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Posted on Oct 21, 2016

7 Questions To Determine If Your Values Are Relevant

7 Questions To Determine If Your Values Are Relevant

The top three values across all organizations are: Integrity (ethics), Respect (trust), and Excellence (quality). If I asked the leader of an organization if these are relevant to their customers, of course they’d say yes.

I tell leaders this is cheating. It’s taking the easy way out.

The reason these are the most common values is because they are relevant to everyone. But do these values truly make a difference? Rarely. In fact they often do more harm when leaders violate them (e.g. the Wells Fargo ethics scandal).

When I help leaders identify Differentiating Values for their organization – those values that define a unique positioning and competitive advantage – I always apply my Values Test: they must be Unique, Relevant, and Sustainable.

Identifying the Unique part is fairly straightforward for most leaders (I wrote about this here). But understanding Relevance seems to be a difficult task.

So my objective with this article is to stimulate your thinking with a set of questions that can be used as a filter in discovering values that are relevant to key stakeholders.

7 Questions to Determine If Your Values Are Relevant

Question-marks-with-one-redFor every value under consideration, ask the following 7 questions:

  1. Is it core to your organization’s mission? For example, the value of “healing” is clearly relevant to the mission of Mayo Clinic, “To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being…” of patients.
  2. Does it support your organization’s vision? For example, the value of “absurdly ambitious” is likely highly relevant to a company like SpaceX that has a vision of “enabling human life on Mars.”
  3. Do the existing strengths of your organization support it? For example, the value of “play” seems quite relevant to a company like Mattel that prides itself on “providing an engaging environment for employees.”
  4. Is it pertinent to the brand promise? For example, the value “think big” seems relevant to a company like Amazon that promises “Earth’s biggest selection…”
  5. Is it supported by the brand experience? For example, the value “Fun-LUVing Attitude” is well aligned with what many passengers experience when traveling with Southwest Airlines.
  6. Will it frustrate competitors? In other words, would competitors want to own this value if they had everything your organization possessed? This is very evident in comparative advertising where one company compares itself to another (e.g. the value of “coverage” in the U.S. telecom market).
  7. Does it add value to in a meaningful way to your best (highest valued) customers? For example, the value of “improving lives” is exceedingly relevant and meaningful to the core customers of TOMS Shoes.

Bonus question: If you asked your best customers (those with the highest lifetime value) to rank what matters most to them, regarding your product or service, would the value you’re considering be in their top five?

The core challenge with determining relevance is the need to understand what key stakeholders – customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, the community, etc. – value most. So, maybe the best way to determine relevance is to follow the well-known advice, “To understand another person, you need to walk a mile in their shoes.”


What other questions or filters would you add?