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3 ways to help employees understand what your values REALLY mean

Have you ever bought a fantastic new gadget or tool that says it’s going to help you do wonderful things, and it ends up sitting on a shelf gathering dust doing absolutely nothing?

Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening in many companies when it comes to their company values, with them sitting on the shelf because although employees may know what they are, being able to recite them, often they don’t fully know what they mean. And if they don’t know what they mean, how will they ever know why, when and how to use them?

“Values are tools that need to be used by your employees each and every day to help you achieve your company's mission, and create the right culture for your people and your business.”

In this blog I’d like to share three approaches I use when running values workshops, using them to get employees talking about and understanding what their values truly mean.

1. Make them relatable

One way to help employees understand the meaning of your values is make them relatable, talking in language and in a way that will resonate with them, having them jump off the page as the expression goes. There is no one way to do this, the key is coming up with an approach that will get employees talking about your values, relating them to your business and culture.

To illustrate this point, let me share what we did at furniture company OKA when we ran a values workshop. We started by putting employees into groups, and gave them each one of their values. Next, we gave each group a set of cards having images of some of their beautiful products, asking them to decorate a room to align with the value using these cards. By doing this employees, employees related to meaning of the values to the company, their products and to themselves in a much more meaningful way.

2. Make them personal

Another way is to help employees understand what each value means to them personally. This is important because often employees cannot make this connection on their own, thinking that the value may relate and be important to others, but not to them.

The approach I use here is to have them discuss what each value means in three ways - to the company, to the team and to me personally. Here’s an example of this using the value of ‘focusing on the customer.’

  1. What does the value mean to the company? For example, why is it important for the company to focus on the customer, and how do we do that?

  2. What does the value mean to my team? For example, if I’m in the payroll team, who are our customers and how can I focus on them?

  3. What does the value mean to me personally? For example, if I’m a payroll clerk, who are my customers and how can I focus on them?

3. Show both sides

One last way is to show both sides of your values and behaviors, showing the “flip side.” By doing this upfront, you’re helping your employees understand what it looks like when they aren’t living the value, and thus what actions and behaviors don’t align with those that are expected of them.

In my book, Bringing Your Values Out to Play, I share an example of this from a company in the U.S. called C Space. For their value “do what scares you” they break it out as follows:

What it looks like when it works:

  • Trying new things even though they might lead to failure.

  • Supporting others to get out of their comfort zones.

  • Embracing opportunities for personal growth.

What it looks like when it doesn’t work:

  • Living outside of your comfort zone, all the time.

  • Forging on alone when you need support.

  • Assuming that if you don’t find something scary, nobody else will.

In your values workshop you can do this by breaking employees into groups and having them discuss and list both sides for each of their values.

I hope you’ve found these three approaches helpful. They can be used when you launch or re-launch your values, helping you ensure your company values, your tools, are not left on the shelf.


If you'd like to chat about running a values workshop, either on your own or with my support, please contact me, I'd love to help.


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