The Only Good Thing About That Loose List of Values

This Week’s Focus Point

Does your organisation have big sweeping organisational values like:

‘We are bold, innovative and put our customers first’,


‘We collaborate, empower our people and strive for value for money’

Or perhaps you are a little more confrontational, like the one found at Huel (a powdered food company):

Often found on desktop backgrounds or blu-tacked to lunch room walls – these broad sweeping value statements are so abstract they trend towards meaninglessness.

The ONLY thing these statements are good for is creating a strong enough excuse for courageous and non-typical behaviour in interactions between employees and executives.

Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

While working with a client’s team over this past week it was clear that some out-of-the-box thinking was required.

When designing how to harness and oversee their array of change initiatives, the best option was the one that required the executives to re-consider a key element of their newly published organisational design.

Despite being contrary to the design – the team were happy to present it with confidence to their executive because the organisation clearly articulated ‘be bold‘ as a valued behaviour.

What’s interesting is that the team weren’t trying to emulate desired behaviour, but rather it gave them a sense of protection from severe rejection and blowback.

While the option was ultimately rejected, the team benefited from both an increase in reputation and a new label; driving an even greater sense of confidence and self-respect.

There’s two key takeaways for us here:

First, if those behavioural values aren’t respected by your executives then don’t bother. The lack of congruency between what is seen and what is ‘meant to be’ will destroy morale faster than a raging locomotive. This executive group respected their listed values so any political challenge that might have otherwise resulted was muted.

Second, growth labels are powerful. This will be an entire topic of a future post, but in short, we humans lean heavily on psychological shortcuts. One such shortcut is through quick and efficient labelling of ourselves and everyone around us. ‘Go-getters’, ‘addicts’, ‘bludgers’, ”smart’, ‘funny’, ‘charismatic’, ‘extroverted’, ‘left-brained’, ‘creative’, ‘driven’ etc. We sort people into mental boxes.

Labels drive not only our perceptions of others but our perceptions of oursevles.

We gather small amounts of information and quickly jump to limiting or incorrect conclusions (Jump to conclusions mat anyone?)

Maybe you failed a maths test in year 2, do you still think you are poor at maths?

Maybe your high school art teacher admonished your creative spirit, and you suddenly concluded you must be ‘a logic based’ person.

The truth is we all operate on spectrums and we are so rarely at the extremes. So these labels often perform us a dis-service.

However, these labels can also be used to encourage and create desired behaviour in our businesses.

Putting a poster on the wall won’t do it,

But rewarding desired behaviour and providing the staff with the desired labelling will.

In the client example, the executive expressed a new level of respect for the team becase of the ‘bold action‘.

Have a guess which team will now continue to think innovatively while providing new and interesting options for their organsiation -> yes, the ‘bold’ one.

Your Weekly Challenge

This week:

Consciously watch for labeling in your interactions with others.

Then test it out. In context, consciously plant a seed (label) or two in your staff,

Nurture them and watch them grow.

This Week’s Thought Pulses

Leadership & Performance

Don’t let false labels hold you and your teams back. Watch for negative labels and actively and openly reject them.

Momentum & Energy

A lack of congruency between what is seen and what is ‘meant to be’ will destroy morale faster than a raging locomotive. Cultures change one step at a time. Never pretend to be somewhere too different from where you are.

Delivery & Oversight

Protect your teams. Provide safe spaces for them to try earnestly and fail. Don’t limit success and don’t penalise honest failure.


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