Building Company Values


How do we cultivate values? Whether as brands or organisations, how do we decide upon the principles and standards that govern our decisions and behaviour?

There was much talk of values throughout 2020. Values precipitated by a global crisis on issues of diversity, representation and inclusion.

And not to mention the continuing fallout from COVID-19, which continues to reshape and reframe our social relationships. As such, the ethics of how we work and live together have been pulled into sharp focus.

From #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, to how we interact with each other in a shared space, transparency and accountability is now paramount. Undeniable, unassailable, and perhaps more than any other time in history. And with this increased scrutiny comes increased liability.

Falling short of what is expected of us, within a given social contract can prove costly, with reputations and livelihoods quickly cleaved.

Choose Wisely

When people have a choice between two similar products, the values driving them may be the key differentiator. As consumers, we align with ourselves – that is, the best, idealised version of ourselves. Mirrored in the choices we make, reflected in the stories we identify with.

So perhaps this gives some context as to why so many organisations and businesses, lay claim to such noble – yet oddly ubiquitous virtues. Scan a dozen company websites, and common terms quickly emerge from their positioning. Ethical. Sustainable. Transparent. Diverse. Human.

If we were to take these claims at face value, we’d expect our industries to be veritable utopias. Paragons of virtue, where we all practise consideration, empathy and fairness. But unfortunately, this is often far from the truth.

The problem is, values are easy to proclaim, but much harder to exemplify. It’s easy enough to posit an eco-friendly positioning on our company website. But are these values reflected in the energy efficiency of the house we live in, or the car we drive?

When we claim to embrace diversity, is that claim reflected in our workplace’s recruitment processes, or personally within our social group? When we claim to be antiracist, is that ideology reflected in the language we use? Or, do we quickly snap to racial tropes and stereotypes under stress?

Mind the Gap

Such instances, where we fail to live up to our own standards, is referred to as the value-action gap. Effectivology defines the value-action gap as: “a psychological phenomenon where people act in a manner that is inconsistent with their personal values.”

Such inconsistency is akin to a broken contract, as illustrated in the below examples:

If my employer fails to pay me, why should I continue working for them?

When Company X fails to live up to its commitments, why should anyone take them seriously?

If the government doesn’t care about me, why should I care about public property?  

We – as consumers, customers or clients – have to experience values. We have to see them in action, and under fire. Our values are not who we are when everything is going well, it’s who we are when they’re not. When external pressure is applied to them.

How to Fortify Values

There are some measurable steps we can take, to reduce or avoid the value-action gap.

  1. Choose feasible values
  2. Write them down
  3. Make sure there is sufficient buy-in through of our values, through all levels of our organisation
  4. Commit to creating an environment that enables these values
  5. Remind ourselves of our values at opportune moments

In summary

The values we choose to stand upon, should be more than ideals. They are commitments that build trust – in ourselves, our companies and the institutions we depend on. They should underpin our every effort, especially in challenging times.


For more help on navigating company values, book a consultation with Greg Bunbury.

Sources: The Value-Action Gap: Why People Fail to Follow Through on Commitments. By Effectiviology.

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