Values Drive Business Success (But Only If They’re Clear and Applied)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey Executive Summary reported that according to responses from 7700 employed millennials from 29 countries, “the values that support long-term business success are people treatment, ethics, and customer focus. While people treatment, ethics, and customer focus may be the values that drive business success, that only works if they’re applied across the organization. Do people know what the values are? Are they evident in the everyday actions of leaders? Are they factored into daily decisions? 

Even if a company has clear values, applying them is not as easy as leaders might think. According to Gallup (2016), just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.  Leaders might think that values are self-explanatory, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s in the nitty-gritty application of values that people have deep questions. Here are two examples: 

A manager has been told to hire according to the company’s values and to meet or exceed all goals. The candidate that is most likely to improve the department’s chances of meeting goals is not always respectful to others. Which is more important?

An employee sees a disconnect between the company’s stated values and the actions of a new senior leader. Should she follow the stated values or the leader’s direction? 

Leaders must start the conversation and keep it open, model the application of stated values, clear up areas of confusion and use the company’s values to guide daily work. Then and only then will values be “powered up” to drive business success. The power of values is not in stating them on the website and glossy brochures – it’s in the much more difficult process of living them in our everyday choices.  

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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