At Within we use an exercise to help our clients find their core values. This involves discussions around what they care about as a team, what their strengths are, what their community cares about, and how those shared attributes can be expressed as behaviours that the business lives by.

Values must be active. We need to be able to hold ourselves and each other accountable to them. And they should demonstrate, as a set of phrases, our sense of identity. Together they codify our cultural DNA.

Many brands have single words - often nouns or adjectives - that they try to use to express their values. This simply doesn't work - its hard to be explicit about the meaning of your values with just one word. A culture is not like Dorothy trying to find the Tin Man “heart” and the Cowardly Lion “courage” we must be clear about what we mean with values to set expectations on behaviours.

Since values are a strategic tool in your business - they set out how you uniquely do what you do - they need to be simple while being meaningful. Everyone in the business must align to them, and build depth into how you show up to them every day, across everything you do.

There are a few words which we stipulate should never be values on their own - we consider them to be the "givens" that must be found in any culture:


Trust isn't a value - it's an outcome that results when your customers see you actively living your values. Every business, like every relationship, must be built on trust. This word surfaces with most clients we work with as something that they believe is essential; they want to trust others and be trusted. This is important, but only by having your business show up authentically will trust be built. We trust people we see and know to be real, who act from a place of clear intention and purpose.


Like trust, you only get integrity when you do what you say you will do. Customers judge by action, and integrity is a result of living your values and being true to your purpose.


Clients often believe that what sets their culture apart is that they "care" about what they do more than their competitors. This is always interesting as it shows how clients perceive themselves vs others. But simply caring is not a value - it should be expected that we care a lot about what we do otherwise why are we doing it? If your culture has a way of caring about your clients/customers, this can easily be turned into a value by making the expected behaviour more explicit. How do you treat people to show you care?

To Amy’s Kitchen, the way they care for their team, the people that love their food, and the even the planet is crucial. Their value “Take care of each other” demonstrates how they behave as a family business and the compassion they have for others. It also supports why they are a vegetarian business who believes in looking after their entire supply chain. 


It's hard to ask someone to be more passionate about something. Leaders want their teams to be engaged with their work, but they cannot expect this by demanding people behave more passionately. Passion lives in purpose - when an entire culture is inspired to follow the same North Star, passion will flow. 


A business that isn't honest is lying to itself and the people it serves. That business has no license to operate. Financial services companies often have a value around honesty - which speaks volumes about what is required to shift the culture of the sector.


Leaders always want to drive their business forward, and often want to make sure an entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in their culture. Most of our clients insist that innovation is in their DNA - innovation is essential to all businesses, and your values should collectively say how you innovate. 

MOO expresses their drive for innovation in their value “Imagine it better”. This is all about questioning the status quo, and encouraging and inviting the team to find new ways. 

There’s one new word that has come up with clients a lot recently when exploring values. While its definitely not a given that should be found in every business it goes on our no-go list as one to watch out for:


Businesses often want to believe that they are like everyone else in order to make themselves accessible, and yet every business sees itself as unique. Often clients will say that they are humble - meaning they don't try to shout about what they do. However “humble" can mean not being proud and making oneself seem insignificant, something that no business actually wants. I've written about that here

What I believe people would like to see as a behaviour is more recognition of their clients or customers, gratitude for and connection with others. One framing of this as a value would be a description of how it should feel to work together as a team and serve others. At Within we simply say "Learn together". To us it means being open about our journey as one team - including our clients - and seeing everything as a learning opportunity that we are grateful for.


The language we use to codify our culture is important. It helps to bring clarity to what is expected. Living our values, however, is even more important. Values are not just words on the wall. They are essential to how we show up and to fulfilling our purpose.

Written by Jeff Melnyk on Aug 16, 2016