How can values bring business to life?

Values, the things that guide our choices and behaviours, are our motivators and the reasons why we do the things we do. Today, 20 October 2016, the very first World...

Values, the things that guide our choices and behaviours, are our motivators and the reasons why we do the things we do. Today, 20 October 2016, the very first World Values Day is taking place, bringing together organisations to celebrate the things that are important to us.

Values, published by Greenleaf
Values, published by Greenleaf

In the lead up to the day, Greenleaf Publishing Ltd released Values: How to Bring Values to Life in Your Business. Authored by Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, the guide draws on a range of international case studies to explore what values and ethics really mean, and how they can be integrated into commercial life and used to make businesses a success.

“The values that guide your business are not necessarily the ones that are written down or that you would expect,” says Mr Mayo. “There is no one right or wrong set of values, but there is power and potential in making the most of the values that are right for the business you are in.”

Drawing from the experience of researchers, academics and entrepreneurs, the book looks at examples from “values-rich voluntary initiatives”, traditional companies – and, of course, “profit-with-purpose” businesses such as co-operatives.

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members also believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

One of the case studies looked at is Suma, a worker co-operative and market leader in wholefood distribution, which operates on the basis of equal pay.

Related … A business that is based on values of equality

“It is easier to build values that flourish in the workplace, as has Suma, when it is those people that own the business,” writes Mr Mayo. “Once you have experienced [those values], you won’t want to let them go.

“If we took ethical values in business as seriously as we take the inventory and finance, we could see very different patterns of business and leadership emerge over time.”

The key, he says, is to see how values help connect. “What makes an institution effective is not any particular set of values, rules or structure, but the level of ‘organisational coherence’ they offer in practice.”

There is a business case for shared values, too. “It is worth remembering that there is plenty of evidence that businesses with strong set of values perform better than those without,” writes Mr Mayo.

The author of the book, Ed Mayo

However, these values must also be tangible and need to be brought to life. It is all very well promoting an organisation’s values within internal communications, but they need to be put into an understandable and practical context, enabling “dialogue to explode and build credible expectations of how people work and align with those values”.

The values an organisation chooses to focus on vary depending on factors such as sector, culture, desired outcome and the business model it is framed around. But even when a set of values is decided upon, there will be variation in how each will be emphasised.

Research conducted by Mr Mayo into the values communicated by co-ops – as defined by the International Co-operative Alliance – showed that all are not done so equally. The global value most commonly promoted is social responsibility, followed by reference to democracy and then openness. The least cited were self-help, solidarity and caring for others.

To help co-operatives – and other businesses – address this, a chapter is dedicated to Five Tools for Values, looking how organisations can take practical steps to embed them for business benefit and innovation.

“As powerful as self-interest can be, only ethical values can encourage people to go beyond their own or their group interests and understand themselves as a collective,” writes Mr Mayo.

“This isn’t just about encouraging ethical businesses, but about ensuring values-based markets and economies. Values can help us come together.”

  • World Values Day is being held in association with the Swedish-based World Values Initiative which has been held at around this time of year since 2012, and the third annual Banking on Values Day, organised by the Global Banking on Values Alliance (20 October 2016).
  • For details of UK events taking place around the World Values Day, including a webinar with Ed Mayo on How to Bring Values to Life in Your Business, visit
  • Values… is published by Greenleaf and available online here
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