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The Value of Values

By Dave Ulrich

In the last 20 years, almost every public or private, large or small, domestic or global organization has discussed both values and value. Values often represent core beliefs and shape daily behaviors of leaders. Value is how those values are used to help someone else.

Value focuses outside; values come from within. Value emphasizes what others get from our efforts; values emphasize who we are. Value can be created and developed through innovation and hard work; values are generally inherited and may be honed through self-awareness and experience. Value can be measured by impact; values are measured by the strength of our character. Value derives from the worth of our work to stakeholders; values reflect the worth of our work to us.

If value is defined by the receiver, it is helpful to know if an organization’s values resonate with top customers. It is helpful to ask these customers if your organization’s values matter to them? Generally, with values like innovation, collaboration, service, respect, the answer is “yes.” But, in one case the organization’s primary value was “to be the most profitable in the industry” and the customer quickly said this was not what mattered most to the customer. Customer value begins with them being part of defining desired values.

Value statements make core beliefs more explicit. But when values become the basis of customer discussions and commitments, the value of values increases dramatically. This is an example of “outside in” work that defines effective organizations not just by what is done, but how it adds value to key stakeholders.

Dave Ulrich is Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He is the author of Leadership Capital Index (Berrett Koehler, September 2015). His new book, Victory Through Organization will be published in 2017.

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