Your Virtues Are Destroying Your Growth, Here’s Why

I deeply enjoy culture change. It’s one of the greatest growth enablers a business can invest in along with targeted marketing, operational discipline and groundswell innovation. But, back to culture change…

One of the first things I hear when we jump into scoping a culture change program goes a bit like this:

Leader/owner/HR: “We have great values. They are on the wall, they spell xx acronym and we invested a lot of time in them”.

Me: “Great, how are they working for you”.

Leader: “Well, they could be better. but no one is perfect, right?”

Me: “Look, if we are going to break the back of this, give me a sense of how they are REALLY tracking.”

Leader: “Not good. Not good at all.”

How it happens

Values are an amazing thing to focus on. They give people a sense of what we value, where we want to go, and who we want to be.

But there is a real problem with how we use values. We ASSUME values are the current way we do things. THEY ARE NOT.

Values are aspirational by their very nature. They are the things we are chasing as the DNA in the future we seek to build.

In plain English, Values are who we want to be, not who we are today.

Now, humour me. Having done this with hundreds of leaders, we’ve got a basis to this approach.

The thing that matters more than values today are your virtues. Yep, virtues. Here’s why.


Virtues are how we do things today. They are nuanced embodiment of what actually happens today. This, in turn, shapes our interpretation of future values. Here’s an example.

A client had a set of values. One of them, was a classic: “We trust each other”.

I spent some time consulting to them and over the weeks, I discovered that one of the leaders wasn’t pulling their weight. Even worse, some of the other leaders had started working around him and covering for them without ever telling the person.

Me being me, I asked, “How come everyone is working around XX and not telling XX about the issues with their work”?

Leader: “Well, look, we don’t think he can do what he’s been hired to do, so we just do it ourselves.“

Me: “How does that align with your value of ‘trusting each other’?”

Leader: (blank stare)

Me: “So it sounds like you WANT to trust each other, but your current virtue is actually to get a result even if we don’t trust each other. If you trusted each other, couldn’t you 1. give him a chance to make a mistake 2. give him honest feedback?”

Leader: “But what if he drops the ball”

Me: “So you mean you don’t ‘trust’ that he can do the job”

Leader: “No, I guess not”

Me: “Great, so just to get clarity, your value is to trust each other, but your virtue today is to get a result”

Leader: “I guess so…Yeah…”

When your virtues kill your values and what you can do to move the needle

That’s a pretty straightforward example of virtues crushing values. Now, if we want to grow our team, business, leaders, people, etc we’ve got to reconcile the two.

You’ve probably picked up now that your virtues are very clearly the thing you do. The thing that happens when you as a leader aren’t around to direct people on what to do. The decision people make based on precedent.

if you want to turn those aspirational ‘values’ into reality ASAP, here is what you need to do:

  1. Look at your current virtues – Your virtues are what you and the team do today, regardless of whatever is printed on the wall. You need to clearly define your virtues if you’re going to move the needle.
  2. Reconcile your virtues and your values – Now that you know your virtues, what needs to happen to reconcile the two? How does the team know what the virtues TODAY are?
  3. Share stories of your virtues with the team – One way to reconcile the two is to share stories of your virtues and close the gap between the two. If people can see how the virtues today become the values of tomorrow, we can make a real impact.
  4. Test the team’s interpretation against your aspiration – Give the team a real scenario with a customer, stakeholder, team member, etc and ask them to solve it the way they would solve it. If they miss the mark, your virtues aren’t what you think they are and you’ve got some work to do.

Now you know, so what’s the plan? How will you bridge the gap between your values and today’s virtues?

Want to binge on more blog bad@ssery?

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How I automated non-value adding crap in my business

If you want to grow your business, one of the key drivers is your ability to increase value-adding activities that you and your team spend time on while systematising and automating those that have no inherent value.