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Thought Leadership

Adam Bryant

Quick! Do you know your company’s values?

October 11, 2021

Some companies’ lists of principles are short enough to be easily remembered, while others have more than a dozen entries. Maybe some editing is in order.

At some point during their evolution, companies go through the values exercise. The founder may decide to write them down. Or the company’s values could be the subject of a whiteboard exercise by the leadership team at an off-site. Or employees may be surveyed for their input. There is no “right” way to do the values exercise, because every company’s culture is unique. Ideally, the list of values should capture and codify that culture.

But the leaders who drive this important exercise have to make some key decisions up front. They need to define the rules of the road, so that there is clarity throughout the organization about those behaviors that are encouraged and those that are discouraged. In going through this process, leaders must make choices. Will they use big-idea words, such as excellence and integrity? Or will they use more concrete and specific language? How will employees be reminded of the values?

I believe another question is too often glossed over: how long should the list be? Some organizations seem to embrace the simple rule that most people can’t remember more than three or four things from day to day. At Colgate-Palmolive, for example, the values are “caring,” “global teamwork,” and “continuous improvement.”

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business. It was originally published here.