Using Values to Build Engagement and a Meaningful Workplace

Fifth in a series

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou

The goal of employee engagement is to drive employee attitudes, behavior, morality, and ethics in such a way as to improve their productivity, morale, satisfaction, and usefulness within the organization. However, many companies have struggled with converting their proclaimed values into compelling, work-changing experiences for their employees.

Often, the problems have been that the values are typically expressed with meaning-neutral (if not meaningless) corporate-speak, or that the values aren’t of a first-order nature. That is, they don’t touch on what truly constitutes the “good” for people inside and outside the organization.

Getting employees to live company values

As such, employees simply haven’t been able to internalize the values. If asked, they may be able to repeat the values verbatim, but their recitation will not be heartfelt. Furthermore, too often their conscious knowledge of the values does not lead to the desired changes in attitudes, behavior, morality, and ethics.

There is a way businesses can get employees to live the company’s values. Ironically, it is by never using the word “values.” Rather, it is by bringing people to the company’s values through feelings.

This is a new way of engaging employees in corporate values. It doesn’t ask employees to buy into potentially bland statements crafted in corporate-speak. Instead, it prompts employees to think about how they want themselves, and others, to be left feeling by the business.

To make this work, the business determines a set of higher-order feelings based on their ambition. These feelings are selected based on their ability to help propel employees in their pursuit of the ambition and their ability to serve as an employee-friendly way of deploying values through employee engagement initiatives.

Engagement built around feelings

The business then engages its employees around these feelings, using them to shape, change, improve, and make more consistent, the employee’s attitudes, behavior, morality, and ethics as it drives them forward toward the ambition.

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For example, employees can be engaged in a process by which they explore how the business can better make them feel the selected feelings through changes and additions to the company policies and procedures.

At the same time, employees can affect change within by questioning how they, and the policies and procedures they control, can be changed or added to in order to make their superiors, peers, and reports more likely to feel the desired feelings.

By focusing on feelings rather than traditional value statements, a business instantly forges a fresh and new emotional connection with its employees. By using feelings as the platform by which it instills its values, businesses discover a better way to engage their employees and to get them to internalize both the business’ ambition (purpose) and its feelings (values).

Did you miss the first four parts of this series? Read Being Meaningful: It’s the Key to Better Engaging Your EmployeesGetting Employees to Respond PositivelyWhy Workplaces Aren’t Meaningful Now, and The Meaningful Workplace: It Takes New Ways of Thinking, and Acting.

This series is excerpted from a white paper titled The Meaningful Workplace that was first published at Emotive Brand.

Jerry Holtaway is Director of Meaningful Insights at Emotive Brand. Prior to Emotive Brand, and for the past 30 years, he has served as a creative and brand strategist for a number of world-class brands including American Express, IBM, Lego, Ballard Spahr, Hanson Bridgett, Symantec, Zynga, VMware, and Nokia. Contact him at


9 Comments on “Using Values to Build Engagement and a Meaningful Workplace

  1. Great post and I completely agree.  You have to know what drives your employees to engage and motivate most effectively.  Values are not easily observable like behaviors…  What methods do you recommend for learning someone’s motivators / values?  

    1. To be honest, there are core human values which are there to tap into; the task for employee engagement is to link what the company aims to do to what individuals want: to do work that matters. Personal relevance and emotional importance are the goals.

  2. Jerry – With all due respect, the notion of using feelings as the vehicle to understand values is dead wrong.  How somebody feels at any given point in time can be influenced by all sorts of inputs, and will likely change independent of any action the company might take. Its a vague platform that may have no relationship to what the company is trying to accomplish.  If companies are struggling with the articulation of their values then they need to revisit what it is they are trying to accomplish.  Sure, how somebody feels in important, but for a company to attempt to articulate their values through feelings is nonsense.

    1. Hi John, IMO what Jerry is saying is that in order to internalize the values, you must have an emotional connection to them.  Otherwise it just falls dead.

      I don’t think it’s meant that engagement is a feeling, or that you try to influence people through an appeal to their emotion alone, it’s more that you can’t just give them a bunch of information that doesn’t connect at a deeper level.

      1. “Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be.“ – Wikipedia 

        Enterprises seek “appropriate” courses of action and outcomes, so they establish and communicate a set of corporate values. But, too many businesses find that employees aren’t sufficiently influenced by these values. In other words, they don’t fully embrace the ideals, they often act in “wrong” ways, and they don’t work together to create what “ought” to be.

        We’re not saying values, per se, are wrong. We’re simply making the case that the intent and meaning of a company’s values can be made more relevant and actionable when leadership thinks differently about the way they engage employees.

        We help our clients identify a unique “Emotional Space” – a set of four positive feelings – that are selected based on their ability to, when experienced by people within and outside the company, make the company truly matter.

        People will only feel this way (and the company will only matter) if everyone in the company shares the same intent, attitude and behavior, all of which need to embody and reflect the company’s values.

        Our belief is that employees will be more involved, creative, and purposeful when they see their task as helping others experience specific feelings. They can easily see how these feelings are rooted in what they believe, how they behave, and the meaningful outcome they (and the company) seek.

        It is challenging to understand the power of this approach in the abstract. However, in working with our clients, we have found it to be a useful way to see how processes, practices, policies and personal interactions within organizations can be evolved to better evoke specific feelings.

        From overarching policy decisions to individual conversations, feelings are a great way to bring corporate values alive and to make your business matter more to people.

  3. The problem I find is that the ones creating the values don’t even believe in them.  There is no passion about it, and they are simply means to an end.  If the leaders really only care about money, and these values are meant as vehicles to that goal, there won’t be the sincere emotional connection you are talking about.

    I wrote a post on my blog about why values are the #1 reason executive fail to engage employees. 

  4. Getting employees involved in changes with company policy and procedures is a great step. But what else can employers do to enhance company engagement? Put their hands in the changes if you have the time. Allow them to be involved in new hires, referrals, and recruitment. If they have good ideas, take them!

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