Turning Values Inside Out

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This oft-quoted proverb seems useful on its face, but for me, it’s always opened a question…. What if we need to go a long way quickly? It’s a valuable question both on our approach in life planning and in business strategy.

‘Strategy’ has an interesting derivation. It’s from the Greek, ‘stratēgia,’ which translates as ‘generalship.’ So it comes from military usage—hence the association with ‘missions,’ ‘tactics,’ and ‘campaigns.’ It became business jargon only in the mid-20th century, and since that time it has become one of the foremost concerns of graduate business schools—and the ‘armies’ of MBAs they’ve released into the wild!

Setting aside the problem of the conflict-based, central analogy, strategy has unfortunately become limited in another way. Missions, tactics, and campaigns are associated with goals, objectives, and projects; they’re all about what we’ll do. But they say little to nothing about how we’ll behave while doing the work.

How much have you considered the how of your work?

What values will help your organization achieve its mission?

We’ve talked extensively about practical first steps in living organizational values, but as an entrepreneur and owner-operator, your first challenge may be to define the lines that separate your own personal values from those of the organization you’re creating. This isn’t to imply at all that you should be leaving your personal values at home and embracing a different set of values in your workplace. After all, if you can’t see yourself in the values of your company, then why would you want to build it at all?!

The same is true, though, for future employees: If they can’t see themselves in the values of your organization, then why would they find it appealing to work there? Or customers: Why would they buy from you? Your challenge is to define a clear set of values upon which you can build a compelling culture.

What makes a set of values compelling?

Junxion’s TrustBrand™ approach helps leaders to identify the values present in their organizations, and to plan shifts that will enhance their brand, culture, and performance. Over the years, we’ve come to identify ‘table stakes’ values—those that simply must be in place for organizations to endure. Some of these are obvious: ‘honesty,’ ‘respect,’ and ‘integrity’ are essential to any organization. After all, can you imagine a culture enduring if it was built on dishonesty, disrespect, or celebrated behaviours that were out of integrity?!

More interesting are the values that organizations choose. These are ones where the entrepreneur could have gone either way. One value choice that Junxion faces quite frequently is whether to be collaborative, engaging with businesses that need to improve their environmental footprints, or outspoken, advocating for change and speaking truth to power. Both are defensible values, but the choice we make might drive different behaviours, and potentially divergent outcomes. It can be a tricky, ‘creative tension.’ (At a systems level, both are needed in order to accelerate progress, but that’s a post for another day.)

The most powerful values guide ‘over and above’ behaviour.

Most interesting are the values that help organizations to thrive. These are the ones that guide ‘over and above’ behaviours, and they’re the ones that you must uphold consistently, if they’re to drive your company’s reputation. In today’s technology-driven world, for example, openness and transparency are increasingly in demand. This is in part because social media has shifted popular culture toward more openness; the push for transparency is also a by-product of decreasing levels of trust in larger businesses and institutions. Generally speaking, if yours is a business that needs to hire a millennial workforce, openness and transparency are likely to be values that will help you to thrive.

How do you build a brand and culture, based on values?

Values aren’t separate from strategy. They’re fundamental to it.

For those of us that have been advocating for more than two decades that companies should take up a purpose beyond profit, recent media attention on ‘purpose’ feels long overdue. Fundamentally, your company’s purpose is your answer to why it exists at all. The great brands of the next decades will be anchored in a clear, unwavering purpose. Once you’re clear on that, your next challenge will be to define the three to five organizational values that will help underpin a culture aligned toward that purpose.

This isn’t separate from strategy. It’s fundamental to it. So integrate them: don’t let values drift and slide, and certainly don’t delegate values’ definition to the HR team. They’ll do a fine job, but they simply don’t have the gravitas of your office.

Alongside your purpose, your values must inspire engagement—among staff, customers, and other stakeholders. They’re also an opportunity for you to distinguish your business from peers or competitors in your market or sector—differentiating your brand and culture, in a way that remains relevant and empowering for your stakeholders. And finally, they must be authentic.

‘Authenticity’ is a word that is often confused as a value in itself. Typically, people who use it as a value really want to foster open and honest communication—more table stakes. In our view, authenticity is better understood as the consistent adherence through time to a chosen set of values. This consistency is essential to brand-building, because it’s imperative to building trust in a culture.

So what does it mean to ‘turn values inside out?’

Your organization’s values aren’t necessarily or entirely your values. Yes, as the founder and the owner-operator, you’ll have a significant influence on the values around which you build your company’s brand, but your powerful opportunity is to flip this.

What are the values your company needs to hold, in order to accelerate toward achieving its purpose?

This is rarely an easy question to answer. So it’s one of the challenges we’ll tackle with attendees of Business Inside Out in September. Will you be there?


Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion. He will lead Business Inside Out at Hollyhock September 16 – 19. Designed for leaders of social purpose and technology ventures, Business Inside Out will be an intensive retreat to accelerate personal leadership and business growth. Attendees will envision their next 10 years, and leave with the tools, skills and support to ensure their success. Registration is open.


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