Are Values Overrated?


If you’ve ever attended a leadership seminar or a team development workshop, values were most likely discussed as key component of building an effective organization.

Most businesses spend hours or even days strategizing over values, posting them all over the office and laminating value cards for all the employees. But are values, in and of themselves, all they are cracked up to be?

Too often organizational values are thought of as soft, intangible, touchy-feely words that carry very little if any weight when it comes to driving performance and delivering on the bottom line.

And truth be told, businesses often choose values that are more like buzz words rather than concrete, specific values that are aligned with business goals.

Soft vs. Tangible Values

According to the annual Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker, values that are concrete and that reflect specific business objectives are much more effective. Here is what they found:

65% of workers who could name their values say they had a strong grasp of company objectives, versus only 23% of workers say they didn’t know any.

What this tells us is that when we align our values with our key deliverables, our employees are much more likely to embrace those values and live them out as part of their day-to-day operations.

In her article titled “Why one-word organizational values fail,” Dora Wang explains that business values are worthless unless employees and leaders live by them.   She says: “You can’t claim “integrity” if your workers don’t know how or why they can show integrity. Leaders must be able to concretely explain why the values are important and how every worker can help fulfill them — in simple, concise language. If you’re going to use value metaphors, make sure every employee explains the realistic, everyday meaning of that metaphor.”

Examples of Good Values

So, what are example of good values? Values that are much more than buzz-words but rather help define the end goals of a business?

Here are few examples of values from Amazon to help illustrate good kinds of values:

Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 


Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

Leaders and Values

Once tangible and actionable values are established, those who lead businesses and organizations have the responsibility of living out those self-imposed statements.

Leading by example has become a cliché, but as we’ve learned from Volkswagen, when leaders not only fail to live out the values they profess, but engage in business activities contrary to what those values espouse, business will suffer loss. In Volkswagen’s case, the loss was over 6 billion dollars and a damaged reputation.

Many will recall the cheating scandal that came to head in 2015 in which Volkswagen was caught installing faulty sensors that made the Volkswagen cars emission numbers much better than they really were. Millions of customers were cheated, and as result the car manufacturer’s sales plunged.

The sad thing about Volkswagen was the fact that sustainability and eco-friendliness were some of the values Volkswagen espoused. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, those values were trumped by greed.

Are values overrated? It all depends on the type of values we choose and our commitment to living them out as a business. Selecting tangible and actionable value statements, helping employees connect those to their day-to-day activities, and leading by example in embracing and living out those values as owners and leaders is the magic formula!

If your business is struggling with vague values we’d love to chat with you and see how we can help connect your values to your business goals and to your bottom line!