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How Values Set You Apart

In business you can’t rest on your laurels; there are no guarantees. Ethical standards and staying on one’s toes are a basic requirement to sustaining a competitive advantage for large and small companies alike.

Facilitating the strategic thinking and planning process every few years is an ideal way to make sure that you continue to pursue value- driven, forward-thinking strategies.

A great way to start the process is by looking at core values. What do you want to create? What is important? How will your work contribute to others? How do you want to be known?


Values represent fundamental beliefs. Values drive individuals and organizations to determine priorities and take action. They influence the activities that people will do carefully, those that they will do hastily, and those they will try to avoid. What are the values you hold so dear that you would hold them regardless of whether or not they are rewarded?

In the landmark coaching book “Co-Active Coaching” by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, and Phil Sandahl there is a lot of discussion about the importance of values “Honoring our values is inherently fulfilling even when it is hard.” When values are not being honored, people feel internal tension. “Because human beings are flexible and resilient, it is possible to absorb a tremendous amount of discord and keep going. But there is a very high price to pay – a sense of selling out on oneself -and the result is an unfulfilling life-a life of toleration rather than fulfillment.”

If you suddenly had enough money to retire, what core values would you hold on to?


While decision makers in business usually focus on systems and structures, the success of any business initiative is a function of the values and beliefs of the people. While practices and systems change all the time, core values tend to be more stable. Values are formed based on past influences and experiences, and evolve gradually.

If there is anxiety between rules and values, the result is often in action. If, for example, an organization announces that there should be more risk taking to promote innovation, but the people are risk-aversive, then more risk taking is unlikely to occur.

It is almost impossible to “set” organizational values. Values are what each individual really cares about. If we don’t really care, no one can force us to demonstrate those values.

Because it doesn’t work to try to change people’s core values, it is really important to seek out people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values.


In most businesses there are two sets of values. There are the real values that drive current decision-making. In addition, there are preferred values, which an organization believes should be real, even if they are not. For example, an organization hopes to value diversity, but the behavior in the company suggests otherwise. It is not important what is believed, but what is actually communicated and lived.

Alignment between real and preferred values can and should be incorporated as goals in a strategic plan. These goals can be monitored on a regular basis to see if the preferred values are being practiced.

What values are critical in your business, even if at some point one or more of them became a competitive disadvantage?


A change initiative can be successful if there is trust between employees and management. Trust is only built over time usually within a framework of common values. In “The Dance of Change” author Peter Senge says, “A trust gap arises if management values and aims are not clear and credible”.

Values are the glue between an organization’s culture, people, systems, structures and processes. Values are important points of stability during times of change.


While some people (and businesses) can quickly identify the values the drive them, for others their values are so integrated in everything they do, it is hard to articulate what they are. If you are finding it hard to view your situation with objectivity, a business coach can help you identify the values that are important to you, and help you see areas where you or your organization might be compromising values.

As you define a future vision, if you create strategies that build on core values you will be naturally driven to succeed. If you were to start a new business in a new line of work, what core values would you build into the new organization regardless of its activities?

Author: Helene Mazur

Helene is the founder of Princeton Performance Dynamics, an executive coaching and strategic planning facilitation company for business and non-profit leaders and their teams. Helene’s passion is helping her clients to focus their goals, see new perspectives on their current situation, put in place realistic, motivating plans, and execute to achieve new levels of success.