Values Defined

Value systems are prospective and prescriptive beliefs that affect the behaviour and identity of an organization and its employees. When an organization identifies the type of values that exists among its employees, it will be easier to figure out how to adapt, grow and move forward.

To identify the values system of your organization, you need to understand the types of values that exist.  Looking at organizations across all industries, I have categorized the organizational values into 5 types: Token Values, Wall Values, Aspirational Values, Multi-level Values, and Core Values.

Token Values are superficial and insincere declarations that organizations make merely to comply with societal expectations or industry norms. These values lack genuine commitment and are implemented to create a facade of ethical or responsible behaviour. Organizations where Token Values live, may engage in virtue signaling, using popular and socially acceptable terms without backing them up with meaningful actions or changes in behaviour. Employees may recognize these values as empty rhetoric, leading to a lack of trust in the organization’s commitment to its stated principles.

Wall Values are carefully articulated words and phrases drafted by leadership and placed on the walls for everyone to see. But values are not created to just be on the wall. They are created to produce behaviors needed in an organization. Whenever employees have to refer to a page or a document to share the values of the organization, those are wall values.

Aspirational values are evident when new leaders are hired, and they bring their energy to the organization. They say great things that are aspirational, but they don’t show people how to exhibit those values.

Aspirational values seem like a coloration of wall values. The difference is people know them and talk about them, but they don’t know how to manifest them. They only talk about them like they are motivational creeds and affirmations. In this case, there is no resonance.

Multi-level values refer to the adaptation of organizational values tailored for different hierarchical levels within a company. In a single organization, various values may exist across different tiers, and managing this diversity can become a challenging endeavor. These values often encompass both aspirational principles geared towards thriving and more pragmatic values focused on survival, reflecting the nuanced dynamics that unfold at different levels within the organizational structure. The existence of multi-level values underscores the complexity of aligning diverse perspectives and priorities within an organization. Navigating the coexistence of aspirational values that inspire growth and pragmatic values that address immediate challenges requires a thoughtful and strategic approach to ensure a cohesive organizational culture that resonates across all levels.  When you have a conversation with a senior leader and a mid-level leader, you may see that the values and behaviours are very different. While the former wants ideas to thrive and grow, the latter is thinking survival. Whenever organizations realize that they are not moving forward as they would like or are adapting to newer economic realities, there is a likelihood of multi-level values exhibiting itself.

Core values are values that are the core of what an organization does. Its DNA – they are the organizational values that are held dearly and form the foundation of how we perform and conduct our work between us and our stakeholders. Core values are really where success starts and ends and define the character and identity of an organization. They are the unwavering principles that transcend the fluctuating tides of the business landscape. When embraced authentically, these values become a guiding force, steering the organization toward sustainable success. Core values, therefore, are not merely words; they are the soul of the organization, influencing every aspect of its functioning and serving as a constant reminder of the principles that define its journey.

Organizations tend to focus on output and results, instead of focusing on how to get them. Getting caught up in day-to-day meetings and tasks, we often forget how essential core values are for our business decisions. Every now and then we should take a step back and consider: are we heading in the right direction? And are we aligned with the values that we need to get there?


In Values.Culture.Period, the author tells the story of two leaders and how they and you can identify core values and embed them into your operations. When you identify your core values, and practice living them – they will work for you.

Have ideas to share, want to make a comment or provide feedback – email Corey at [email protected].

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