For the last couple of months, I’ve spoken about creating our Vision, Mission and Values Statements and this month I want to address the third element in this series – Values.

Ideally, our core values will explicitly define how our staff will behave with each other and with your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

When we get our values right, our staff will embrace them…

but, as Patrick Lencioni said, get them wrong and… “Empty values statements, create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility”.

Values are who we are.

Not who we’d like to be, not who we think we should be, but who we are in our lives, right now. Our values serve as a compass, pointing out what it means to be true to oneself and when we consistently honour our values, life is good and fulfilling.

It can be incredibly beneficial when we are clear about our own values. Important life decisions are easier to make, and outcomes are more fulfilling when the decisions are viewed through a matrix of well-understood personal values.

But the process of clarifying values is often difficult. Rather than look into our lives and uncover the values that are already there, in our day-to-day actions and interactions, we often fantasise and intellectualise them.

And that’s one of the reasons selecting values from a list rarely works. The list becomes an opportunity to vote on the most desirable or socially acceptable values, rather than serving as a mechanism to identify who we are.

Selecting values from a list reinforces the intellectual urge to figure it out and get the words right, but our values are observable; they live in the world.

Sometimes we can’t seem to get a perspective on our values. In such cases, it helps to ask questions and provide scenarios that take us into our lives rather than into our heads.

Values Clarification allows us to examine and articulate our values in a safe yet courageous environment. Eventually, getting the exact wording is important, but we must first let the approximate label for the value resonate with us.

For example, many will instinctively use the word ‘integrity’, and this may well be appropriate, but consider the phrase ‘it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing’…

As a practical matter, values clarification is enormously helpful in learning to know ourselves. In many day-to-day situations, we use our values to make decisions, to strategise and to take action. 

However, many of us struggle with finding the right words. We’re constrained because we feel we have to find the perfect word, but there’s much more emotional meaning to the Value than just it’s definition. In fact, everyone has his or her own unique meaning for each value. We may have different meanings even though we use the same word.

Here are a few of quick tips when starting your Values Clarification Process.

Use a pencil with an eraser.  We often experience a sense of reluctance when values have to be written in ink. Using a pencil means it’s not important to get it right the first time.

Ask yourself some searching questions. Take your time, go from your gut and write your answers down. There’s a list of example questions in the Values Exercise document in the Renegade Toolbox in travectio.

Consider various scenarios.

Adversity – When you faced your most challenging situations, how did you and/or the organisation respond? What values do these responses inspire?

Decision making – Think back to when you had to make a fast decision with insufficient information… describe the decision you made and how it was reached, then consider the values demonstrated by these actions.

Frustration – Another way to isolate values is to look at times when you were angry, frustrated, or upset. This will often lead to identification of a value that was being suppressed. First, name the feelings and circumstances around the upset; then flip them over and look for the opposite of those feelings.

For example, you might say, “I felt trapped, backed into a corner. I had no choices.” Then, if you flip that over, it sounds like there might be a value around freedom or options or choice…

Must-Haves. Another way we can identify our values is to look at what we must have in our lives. Beyond the physical requirements of food, shelter and community, what must you have in your life in order to be fulfilled? An underlying question for the process is What are the values you absolutely must honour—or part of you dies?

Obsessive Expression. We’re all capable of obsessive behaviour—insisting on honouring a value, inflating it into a demand rather than a form of self-expression.

Examine those times when you take certain values to the extreme. What is it that people say about you? What do you say about yourself? What is it that people tease you about or that drives them crazy? There are important values in here that have been mutated for some reason. Look for the value, and don’t focus on the mutation.

The Values-Based Decision Matrix.  The Values Clarification Exercise in travectio contains a Values Based Decision Matrix.  Use this matrix when you begin the values clarification process but remember, the listing of values may take several months to complete.

Keep Looking.  Because values are such an important part of the way we order our lives and make choices, it is essential to continually look at this area. Values can be examined every time you need to make a choice or reinforce a course of action: What is the value that would be honoured if you did that? When you honour your values, it adds fuel to your motivation fire, undermines the Saboteur in your mind and aids a fulfilling life.

Additional Forms. The Values Clarification Exercise in travectio contains 3 further forms to assist in identifying your values, to help with establishing standards and obstacles for honouring values and to assist in creating values-based action plans. 

Sample Values List – there’s also a list of words or phrases that illustrate values but is not exhaustive. Remember as you work with this exercise, you may combine two or three values as long as critical distinctions are not lost.

Create a Coat of Arms.  An often-used exercise to reinforce your Values Clarification is to create a “Personal Coat of Arms”.

Fill in your coat of arms with 6 things that describe you and what you represent. These can be work related, personal achievements, family background, goals/ambitions etc.

At the bottom of each box, explain what it means.

Finally, in the banner below the shield, come up with a simple sentence that pulls all these things together describing what you are about. 


Values are meant to be more than just a poster on the wall.

In order to create values that succeed in driving behaviour in your company, you must start thinking critically about how they will inform your culture, decisions that are made on a daily basis and the behaviours they will drive. Consider how the policies you have in place will help support them and ensure your leadership team is both communicating and exemplifying your values to your team.

Don’t expect employees to rally around a set of hollow values when those ideas aren’t practiced and upheld by the leaders in your organisation.