I posed this question in an earlier article, ‘What do these have in common?

  1. “Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.”
  2. “Social responsibility. Sustainability. A spirit of partnership. ‘Pro Ehrenamt’ volunteering initiative.”’

They were each a nice set of corporate values that were ignored by the organization’s leaders. The first set belonged to Enron, which got brought down by a complete lack of integrity. The second set was from Volkswagen’s website when its CEO resigned because the company was lying about emission tests.

There are a whole range of problems with most corporate values. In many cases, like Enron and Volkswagen’s, they are merely words on the wall or website that no one takes seriously. In other cases, they’re just ethereal ideas that no one can translate into practical actions. In still other cases, there are too many values for people to remember.

Let me suggest values should be taken seriously by all, starting at the top (duh.) They should be translated into guiding principles so everybody knows what to do. And there should be a small number of values of which two should almost always be integrity and respect and the third should align with the organization’s core focus.

ChatGPT suggests the five most common corporate values are:1) Integrity, 2) Teamwork and Collaboration, 3) Customer-Centricity, 4) Innovation, 5) Respect.

Integrity and respect are always foundational. All the individuals on a high-performing team must act with honesty, transparency and ethical conduct in all aspects of their work. Further, those individuals must treat each other with mutual respect.

The third value for a high-performing organization will depend on the organization’s core focus.

  • For design-focused organizations, it’s likely innovation
  • For production-focused organization, accountability
  • For delivery-focused organizations, collaboration
  • For service-focused organizations, customer-centricity

Core Focus

All organizations design, produce, sell, deliver, and service. The most successful over time understand their core focus and align everything around it.


Design-focused organizations win by inspiring, enabling and empowering their designers. They organize around the designers, giving them as much freeing support, flexibility and independence as they can. Their CEO must be the Chief Enabling Officer driving integrity, respect and innovation as the third value.


Production-focused organizations are all about producing things with the right quality, at the right cost on the right timelines. The best are stable command and control hierarchies in which the CEO is the Chief Enforcement Officer driving integrity, respect and accountability as the third value.


Delivery-focused organizations function in a world of interdependencies with shared responsibilities and both explicit and implicit matrices pulling together the different players. The CEO is the Chief Enrollment Officer driving integrity, respect and collaboration as the third value.


Service-focused organizations win with superior customer experience. They live at the cross-road of the need for their customer-facing people to have as much flexibility as practical and the need for everyone else in the organization to work interdependently to serve customers. The best lead their decentralized people with guided accountability. Their CEOs see themselves as Chief Customer Experience Officers driving, integrity, respect and customer-centricity as the third value.

Implications for you

  1. Get all aligned on the core focus of your organization: design, produce, deliver or service. This is a hard choice for many to make. They won’t want to give up on the other planks. But it’s not about giving them up. All organizations do all of these and sell or market. It’s about knowing which is the heart of the organization and how you’re going to win.
  2. Make sure the way you’re organized and operate align around that core focus. This will involve explicitly making some things less of a priority.
  3. Make sure your CEO has the talent, knowledge, skills, experience and, where warranted, the craft-level caring and sensibilities to inspire, enable and empower all in the type of organization you need to be.
  4. Whittle away at your values statements to get down to integrity, respect, and either innovation, accountability, collaboration or customer-centricity. Then flesh those out into three guiding principles that all your people can understand, buy into, act on, and remember. You might not even use the words innovation, accountability, collaboration, or customer-centricity. But those should be the essential, driving ideas.

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