I read quite a lot of business books and, do you know? I really don’t like too many of them. I find a lot of them over-simplistic, poorly written and boring. They cherry pick evidence to suit their theories, or they re-hash bits of other theories, pouring old wine into shiny new bottles and adding very little to the sum of human experience.

Some, though, I do like. One, Maverick, by Ricardo Selmer, played a part in inspiring me to leave the safety of paid employment and setting up my own business. Obrigado, Senor Selmer.

Another one I really like is Winning by Jack Welch, the legendary (I think he deserves that) CEO of General Electric. Chapter One is called “Mission and Values – so much hot air about something so real” 

It’s well worth a read, but the key learning I got from it is this: your business has values. And they might not be the values that you want it to have.

Most companies these days have a statement of what they are here to do – a mission statement – and some associated values. These tend to be quite generic, like “we delight our customers” or “we out-perform our competitors on price and service” or “we want this to be a great place to work”.

They put up posters, they may even have conferences and launch events, training days and the like. Which is all well and good, but, unless you are very lucky, they are not the actual values of your organisation. And, whole they stay on the poster or the values page on the intranet, they will stay that way.

The values of an organisation are quite core – they form, if you recall, the second ring from the centre on our model. They are the things which people hold to, what gives them the sense of what is the right thing to do in any given situation.

So you can have an espoused value of “Being open and honest” – a laudable aim, Im sure you will agree. However, if people actually value personal power and building that up within an organisation, then you won’t get openness or honesty. Knowledge is power, and if having knowledge puts you in a position of power over others, then you aren’t going to share that knowledge, are you?

The worst line manager I have ever worked for (no names, no pack drill here) had values based on fear. They needed to be seen to be in control and would not do anything that might result in failure, or reflect on them badly.

These values meant that all they out-sourced all the fun and interesting stuff to an external provider, and the team were left with the safe, mundane and  tedious. Any praise for the team went to the manager and no-one else, any blame was immediately delegated, either down or out.

It was not a happy place to work, and I was thoroughly miserable for several months, until I managed to escape and work for someone else.

The someone else was far more positive. Their values were around hard work, doing a good job, and having a damn good time while you were doing it.  It was one of the happiest, most productive teams I’ve ever been in.

These two different experiences were driven by the personal values of the manager, and they drove the values of the team. This often happens in an organisation – values are driven top down.

I was speaking at a conference once with David McLeo, and he mentioned something he overheard at a company event – the CEO was up on stage and said: “My door is always open”, to which someone muttered to his neighbour “Yes, always open to good news”.

Sound familiar? Leaders say they want to hear everything – the old “open and honest” value – but when you go up and tell them the project has gone over budget or the contract you were chasing has gone to someone else and what is the reaction? If their value truly is of openness and honesty, they will sit down, discuss it, and help everyone learn how to move forward.

Or they may have a value of competing – and wanting to win. Senior people in organisations often do, for some strange reason, and if you go to them with a story of failure the reaction will be very different. 

You see the negative reaction and that becomes what is valued – we only tell people about success stories, we bury failure, or blame someone else. The result is that mistakes get repeated rather than ironed out, which can’t be good for anyone.

So have a think – what are my values? What are the values of my organisation? Are they the same as the ones on the mousemats and posters? Or are they something different.

If you are a leader think about your personal values – what is really important to you? What matters? What makes you, you? Now look at your organisation’s values statement – can you align your personal values? If not, then something might have to change.

What are the real values of your organisation? Do they match the ones on the posters? Or are they something completely different?

In a future blog I will share my experience of aligning organisational values and brand values. It’ll be great, believe me.