An introduction to values

Several years ago my family and I attended the New Zealand Foodshow, which is a major event on New Zealand’s culinary calendar.

We visited on a Saturday morning and I enjoyed wandering around, visiting the various exhibitors and sampling their offerings. However, as I walked past one exhibitor’s booth, there was no one there.  Well, the booth was there, but there were no live human beings from the company to explain, demonstrate and sell their wares.  What’s more, this particular booth remained empty for the whole day.  On the surface this looked like a company on a mission to purposely damage its brand.

So who was missing in action?  Sanitarium Health Foods.  Here’s why.

In case you didn’t know, Sanitarium is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and a key belief of this church is that the Sabbath day is a Saturday.  Meaning?  No work on a Saturday – Seventh Day Adventists go to church instead.  This is the church’s religious teaching and it obviously applies to the company as well. Hence the empty booth.

The sign on the Sanitarium booth said it all.  It read something like, “Due to our religious beliefs the Sanitarium booth will not be staffed today.  We look forward to meeting with you tomorrow.”

So what do you think of all this?  You think Sanitarium is run by a bunch of idiots or religious zealots?  Or is this a company passionate about sticking to its beliefs and values?

What do I think?  I’m camped firmly in the latter category.

No, I’m not a Seventh Day Adventist and I don’t know much about this church’s religious teachings.  But I do know a lot about the importance of organisations having strong organisational values and living them passionately.

So what are values?

Briefly, values are deeply held beliefs we hold which are used to guide and direct behaviour.  Values comprise our worldview on a wide variety of human traits, events and circumstances including:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Hard work and work ethic
  • Fairness
  • Health
  • Tolerance and diversity
  • Materialism and money
  • Religion
  • Self image
  • Political leanings

So where do values and this worldview comes from? Part of it is genetics and our core personality type, but it is also strongly influenced by our environment, including parental upbringing, peer group, socio-economic status, culture and ethnicity.  Collectively, these factors shape our values, drive our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, make us who we are and determine our behaviour.

Parental upbringing plays a large role in building core values as we grow and develop from birth to our teenage years.  Once we hit our teens though our peer group and own search for identity and our place in the world begins to play a greater role. 

One reason why some parents struggle with their teens?  Quite simply it is because they want to maintain a semblance of control over their teens’ lives, while the teens themselves are striving for more independence and self-control.  It’s a fine balancing act, that’s for sure.

Anyway, by our late teens early 20s our values system is well-developed and acts like a behavioural compass for our lives.

And organisational values?

Organisational values are nothing more than the collective values of an organisation’s or team’s leaders.  So an organisation’s values represents the collective worldview of its leaders, thereby creating the organisation’s beliefs, personality and worldview.  And, when these beliefs and values are acted upon, it creates the organisation’s culture.

Many organisations proclaim their values through their vision statements and strategic plans.  However, what an organisation says about itself is not a good gauge of its actual values.  Put simply, to get a gauge on values you have to closely observe the behaviour of the organisation and more specifically, the individuals within it.

Values conflicts often occur in organisations and teams, resulting in relationship and performance problems.  These values conflicts occur for two reasons.

  1. The organisation or team did not assess a team member closely enough to ensure there was a values match.
  2. The prospective team member did not do enough homework on the organisation to ensure there was a values match.

In both these instances a mismatch of values causes all sorts of problems.

Let’s get back to Sanitarium.

Sanitarium’s “no work on Saturday” policy is part of its organisational values. And to Sanitarium’s leaders it is a value that’s really, really important.  Just as important is the company’s commitment to living this value, which it so clearly demonstrated on the busiest day of the Foodshow.

Sanitarium clearly communicates it values to prospective staff, so they know the company’s stand on a number of issues – particularly those related to its religion.  This ensures its prospective hires understand and can commit to living those values.  If not, then they look for people who will.

And while Sanitarium doesn’t overtly promote its religion in its marketing communications, its wholesome image and commitment to health is very prominent.  And this applies to pretty much everything the company does, from its R & D to its products and services and through to its marketing.  This passion is an important reason why Sanitarium is an Australasian leader in the health food sector.  Indeed the company’s values and passion for them are permeated throughout its branding activities.

What has this all got to do with you? Well, for your business to grow, you too need strong, readily identifiable values. And you’ve got to be passionate about living them.  You’ve got to be passionate about your products and services and your commitment to improving them. 

Sanitarium has solid organizational values and passionately lives them.  How about you?