How I changed series part 3: Defining your company values...

The next key step for me, and this is true for your business tool, was to define my company values. It’s vital that you involve your senior management team in this process, and make sure you share them clearly with your team as well.

The Values Exercise

Example of company values, they might as well be transparent…

Example of company values, they might as well be transparent…

Since then, I’ve apologised loads. Once I’d spoken to the staff, I realised that we needed to define our values. Many business owners decide these without any input from the staff and stick them on the wall, in the hope that the staff will see them and instil the values in themselves, whatever they might be.

In fact, after 10 minutes they may as well be transparent because people don’t see them! The boss never lives up to them anyway, so it becomes pointless having them.

Companies have values around the importance of communication, respect, integrity, excellence, customer focus and so on. These could be company values for any business and there is no way any employee will buy in to this type of value especially if they have not had any involvement in creating them.

Carillion values.png

Sometimes companies use ‘we’ in their values – ‘we care’, ‘we achieve together, we improve, we deliver’, which sound brilliant, but don’t always mean much. The UK company Carillion used ‘we’ in their values, and just before they went bust, the pension fund had a deficit of nearly £800m. That doesn’t sound like ‘we’, it sounds like ‘I’. How can you get people to follow you if you don’t follow your own values?

You need to define the values that exist in your business today and trust me, they are there. It’s one of the hardest things to answer as a business owner, when someone asks ‘Well, what are you values?’ 

You often don’t know, so you say something like, ‘Honesty.’ Honesty should be a given though! If you’ve got to have this as a value, it’s not really a value. Would you ever employ anybody that wasn’t honest, didn’t have integrity or wasn’t a hard worker? These are surly just a permission to play…

You need to dig a bit deeper than that. Set aside two hours offsite if you work somewhere where clients will visit, or do it in the boardroom if you’re sure you won’t be disturbed. The main thing is to make the investment and set aside the time, and then make sure you’re not interrupted.

Find your superheroes

What you need to do is to think about who in your business, if you cloned them, would be the greatest asset? It's such a simple process to go through. It may be someone like Martin in Support, who stays behind on a Friday night to fix something that’s gone wrong when everyone else goes home or Kate in Operations who is always a team player going above and beyond for the company.

Management team defining our company values

Management team defining our company values

So get your management team together, and in the two hours you’ve set aside, have each of you name three people in your business that, if cloned, would see your business to greater success.

If you've got a small company, you might have to do it differently, but you can still do the exercise. There will always be one or two people who never make the list, but there will be some who can make a real difference to your company. Every company will have some people who could make a huge difference , if only there were more of them.

Start with putting the names of those people down on a list. Once you’ve done that, decide why you put them on the list in the first place, because there needs to be a reason for each person you chose, so be very clear about why you chose them.

Why would you clone them?

When you’re listing their qualities and attributes, try not to use words like honesty, integrity and hard worker, and you want to come up with as many adjectives as possible for each person. Don’t forget, we’ve already agreed that you would never employ somebody who wasn’t any of those things, so don’t use them. They’re almost rules to observe in order to be in the game.

Some of the characteristics you might include are: fun, customer-focused, punctual, wants the best, trustworthy, creative. When we did this exercise, we managed to come up with 10 words for our each of our staff, and you should try to find as many adjectives as you can too.

Don’t panic if you can’t find the right word – there are plenty of online resources you can access which will offer you loads of word options that you can use to describe your employees. It can be hard to come up with the right words, especially if your talents are more linear, like mine, and I certainly found it a challenge.

Your list is now made up of qualities some of your staff have that, if multiplied, would make your business fly, and you have reasons for why each of those people is on the list. Your values are sitting in that list somewhere.

Find your

Example of attributes staff have

Example of attributes staff have

When we did this at ATG, we had 60 or 70 adjectives/values written down, but you couldn’t live with that many. The advice we were given is that you should have no more than seven and no fewer than three values for your business, so the next step is for the managers to discuss and debate to reduce these adjectives down to a manageable level by focusing on the words that fit ATG and you have a feel for the most.

The way we did this was to look for words that were similar to each other, and cross them off. After our first round, we ended up with words like: ethical, customer-focused, passion, caring, hunger, listener, wants the best, professional development, humility, decisive, integrity - they totalled approximately 20 words by the end of the 1st round.

1st 2nd round.png

When you've got four managers in a business, getting them to then choose the words can be quite hard, because something that’s right for one might not be right for another. So, we gave everyone a different coloured pen to help work it out as a visible vote and that was the first round.

On the second round, once we’d culled the similar words, we did it all again, and this time we actually put our initials on our choices, which gave us: fun, wants the best, can-do, creative, integrity (which carried over from the other list) and wants the best for the company, customer and people.

Once you’ve done this exercise, you’ll have found your values, just as I did. As a visionary I am very much about taking immediate action and I wanted to run to the sales office and get them to print our values off, and stick them on the wall that very afternoon - we could be living them by tomorrow! That’s what visionaries do, because you’ve done it and want to act straight away and start seeing the power of having your values in the business instantly.

However, what we needed to do was to wait 3 to 4 weeks and then revisit these final values to see it we still thought the same about them. That was the worst thing for me - three to four weeks I had to sit there and not do anything with them. But just do it, this is important, because it's that mindful process of sitting there and just letting them mull over in your mind and waking up in the night and thinking, ‘Does that value still fit?’ that gets you to the core of things.

So, when you think about it, what we’ve done to find the values is dead simple. Who in your business is a superstar? You’ve written their names down. Why are they a superstar? You’ve identified their qualities, reduced that list and you've now got your values. 

On their own, they wouldn't really mean anything to the people on your team – it would be like you or me coming out and saying, ‘These are my values.’ Again, it’s about the process that you go through. What I’ve listed are my business’s core values: good to work with, positive attitude, wants the best for themselves (each employee) and the company, and thinks like a customer 

The next article 4 of 6 will be posted soon

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