Paint by Numbers

“Our Values: customer focus, responsibility, innovation, performance, teamwork.”

What do you think when you read something like that?

“That’s an important list of drivers that gives me an insight into how they run their business” or, “Yadda, yadda”?

Lists like these might (just) look good from a distance — “oh, they say something about values” — but get close and you realise there’s nothing there.

Painting by Numbers?

It’s the painting-by-numbers of leadership. (And would you put one of those on your wall?)

Values are the guiding principles of how you make trade-offs, and they shout loud the kind of business you are. Tell me you have an unconvincing list of empty concepts at the heart of your business, and I’m likely to believe you.

But what about this from a firm of retail consultants?

“Obsessive. We are obsessed with fashion and shopping. We live it, love it, and just ‘get it’. An obsessive passion which means we’re like a ‘dog with a bone’ to get the best job done.”

‘Obsessive’ means something to this company and any recruit or customer who reads that little story would have at least some idea of what they’re dealing with. Convinced by the story or not, this is a different kind of company to our friends with ‘customer focus’.

The Truth

Every business has values, whether they’re written down and posted to an About Us page or not. If you decide to disclose yours, don’t be tempted by blandery, don’t settle for a wish list of concepts that you’d like to be true, and don’t waste your time with the dictionary.

Values are the truth about who you are as a company and if you want your staff to live them and your customers to trust them, if you want them to make any difference at all, show what they mean by giving some context.

Search for stories that describe who you are on your best days. What is absolutely true about your company, and absolutely you? Write it down. And publish that.

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