On Values, Culture and Gravitas

Recently, this blog posted The Vision Thing, a commentary on the role of Vision in creating and maintaining a Sustainable business [1] Responding to that post, reader Wayne Voorhees offered these insightful comments:

Capture - Waynes Comments3

Businesses awakened to the importance of core values almost twenty years ago, when Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last [2] was published. Since then, Built to Last has sold over a million copies. Built to Last sought to discover the factors that distinguished companies that enjoyed long (multi-generational) histories of sustained success by comparing clear successes with less successful rivals. The research methodology is both interesting and compelling. Bottom Line: the book’s major conclusion is that an emphasis on core values, cultivated throughout the organization’s culture, is a distinguishing hallmark of the successful companies studied. Guess what? A profusion of Values Statements ensued.

Core Values and Organizational Culture

I find it important to distinguish Values from Vision and Mission. Vision and Mission are strategic concepts regarding the organization’s approach to the marketplace. Both are situational and subject to prudent amendment as circumstances evolve. Core values are, on the other hand, as Wayne’s comment eloquently put it, “… the bedrock on which all foundations are built”.  Values reflect the beliefs of the defining senior leadership, often the organization’s founders — they are not determined democratically. Values, like solid rock, change slowly over time (earthquakes excepted, geological and organizational). Values are also restrictive, in that many of them amount to thou shalt nots [3].

Core values are likewise reflected in how the organization is perceived by others. This applies whether or not an organization’s values are publicized — or even recognized — within that organization. The values may be strong, or they may be weak — but they do matter.

Core values are foundational to the organization’s culture. The culture, in turn, defines the environment for execution. Execution means effective actions in alignment with direction. Strategic concepts provide direction.


Dr. David Hawkins provides some insight to this in his distinction between power and force [4]. Hawkins holds that individuals (and, by extension, organizations) can, due to strong core values, accrete a silent power that others find compelling. He likens this power to gravity: it is intangible and perceived only by its effects. Reasonably, this power is perceived as a virtue that the Romans called gravitas. Gravitas elicits respect, manifest within an organization as harmony  and as credibility without. Harmony within supports execution. Credibility without provides an intangible boost in the marketplace — the marketplace for your goods and services, the marketplace for the talent you need, and the marketplace for the materials, services and supplies you buy.

What to Do?

Since values define culture and culture enables execution, it follows that solid values are prerequisite to thriving in perpetuity [5]. Consequently, values are worthy of attention at the highest levels in the organization.

Have somebody outside your organization assess your organization’s culture and determine the values that define that culture. Assess perceptions both within the organization and without, especially those of key stakeholders. Pay for the assessment in advance, because you need the unvarnished truth.

The assessment may reveal significant gaps between expectations and reality. If so, action is obviously needed. Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture, a paper by three partners at Bain & Company [6], outlines how one might proceed.

Chuck - Vancouver3Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

. — When it is time for your firm to seriously pursue Sustainability, contact me — C.H.

Note: This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

[1] See The Vision Thing at: http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/01/02/the-vision-thing/

[2] Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last, HarperCollins (1994, 1997)

[3] Patrick Lencioni, Make Your Values Mean Something, Harvard Business Review

(July 2002). This HBR Tool Kit article provides useful insights on core values.

[4] David R. Hawkins, M.D. Ph.D., Power vs Force, revised edition, Veritas Publishing (1995, 1998, 2004, 2012), especially Chapter 11

[5] Adam Werbach, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009), page 9

[6] P. Meehan, D. Rigby and P. Rogers, Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture, Harvard Business School Publishing (2007). Available at www.HBR.org