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Organisational values are important for creating internal and external business value, and vital to succeed as a company in the 21st century. So, the question remains: what constitutes as “good business values”?

During the late 20th century and the early 21st century more and more companies have started to focus on creating a strong company culture as a key to success. A part of a strong culture is a certain set of organisational values. Now every company seems to have their own set of organisational values to represent what they (want to) stand for. Still, just because everybody is doing it, that does not mean that everybody is doing it right. There are still a lot of companies who approach organisational values from the wrong angle. This blog will focus on how your company can directly improve its organisational values and will give you some inspiration to develop your values further.

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If you want action, start inspiring action

The most common made mistake when creating organisational values is that companies aim to stand for something and then end up using passive nouns. As discussed in this and this blog, your organisational values should guide your employees in their everyday work, help them to make choices, and analyse situations. Therefore, passive nouns like: ‘innovation’, ‘honesty’, ‘simplicity’ etcetera, do not inspire action. Simon Sinek expresses it very well in this video where he mentions that if your organisational value is ‘innovation’, people don’t know how to act. Just imagine walking into one of your employees’ office and telling them “Be more innovative!”, what does that even mean? According to Sinek, it is better telling somebody to “Look at problems from a different angle”. Do you see the difference there? ‘Innovation’ is kind of vague, passive, and can lead to different actions. ‘Look at problems from a different angle’ is a concrete instruction, actionable, and directs more towards singular forms of action.

If you are reading this and thinking “oh god, we have to adjust everything now, just because we are using the same passive nouns…”, don’t despair! There is actually not a lot that you have to change. The passive nouns are good to comprehend what you want to represent; they are simply not good enough to be organisational values. To come to that stage, you just need to add behaviours to the nouns which you would like your employees to execute, this does not have to be such a painstaking process. It is one of those processes which is easy to learn, but hard to master. So, let’s review some passive nouns which exemplify a certain behaviour and subsequently some values of companies who, according to us, have described in an actionable way what kind of behaviour they are looking for.

Passive nouns and active actions

So, let’s imagine you have a company and you want to create a certain set of organisational values to steer the behaviour of your employees and to create a certain brand of personalization. Within your company you’d like your employees to: focus on the customer, focus on specialized concrete solutions instead of broad ones, have a proactive problem-solving attitude, and focus on making only the best solutions. This could result in the following list of passive nouns:

  1. Customer focus
  2. Specialized solutions
  3. Proactive problem solving
  4. The best solutions

Alright, now these are some organisational values with which a lot of organisations can identify themselves. They are not in any sense actionable, however. Just imagine walking in your employee’s office and telling them to “Have more customer focus!”, what are they supposed to do? Let’s take a look at how Google and Apple have addressed these values and see if we notice any difference amongst them and/or in comparison to the values set out above.

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Customer focus

Google – “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

Google here exemplifies what they exactly want from their customer focus. With every solution, whenever its employees are in doubt, the answer lies in what is best for the customer. Their employees are motivated not to be afraid to make the tough calls, as long as their focus remains on their customer (user).

Apple – “We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.”

Here there is already a clear distinction between customer focus. It could be argued that Apple is focussing indirectly on its customers by providing great products, however, Google is more outspoken in its focus. Still, it is an inspiring organisational value to have but not that actionable, however.

Specialized solutions

Google – “It’s best to do one thing really, well.”

Google here marks a clear distinction between doing a lot of things reasonably well and focussing only on a couple of specific solutions and doing those very well. So, whenever their employees need to make decisions on what to focus on, they are motivated to narrow down their scope in what they want to solve and specialize.

Apple – “We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.”

Similarly to Google, Apple’s strategy of creating solutions is also based around focus, focus, and focus. Essentially, both Apple and Google are focussing on the same thing, but Apple focusses more on importance and meaning whereas, in my opinion, Google focusses remains more closely to the essence. Still, the picture being painted about declining projects, also gives Apple’s employees the directive that it is okay to say no against projects, as long as it benefits the focus of what they are doing.

Proactive problem solving

Google – “You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.”

Personally, I like this value a lot. A lot of toxic work environments emphasize that every employee should sit behind its desk as a sign of hard work and solving problems. This is a disastrous environment for creativity. As highlighted in this blog, creativity is the outcome of imagination, interaction, and inspiration (which is in part also a result of interaction). Therefore, I would argue that people should get up, interact with one another, and discuss their work-related problems. This requires a proactive attitude stimulated by a supporting organisational culture and values, which could eventually lead to Sinek’s value focussed on innovation and motivate you to “look at a problem from a different angle”.

Apple – “We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.”

Apple too focusses on teamwork but has less emphasis on the proactive part than Google. They believe more in cross-sectional teamwork of their department and teams. Where Google seems to motivate a more proactive attitude of ‘get up and find your answer’, Apple seems to steer more on formalized and routine forms of cooperation within and across teams. Still, their value too emphasizes the importance of teamwork and problem solving, just like Google’s value does.

The best solutions

Google – “Great just isn’t good enough.”

Ever heard of the expression “going above and beyond”? Well, this is Google’s version of going above and beyond. They aim to create only the very best and try and stimulate their employees in the same sense. Whenever they feel that they created a great solution, they are not quite there yet. Everything Google does, they want to do with perfection.

Apple – “We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.”

Like Google, Apple too aspires excellence. Both companies seem to emphasize the importance of going above and beyond but Apple also tries to motivate their employees to admit when they are wrong and to stimulate them to make a change for the better. This expands and widens the value, but also possibly dilutes its scope and direction.

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In conclusion

Organisational values should be actionable. Even if you have very passive and general nouns, you should always strive to make them practical. In this blog I have set apart four different values and taken their respective examples from two companies who approach their organisational values very differently. Google seems to have a more direct clear-cut focus on what they want from their organisational values whereas Apple’s organisational values seem to function more as an inspiration and aspiration. I personally believe that Google’s organisational values are stronger as they give a stronger directive for actions, which is lacking with Apple’s organisational values.

In any case, let us know what you believe to be good organisational values and whether you prefer Google’s or Apple’s approach in the comments below. If you need help to transform your organisational culture, or if you simply need some inspiration for your own organisational values, do not hesitate to get in touch with us and see what we can do for you!

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