Defined Values Are Actionable Values

A few years ago, a certain financial firm made the news despite their fourteen defined general business principles that supposedly were in place in order to ensure everyone within the company lived up to their desired reputation of integrity and honesty. Yet when it came down to specific behaviors and choices, these principles were secondary to greed – resulting in their being investigated for mortgage fraud.

In most organizations, values are defined in lofty terms that are difficult to translate into practical, day-to-day application. Without clearly defined behavioral guidelines – describing exactly how a “great corporate citizen” behaves – each leader and staff member can define those values as it suits their personality, role, and activities. If you don’t behave according to how I uniquely define “honesty,” for example, my trust of you is eroded. The result over time? Loss of respect increased stress and anxiety, and inconsistent treatment of employees and customers.

One of the most important elements of purposeful, positive, productive work cultures is a set of company values that are measurable, tangible, and observable. If values are not measurable, it is impossible to consistently hold leaders and staff accountable for those values.


To make your company values actionable, follow these steps to define your values in behavioral terms.


  1. For each value, brainstorm potential behaviors that you’d be PROUD to see all staff demonstrate when they’re modeling this value. Note that we say “demonstrate” because we cannot measure nor hold people accountable for what they “think,” what their “attitude” is, or what they “believe.” We CAN, however, measure AND hold people accountable for demonstrating (acting on) clearly defined behaviors.


  1. Cull through the behaviors to reduce the list to three to five behaviors per value. Answer these questions to help with the selection process:
  • Is this behavior measurable? Can I reliably “score” this behavior from low to moderate to high at any point in time? If NOT, toss it.
  • Is this an observable behavior? Can I assess someone’s demonstration of this behavior by watching and/or listening to their interactions with customers, peers, and stakeholders? If NOT, toss it.
  • Is this behavior unique to a particular function or unit? The behaviors for these “organization-wide” values must be global (relevant to all staff). If the behavior isn’t one that is appropriate for all staff members (no matter what function or unit they serve in), toss it.


If you have not identified 3-5 behaviors for each value that meet the criteria above, go back to brainstorming (step 1). Cull through those until you have selected the best, most descriptive 3-5 behaviors for each value.


  1. For each behavior, define three key measures: “exceeds the standard,” “meets the standard,” and “needs improvement.” This step helps develop the assessment tool that your organization will use regularly to gather data on how well staff members (at all levels) are modeling these valued behaviors. Let’s use an example from an actual client to map out how this works.


Value:  Integrity

Definition:  We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.



  • I clearly define the commitments I make, ensuring my promises are well-understood by the person I’m making that promise to.
  • I do not lie, stretch the truth, or withhold information from a peer, customer, or stakeholder.
  • If I am unable to keep a commitment, I inform all people who will be impacted immediately.


Exceeds Standard:

“I willingly make promises and commitments. I proactively keep people informed of my progress. I let others know if, despite my best efforts, a deadline will be missed. I rarely miss promised delivery.”


Meets Standard:

“I make promises and commitments in the present, keenly aware that I’m guaranteeing my performance on that promise. I consistently deliver what I promise.”


Needs Improvement:

“I am hesitant to make promises or commitments. I don’t always keep people informed about my progress. My ‘word’ isn’t highly trusted among my peers. Delivery of expected results is inconsistent.”


Note that each valued behavior requires a separate set of measures. Ensure that each measure truly gauges only one behavior (not multiple behaviors).


  1. Test these measurements with key players throughout the organization. The best approach is to create a draft “community values” questionnaire/assessment/survey and pilot it with a few teams. Refine it to the point where you are confident it effectively measures these valued behaviors. NOTE: Survey development is a unique skill. Make sure to use a qualified assessment processor.


  1. Survey the entire organization using your custom values assessment, twice each year. Publish results throughout the organization in as many ways as necessary to ensure all staff know how the organization is doing with the goal of “modeling our values.” Reward those folks who are seen as demonstrating desired valued behaviors and coach and redirect those who have values gaps. When you find team leaders or team members who are unable to consistently demonstrate desired valued behaviors, lovingly set them free – help them out of the organization.


Are your company values defined in observable, tangible, measurable terms? If so, how well are those behavioral values lived day to day? If not, what values are lived in your organization?


Chris Edmonds is the Founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group.


  • The focus on behaviours over beliefs is so important. We know that every one of us has inherent and unconscious bias. The first thought we might have about someone or something could be heavily biased and negative. But our ability to recognize our own bias and act in a more appropriate way is what sets team players and successful leaders apart. Over time, that unconscious negative bias will eventually erode but we can fix our actions to create more positive work cultures immediately.

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