can be hugely impressive.

For example, speaking to an international leader recently, he spoke about when he joined an organisation, he reached out to a couple of peers to ask whether they would be willing to fly out and come to a meeting with one of his clients. They said, yes of course.  But that’s easy, that’s words.  Then suddenly the need arose, and he asked if they could be in Denmark the following day.  They were there; no question.  He asked them why did they feel compelled to come, when they have so much going on, and they said ‘why wouldn’t we?’.

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