How to turn values into behaviours

Brad Dunn
4 min readNov 19, 2019


They say companies who are values driven perform better, but in nearly all cases, a quick walk around any organisation and it’s easy to see behaviours that are in total contrast to a companies stated values. The reality is most values a company has are either bull$#it, or aspirational at best. But you can fix this.

We’ve all been to the car rental place, and on the wall is a poster saying “Best Service on earth”, then you’re met with a frown, made to wait half an hour, and treated like you’re an inconvenience. It’s no wonder teams around the world believe values to be mostly a joke.

When we start a new job, the way we learn about a company is through observation. The on-boarding process is mostly a social one. We learn by watching others interact, how they conduct themselves during meetings, and how they spend their time.

So when companies adopt values like “Honesty” what matters less is how often it’s repeated, but instead, what observations new hires make in how honest others are.

If I look at a handful of managers, are they honest with their staff?

If it’s not true, we assume the values are simply not meant to be taken seriously. And that is what most of us do.

An example of one of the values we used at OHNO (focus) which was really all about creating space to do deep work.

When you want to scale culture, which is particularly important in companies going through hyper-growth stages, you need a way to turn the values into demonstrated, and above all, observable behaviours.

How to scale values

When a new employee starts, walk them through your values. But don’t give them abstractions, instead, give them real examples and talk through what is expected of everyone in relation to them.

Let’s take the value of honesty (A terribly vague value, really, but one that is common) and walk through how to turn the values into actions.

It’s important to find out from the new starter what a value like that means. Try asking the following questions.

“Tell me about a time where you observed Honesty during your recruitment process so far.”

“Now, tell me about a time where you observed Honesty was not upheld.”

The second question is good because it shows them its okay to identify times where the values were not upheld. Right off the bat you want to ensure everyone knows it’s safe to raise problems.

It’s not about blaming anyone. It’s about creating enough psychological safety in a team so that people feel confident about raising issues when they see them. If someone can’t call out bad behaviours, and bring activities back in-line with the values, the bad behaviours will procreate. Gone unchecked, this is where most organisations lose a lot of ground. You end up with an organisation where half the company works really hard to live by the values, and half ignore them, as nobody holds them accountable.

Why have values anyway?

Next, stress how unified values shape an organisation over the long term. In larger, established organisations, values are often discovered, more than set. When companies start, the values and culture of the organisation is a bit like concrete. It’s wet, and you can mould it. But after a while it becomes hard and near impossible to change without heavy machinery. So when you’re small, get a handle on this early. It’s important that new hires understand why you have values at all.

Values help in the following ways.

They help short-cut decision making. Let’s say your value is honesty and you’ve made a huge mistake with a new report that has gone out to the public. It’s a big mistake, but no one can tell who made it. You might lose clients over it and you know that there’s value in owning up to the problem, even though in this particular case, it’s unclear who actually made the mistake.

Do you say nothing? People might not find out it was you.

Or do you own up to it and wear the stress.

By having a stated set of values, they guide your hand when decisions are tough.

One example I’ve liked is to put your values at the very TOP of the organisational chart. We tried this when I ran Nazori in Melbourne as an experiment. By doing this, and showing it to staff, we found it illustrated the point those values are the Supreme Court Judges in decision making. When it boils down to it, the values will decide what happens — or at least nudge you in the right direction.

Show real examples they haven’t observed yet

Finally, show the staff real observed behaviours at the company that live up to those values. I’ve put one of OHNO’s old values below (Focus) and highlighted some observed behaviours we would expect.

It’s also worth showing examples of where you think you’re failing. It might be a time where you saw someone fail to live up to those values, maybe someone (in our case, of using Focus) wasn’t able to clearly state their objectives. If someone doesn’t know what their goals are, how can you expect them to focus on whats important?

By associating behaviours with values, encouraging good behaviours, and quickly calling out and correcting bad behaviours, soon the organisation will start to gravitate towards a values driven company. On top of this, if you can foster a culture where everyone sees it as their responsibility to correct behaviours when the right values aren’t demonstrated, you end up with a self-regulating, values driven culture.



Brad Dunn

Product Management Executive 🖥 Writer 📚 Tea nerd 🍵 Machine Learning Enthusiast 🤖 Physics & Psychology student @ Swinburne