Years ago a client helped me understand the impact of “foggy” values.

This gentleman was a semi-pro soccer player (that’s “football player” to all countries around the globe except the USA). His team’s final match with their long-time rival would establish the division winner.

The evening match was tied, 0-0, at the half. As the players gathered for the start of the final half, a heavy fog blew in. Within minutes the fog was so thick the players couldn’t see more than 10′ in front of them.

My client had control of the ball and made a spin move to distance himself from a defender. He broke free, but his spin in the fog confused his sense of direction! He stopped, scanning the field for his team mates. During those few seconds, the opposing team stole the ball, quickly advanced it down the field, and scored the only goal of the match. His team lost the “big game” and he never forgot the feeling it gave him. He related,

“It was all due to the fog. I did not know how to continue attacking their goal and was not confident where my team mates were.”

Clear values enable strong performance! Most clients have never clarified values expectations; this step-by-step process will guide you.

Creating Values Clarity from Scratch

The requirement for “non-foggy” values is to define values in behavioral terms. Valued behaviors shift from the “concept” to the “demonstration” of values, because valued behaviors are 1) tangible, 2) observable, and 3) measurable. These four steps will help you to define your company or team values in behavioral terms.

1. Set your values. Brainstorm a short list (3-5) of desired values that you want all staff to demonstrate with every interaction.

2. For each value, brainstorm potential behaviors that you’d be PROUD to see all staff demonstrate when they’re modeling this value. We cannot measure nor hold people accountable for what they “think,” what their “attitude” is, or what they “believe.” We CAN, however, measure AND hold people accountable for demonstrating defined behaviors.

3. Cull through the behaviors to reduce the list to three to five behaviors per value. Answer these questions to help with the selection process:

  • Is this an observable behavior? Can I assess someone’s demonstration of this behavior by watching and/or listening their interactions with customers, peers, and stakeholders? If NOT, toss it.
  • Is this behavior measurable? Can I reliably “score” this behavior from low to moderate to high at any point in time? If NOT, toss it.

4. Invite feedback from the entire company (or team) population. Set a deadline (of two weeks, maximum) for input. Refine the values, definitions, and behaviors as needed based on that input, then formally publish them, asking all staff to demonstrate them from that date forward.

Here is an example of one client’s efforts:

Value: Integrity

Definition: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.


  • I clearly define the commitments I make, ensuring my promises are well-understood by the person I’m making that promise to.
  • I do not lie, stretch the truth, or withhold information from a peer, customer, or stakeholder.
  • If I am unable to keep a commitment, I inform all people who will be impacted immediately.

We have not addressed values accountability in this post; you’ll find that discussion here.

In the comments section below, tell me what values exist in YOUR organization today, and to what extent they serve stakeholders, employees, and customers equally well.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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