Organizational Values: Live Them and They — the Talent — Will Come

“For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on Earth. And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy.”

This was part of the missive that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, sent his employees after the big jury verdict that Apple won against Samsung.

As I read through this statement, a big smile came to my face. It’s more important than patents or money — it’s about values. And if you ever wondered why Apple is valued at more than any other company, re-read that line.

Values = Culture

My beaming smile came about because I had just heard a CEO talk about values in a way that I had not heard before. To compare patents and money vs. values, and have values proclaimed as the winner, is a victory for Apple employees, vendors, and customers.

What a way to put the stake in the ground. No values statement was every created that would surpass those three words (It’s about values) from Tim Cook.

So many times, organizations get caught up in the never-ending chase for profits, so much so that everything and everyone else has to stand in line. All too often, that “line” is composed of overworked, unengaged workers looking to get out.

Values guide your organization’s thinking and actions. The saying is that “actions speak louder than words,” but in this case the words were spoken at a decibel level that drowned out actions and made a real impact.

That’s not always how it happens, of course. We have all witnessed how organizations state a set of values but then operate under another set as if they had amnesia.

Live it and they will come

Values are like a beacon in the night. No chest pounding or big shot pronouncements are needed because if you live them, they will come. When I say “they” I mean the talent you need to run the organization, the customers who buy your product, and the communities that you operate in.

That is the value chain that drives this success thing. There is no big mystery to it. The problem is that you have to live it — and so many companies fall short.

While they may be abstract, values are the compass that should guide the organization’s thinking and actions. They are the foundation on which a company is built. They should not just be a group of words that sound great; they have to permeate every part of the organization. This is the key point on the differentiation map because it tells the world that, yes, you are different in how you view the world and your place in it.

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How do we begin to find it?

Values are revealed by your actions and thinking. How do we set priorities? As leaders. you are the lightning rod of the organization because your actions speak louder than any statement that you could ever write.

How do you spend your time, how do you communicate within the organization, and how do you go about your responsibilities and tasks? Would your employees feel comfortable walking up to you and having a conversation? If you can’t respond favorably to these questions, there is a disconnect.

Your values should cascade down the organizational food chain. We all get caught up in the senior leadership mystique and will gladly place any blame at their office door.

But I want to let you all know a little secret: We all must live it, and not just point to the top floor of the organization. While we all hope that values would cascade down like a waterfall from the top, create your own and you become the starting point.

HR as the navigator

If you are in HR, you should always have your antenna up and making sure that you and your organization are “on” message. Why HR? Well, last time I checked, HR’s expertise is in people. You should have access to senior leadership and hold their feet to the fire the same as you hold your team’s feet to the fire for living, eating, and breathing the values of your organization.

If this sounds a little hokey, just look at any engagement survey and it sticks out like a black eye. Every one of us should be on the forefront meeting this enemy of personal lives, corporate debauchery, and careers gone bad.

If you feel the opposite and boredom has set in, remember that boredom is the tell-tale indicator that your values have a slow leak that will drain you and your organization dry. If you feel this way in your organization, it may be time for you to seek the next adventure.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


8 Comments on “Organizational Values: Live Them and They — the Talent — Will Come

  1. Ron – An excellent and timely post.  As president, founder and Chief Culture Architect at Core Value Solutions, Inc., I live and breath values as the driver of organizational culture.  I’ve had experience integrating values into the fabric of the business, where every decision was made in the context of those values.  Its a wonderful way to run a company, since everybody has a common ‘language’ surrounding their activities.  Once you’ve experienced that, anything else becomes intolerable.  I describe it as value ‘systems’, since a systemic approach to integration is the way to sustain and reinforce organizational values.  It also dovetails nicely with the ‘conscious capitalism’ movement that stresses the importance of purpose beyond profit.  I believe its the business model for the 21st century, and those late to the party will not survive.  

    Thanks for helping others see the light.


    1. Well said, John. Many people interpret success differently and use various indicators to measure the result. But, to achieve success by compromising the very values one espouses is no recognition at all. There are many businesses and individuals out there that succeed with monetary profits, at the expense of compromising humastic values in creating a win-lose situation. If, “you reap what you sow” is true, one day it will clawback to haunt the outcome.  

  2. GREAT ARTICLE! I was hanging on to every word and absorbing its true meaning. This one is a keeper that I will have in my archives of articles to refer to every now and then. Thank you.

  3. Ron,

    I couldn’t agree more with your views on values, including the part about HR playing the navigator role in championing those beautiful words or statements banded under core values.

    But, to hold HR accountable in “making sure that you and your organization are “on” message” is quite a challenge when the guy(s) breaking all the “rules” is(are) the Driver/Pilot !.

    Right now, as I write, I am in such a position where survival hinges on how I cautiously navigate the political landscape and thrive through the culture  laid down by the leadership. 

    Values shape the Culture. The big question is “who” is in the driver seat driving it.

    The fish always rots from the head. A company is only as great as it’s Leader first, then it’s followers !.      

    1. Yuva – I’ve been in your shoes.  Its a tough spot.  But you really have no choice:  you need to confront the individual(s) whose behavior is at odds with the values your company has espoused.  Value systems require commitment:  behavioral, intellectual, and spiritual, and if your leadership is unable or unwilling to live up to that commitment then the integrity of the culture is destroyed.

      A job without integrity is really a prison.  You maintain your integrity by exposing, in a professional, compassionate, and direct fashion, actions and/or behaviors which you believe violates the values the company has established.  This is a hard and risky exercise on your part, but you owe it to the company, and yourself, to get clarity surrounding the importance of these principles.  The answer will leave you with a choice regarding your career.  And remember, whatever the answer the accountability lies with them, not you.  You have not failed; they have.

      I believe everyone deserves a job with integrity.  Unfortunately, many people believe that they have to make compromises  in order to keep their job.  It’s a slippery slope.  A compromise here and a compromise there, and all of a sudden you become a person you didn’t want to be. 

      Only you can decide how you want to proceed; there are a number of paths in front of you.  Which ever one you choose will have an impact on what you see when you look in the mirror.  Good luck, and God speed!


      1. John, thanks for empathising with my disposition.

        As a retired soldier, I uphold the value of “integrity” as a guiding principle in life. I have been through many crossroads- trials and tribulations that I consider to be tests upon my courage and will of character. Sometimes, I feel a tinge of regret leaving the uniform early to take up the corporate challenge. But then again, hardship and difficulty is what makes living meaningful.     

        Life is too short to mull over the dilemmas caused by unscrupulous, egocentric and integrity-less leaders.

        At age 44, I left a well paying job after 6 months into it because I refused to compromise my integrity in towing a very murky line drawn by my boss. Though financially poorer, I am now more richer in spirit and emotion. At least, I have a boss who values my integrity, discipline and profesionalism. My biggest challenge is timing the tipping point. I am helping my boss break-through the cultural barrier and lead the management team on the strategic frontline. I laid it down to him that he has to bell the cat to turnaround a 25 year old titanic size ship.

        Yes, good luck and god’s speed sure can help. God bless us all.   

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