Traditional vs. Progressive Values. Which are better?

Traditional-vs-Progressive-Values-Which-are-better?I rarely join the political foray on values. However, it strikes me this is a good time to evaluate the differences between traditional and progressive values, and their impact on business.

Conservatives in America (both the Republican Party and Tea Party) love to talk about the importance of traditional values. They’ve even built political campaigns on “preserving our values.” The most common term referenced by these groups revolve around Family Values. But I argue there is no such thing as family values.

Then there are liberals (the Democratic Party) who love to promote progressive values. Here too, political campaigns abound promoting “progressive thinking.”  As an example, at the passing of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, President Obama applauded him as a “determined champion of progressive values.” But what exactly are progressive values, and who decides what they are?

Politicians love to talk about values because they represent a nebulous concept of what everyone wants; yet no one can clearly define. They talk about values as if they should be guarded like gold bars, yet no one understands their true worth. Values are held up as a standard we should all live by, yet no one can pinpoint their boundaries.

The battle of values also spills over into the business world.

Traditional Values in Business

Traditional values in business are important. But which traditions are we preserving, and how? For instance, most everyone would agree that Respect is an important value. But how is it demonstrated and what is considered acceptable behavior?

Two examples:

  1. Only sixty years ago, it was considered acceptable for a white man to ignore a black man and not hold a door open for him as they entered a building (if they even entered through the same door). Today, it’s expected that employees show respect to persons of all races, nationalities, gender, and sexual orientation.
  2. Only thirty years ago, it was acceptable for a business to achieve its revenue and profit targets with little-to-no regard to the impact on the environment. Today, business success without consideration for environmental impact is considered irresponsible.

So, respect is still an important value. But how it’s demonstrated has changed.

The way values are expressed evolve over time. Therefore, business leaders need to continually evaluate and revise how values are expressed to ensure they’re relevant for employees, customers, shareholders, and the community at large.

Maybe you’re wondering which values would be considered Traditional Values in business? I propose the 17 Common Values, identified through my research of Fortune 500 companies, best represent the values all customers – and employees – expect a business to embrace.

However, sometimes a value might be perceived as being more progressive than traditional.

Progressive Values in Business

The concept of Progressive Values can sound quite appealing, especially to those who are hungry for change. But what’s causing the push behind the change? And is it sustainable, or will it simply provide a short-term win?

Two examples:

  1. In the late 1990s, many dot-com startups touted the progressive idea that the old-style business plan was passé and no longer relevant. To create a successful company, all that was needed was a brilliant idea and then sell it online. But it only took a few years for the dot-com bubble to burst, and the recognition that those with a solid business plan had a much higher chance of success (as they always did).
  2. Over the past 10 to 15 years, businesses of all types and sizes have become aware of the importance of ranking at the top of search engine results. For some, it’s their single biggest focus and measurement of success. And, not surprisingly, investments in SEO and content marketing are rising rapidly. But without a quality product – and a user-friendly website – being at the top of search engines won’t save any business.

The fundamentals of business haven’t changed.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, or the size of your business.  A successful business consistently delivers value to its customers; treats employees fairly; and provides a reasonable return to shareholders.

So, how can a business stay ahead of the competition in an ever-changing world?

Values that Make a Difference

Instead of clinging to traditional values or pushing progressive values, consider what makes your company exceptional. What sets your company apart from your competitors? Why do customers buy from you vs. someone else? What’s the purpose behind the business?

Just as every person is unique, so is every business.

Identifying and developing Differentiating Values will have the greatest impact on your business, both short and long-term. It’s what builds great brands.

Consider why it’s easy to identify the following traits with each of these brands:

  • 3M is known for innovation.
  • Coke is associated with happiness.
  • Disney is linked with magic.
  • FedEx is identified with reliability.
  • LinkedIn is recognized for creating connections.
  • Volvo is renowned for its safety.

When differentiating values become part of the fabric of the organization, they inject value into all products and services, create value for customers, drive the value of reward programs for employees and volunteers, build brand value, and ultimately increase shareholder value.

So, if you want to create competitive advantage for your business, develop your differentiating values.


Which values are making a difference at your company?


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I write about differentiating values and their impact on leadership, marketing, and marriage - focused on couples in business together. Read more about Robert.