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Making Values Work: Turning Words into Actions

Among the kinds of leadership behaviors that can frustrate me is found in the following, all too common, scenario:

  • Organizational leaders create a set of “guiding or core values."

  • These values are displayed on posters, banners, websites, etc., for all to see.

  • Then these leaders exclaim, “Yes, we have values. Don’t they look and sound great. Wow, we have values.”

  • Shortly thereafter, these leaders state, “Ok. Let’s get back to work.” No time spent time discussing these values, what they mean, what behaviors reflect and don’t reflect these values, and how ALL employees, including leadership, will be held accountable to practice these values/behaviors.

  • As a result, those stated values are gradually forgotten by employees, along with sensing that they have zero influence on “how we do business” in their organization. (Sounds like those strategic plans in 3-ringed binders that gather dust on the shelf.)

  • In other words, “VALUES WITHOUT ACTION.”

Organizational values are the guiding principles that shape a company's culture, drive decision-making, and define its identity. To be effective, these values must be operationalized. According to, Operationalizing is defined as:

To put into operation, action, or use; Implement.

To “put into operation,” organizational values must be translated from abstract concepts into meaningful behaviors that all employees can practice as part of their day-to-day activities. Values must be integrated into every aspect of the company's operations to be effective. Here are some actions that can aid in transforming values into actionable strategies:

  1. Define Clear Behaviors: Begin by translating each value into specific, observable behaviors. For example, if one of your values is "Integrity," outline what integrity looks like in daily actions, such as honest communication, accountability, and transparency.

  2. Align with Goals: Ensure that your values align with your company's strategic goals. Values should complement and reinforce the organization's mission, vision, and objectives, creating a cohesive framework for decision-making.

  3. Training and Education: Equip your employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to embody these values. Conduct training sessions, workshops, and provide resources that help them understand and apply the values in their roles.

  4. Communication: Regularly communicate your values to the entire organization. Share success stories that highlight how employees have demonstrated these values, fostering a culture that celebrates them.

  5. Feedback Mechanisms: Establish feedback mechanisms that allow employees to provide input on the alignment of values with day-to-day operations. This creates a sense of ownership and encourages continuous improvement.

  6. Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees who exemplify the organization's values. This not only reinforces the values but also motivates others to follow suit.

  7. Evaluation and Measurement: Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that track how well the values are being operationalized. Regularly assess progress and make necessary adjustments.

While all the above may make sense, certainly, operationalizing organizational values and ensuring that they are practiced by employees in every corner of their company is very challenging. No doubt, conscientious leaders who are strongly committed to these values and to seeing them in action everywhere in their organization, may occasionally lose sleep at night wondering if this is the case.

Nevertheless, when values are woven into the fabric of the company, they become a powerful force for shaping its culture and driving success. In this way, values cease to be mere words on a wall and instead become a living, breathing part of the organization's DNA, guiding actions and decisions at every level.

Value Your Values.

Jim Dittmar

Jim Dittmar has been a leadership teacher, trainer, and coach for over thirty years. Leadership development is his passion. Currently, Jim is President and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute, Director of Leadership Beaver County, and an adjunct professor at several universities and colleges. If you are interested in contacting him about using his leadership services in your organization, please email him at or call him 724-462-9962.

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