How many core values should your company have? Two? Ten?

Research recently commissioned by my company has revealed some interesting statistical information about core values in companies that are performing well.

Taking the UK’s FTSE 100 index specifically, 100% of companies, I discovered, have written-down values.

All companies have values. It’s just that some of them are communicated by some unspoken code, rather than scribed and framed behind the receptionist.

100% is twice the average amongst companies in general.

Further investigations will reveal the kind of core values that were chosen. That will be another story.

Back to looking at the spreadsheet, I see that the average number of values for a FTSE 100 company is 4.59.

This isn’t entirely surprising.

Three, four and five core values were chosen by 27%, 21% and 30%, respectively. The bulk of businesses occupy this middle ground.

What may cause you to raise your eyebrows is the fact that 7% had seven or more. And one had no less than ten.

Maybe they adopted the 10 Commandments to save time.

Clearly, the people working in these companies have incredible memories.

In the supermarket, they’re the ones who need no shopping list.

Or maybe most of them could name just a handful, rather than double figures.

Articulating core values is complex process that involves deep reflection, honesty, realism and good communicating skills: one of which is ‘distillation’.

Every time I do a values workshop, I end up staring at a wall of Post-it® notes. Then the real work begins, removing overlaps, removing duplication and killing darlings.

This is, inevitably, a trade-off between volume and memorability. A list of seven values will be able to communicate far greater depth and meaning. But what’s the point if half of is not memorable?

Better to have three or four simple values (that can be translated into strategies and behaviours) that people don’t forget.

4.59 (the FTSE average) is pushing it, in my opinion.

One of the best examples of a values-driven business is my client, Mars Incorporated. They have five ‘principles’ rather than values but they amount to a similar thing. And, with 100,000 associates (employees) worldwide, making the Mars 5 Principles constantly relevant and top of mind is a full-time job.

In Mars, you see the 5 principles at every turn — you see posters in every meeting room, many corridors and even toilets. It’s on the web. It’s in your dreams.

Unless your business is prepared to devote huge slabs of time and money into this kind of exercise, I suggest you spend more time creating a shorter list.

Three or four is fine.

After all, living up to values can only happen if you can remember what they are.

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I turn fluff into concrete. I help businesses communicate the most complicated things clearly and simply.

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Philip Morley

Philip Morley

I turn fluff into concrete. I help businesses communicate the most complicated things clearly and simply.

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