Are Your Company Values Nouns or Verbs?

Leadership concept using origami ship

Many professionals are familiar with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle 

His circle refers to three components:

The “What”  –  what an organization does

The “How” – how the organization does something different or better

The “Why” – why an organization exists

Using his Golden Circle, Sinek tells us that most organizations think and communicate from the outside in. They clearly know what they do and they probably have a fairly clear idea how they do it. However, most organizations are very fuzzy on why they do what they do or even yet why the organization exists. Sinek’s book Start With Why ( is a great resource to understand how to think, communicate, and grow an organization from the inside out of the Golden Circle.

In this article we are going to focus on the “how” – those driving principles or values that make your company different, better, the differentiating or motivating factors for making all organizational decisions. When an organization’s leadership team goes through the exercise of defining their values you will typically see a list of words like integrity, innovation, honesty, and clear communication.

These are impressive words and we all know what they mean. However they are nouns and nouns are not actionable. How can you hold your team accountable to integrity? There is nothing measurable about it. And we all know if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. How can you hold your team accountable to being honest? There is nothing measurable about it. What else is very interesting is if you look in a dictionary ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’ is synonyms. Many companies refer to these two values as two separate values and yet they literally mean the same thing, another fundamental reason why nouns don’t work as measurable values. However, the organization could accomplish the same message by saying ‘we always do the right thing.’ A company that always does the right thing would clearly be looked upon as an honest company with a high level of integrity.

The major difference is you can clearly tell when a team member did the right thing and when he or she did not do the right thing. It allows leadership to hold people accountable and incentivize the right actions and behaviors within the organization.

Instead of clear communications as a stated value which is not measurable, the organization can operationally respond to every internal and external communication (email, phone call, etc) within 24 hours. The organization can also demonstrate clear communications by having every incoming phone call answered by a team member and not by an automated system. Leadership would then easily be able to see if a team member was following the company required actions and behaviors.

Turning your values into actionable verbs will have a huge impact on how you grow your team and how your teams differentiate your organization from others. Customer’s can see and feel it, team members know what to do in every situation, and leadership can build incentives around actionable values and can manage to them.

A simple shift but a powerful one!

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