Your Company’s Values are Honesty, Trust, Loyalty? WOW, really…


If I would get a penny for each time I hear honesty or trust stated as a (company) value…. You often get the impression that values are simply chosen. That it is like choosing among a typology of individual human values (like Rokeach) and then, magically, these values become universal in your life and in that of your company.

Question: Does it really work that way?

Answer: no.

Joel Gehman and others introduce the concept of value practices, because values are not, they slowly become. Value practices are “the sayings and doings in organizations that articulate and accomplish what is normatively right or wrong, good or bad, for its own sake”.

These hard-core researchers investigated the coming into being of these value practices and traced this process in minute detail. The level of hard work and detail is truly impressive: About 1’100 documents (emails, presentations, reports, minutes),  1’000 pages of transcribed interviews, many hours of participative observation, etc.

Value practices start with concerns in the organisation (in their university case study this was a student caught cheating, a visit of a concerned outsider, etc.). Over time these concerns are coming together and are knotted into an action network (more people start to talk about it, informally and later more deliberate). As this network develops and gets more traction value practices are introduced or transformed aiming to deal with the concerns. Gehman refers to this as performativity (a university honor code was introduced, etc). This embedded value practice, then, is not the end but a continuation of the discussion, referred to as circulating values (an honour code leads to discussion, dealing with someone breaking it, and an honour code widens its scope and its reasoning is applied to other parts of the organisation). A fascinating article, but not an easy read.

Feel free to “choose” an aspirational value like honesty, but don’t think your organisation will be honest because of that. Frankly, it is often the opposite if you stop after  this step. Developing value practices is a hard, continued work by a lot of people.

A value practice I am ‘leaning into’ is gratitude (you know, the opposite of complaining). For the record, in case my wife reads this, I do not have the value of gratitude (yet). However, daily I think about at least one thing for which I am grateful. It is quite amazing how this can change the way you look at your day. Here’s a book that is helpful for this value practice.

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