What is everyone on about when they speak of organisational values?

Katharina Stickling

Values have been a central topic in both philosophy and the social sciences – and have so for a very long time. They define what is perceived as good or bad, fair or unfair, legitimate or illegitimate, and express clear beliefs about human existence[1] and coexistence. Values differ from culture to culture. Even more so, they are regarded as a tool to influence culture – the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a people or group, such as the employees of an organisation. 

But how do they come to be? How do they serve people or the organisation? In what way can they help prevent or solve issues? And how are they best applied? 

The original source of an organisation’s culture is usually reflected in the values of the organisation’s founder/s, along with their purpose, vision and mission. Since they had the original idea for a service or product, they tend to also have unique ways of carrying it out. As the values filter through the organisation to each individual, they can be understood as the verbal explanation of collective belief. This belief will shape behaviour and the actions people take. 

Why should you define your values as an organisation?

In an organisational setting, the conformity with organisational values is offered as an alternative to the bureaucratic control of the past.[2] Instead of the rigid control of everything and everyone, values become the guidelines for social interactions, processes and even product innovation. This is important because the values underlying any action and activity of an employee will have a significant impact on the identity and culture of the business overall. 

Identifying and defining these values allows business founders and management to set the tone around how actions should be taken and decisions made. A behavioural interview conducted by HR to evaluate the demonstrated behaviours of a job applicant in respect to the organisation’s values will for example help to decide whether or not the person would  be a good fit.

In a recent study, a team of researchers discovered that when the official organisational values match the personal values of their employees (‘values alignment’) the numerous benefits include higher job satisfaction, less turnover, better teamwork, more effective communication, bigger contributions to the organisation, and more productive negotiations, as well as higher diversity, equity, and inclusion.[3]

What is Harrowfield’s philosophy of values? 

Here at Harrowfield People Development we believe that values are the DNA of every organisation. They shape how you engage with each other – in every oh so tiny interaction – and how you work together to reach your mutual and individual goals. It is a way to offer simplicity and communicability about the ‘how we do work around here’.

Yet, employees shouldn’t be expected to remember a shopping list of generic assumptions like honesty, integrity, accountability, and responsibility unless these have a very specific meaning in the history of the organisation. Rather than moral reminders (which are likely in your code of conduct), you want them to be genuine indications of what is critical, exciting or inspirational in how you go about your work. Look for the values and behaviours you observe in yourself and others, what onlookers and clients have observed, and those that have led to your success up until now. Seek out those that will get you to your vision. 


Start with this question: What do you truly stand for? And go from there.


[1] Boudon, R. (2013). The Origin of Values: Sociology and Philosophy of Beliefs. Contemporary Sociology A Journal of Reviews 32(1),116. https://doi.org/10.2307/3089889

[2]  Ouchi, W. G. (1980). Markets, Bureaucracy & Clans. Administrative Science Quarterly 25, 129–41.

[3] Ingram, P., & Choi, Y. (2022). What Does Your Company Really Stand For?. Harvard Business Review.

Harrowfield is a strategic learning agency. Working to a specific client brief, we draw on the disciplines of organisational and behavioural psychology to determine and execute strategic and tactical programmes for personal development and team development. 

Can you see a need for identifying or improving your organisational values so that they work to enhance your organisation? We offer interactive and thought provoking workshops to carve out your unique set of values and support you in articulating them in language that rings true. Talk to us today.

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