Katherine Newcombe

Back in the spring we started looking at how culture – as a collection of languages, values, attitudes and rituals – plays an important role in shaping a business.

We’ve already spoken about how language forms the building blocks of cultural identity; now let’s explore values. Take a moment to recall your company’s ‘official’ values. These are often statements which have been carefully crafted to represent an executive view of how the company should behave both externally and internally.


Value statements are prickly things, as they have the potential to be misinterpreted, manipulated or simply ignored. At worse, they belie fundamental problems within company culture – if a core value is, for instance, “to be a highly effective, lean and fast-moving organization,” what does this say about the true productivity of the business today? How would an employee react to hearing that value?

The challenge business leaders must face is how to embed values, not impose them. While publishing a list of company values may seem like a quick win, true culture change is by its nature a gradual process. To get people to truly believe the values, and to unconsciously accept and display those values on a day-to-day basis, they must feel as though the values are not only a representation of the company’s overall vision and mission but a reflection of their own vision and mission for themselves at that company.

Consider your own company’s values again – do you remember them? Do you feel your behaviour reflects the values? Do you have to think about the values or are they so ingrained that they trip off your tongue?

How you embed values will depend on many factors including company structure, history, language, existing values and missions – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

One key tip that might help get you started – get people involved, early and often. People always want to be listened to!

You may find the values you want are already there – you only need to ask.