Core Values vs Aspirational Values

Here is something I think is quite useful from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, on core values vs aspirational values:

“People frequently confuse timeless core values—what you truly believe and have always believed at a deep core level—with aspirations of what you’d like to see the organization become in the future. You may have such an aspiration, but if you are honest with yourself and it is not a core value for the people in your breakout group, the place to put it is in the vivid description aspect of the Envisioned Future. Do not mix future aspirations into your true and authentic core values, as this will create justifiable cynicism and destroy the power of your core values. For example, a group that has never held innovation as a core value should not put innovation into its list of core values, even if it sees innovation as a vital strategy for its future. Instead, it should make innovation part of its Envisioned Future a quality that it wants to stimulate progress toward.”

Jim Collins has some great exercises for organisations to determine their values which you can find on I can see that incorporating the methodology of Richard Barrett would take these exercises to a new level because it makes sense of the values. Barrett situates all values within a framework of individual and organisational consciousness. It is far more powerful to have context.

For example, using Barrett’s 7 Levels of Organisational Consciousness, the organisational value “trust” is a level 5 value, the level of internal cohesion – which is about building an internal community, with shared values and vision. “Professionalism” on the other hand is a level 3 value, the level of self-esteem. This level is about building performance, so it’s about systems and processes and best practices.

If a company has undertaken a Cultural Values Assessment (CVA) one of the primary Cultural Transformation Tools of the Barrett Values Centre, then it’s much easier to ensure relevant values are chosen. A CVA provides a clear picture of the employees’ individual values and of their desired values for the organisation. This can be used to ensure there’s alignment with who the people are and the type of organisation they want to work for, when the executives choose the values. This is essential for alignment. I will talk explain the 4 types of alignment necessary for a values-driven organisation, in another post.

For now, suffice to say, that the current trend of executives rushing off on a breakaway, and returning with a set of “new values for the company” is very old school and ineffective. At the very least, failing a company-wide survey (cost is of course a factor in these matters), the executives should each undertake an IVA – Individual Values Assessment – which can be used to ensure that these individuals, who will be responsible for espousing and living the values, are in fact capable of doing so.

If undertaking any sort of values journey, I highly recommend you read Richard Barrett’s Building a Values Driven Organisation. While Good to Great is on every list of “books every entrepreneur should have read”, Barrett’s book is just a little more exclusive.  Jim Collins for a business exec is like having Deepak Chopra on your bookshelf if you’re a self-help fan. (there’s no note of condescension here, we should ALL be helping ourselves, those who don’t are just painful). But if you want to learn about values the smart way, the way the cool kids are doing it, read Building a Values Driven Organisation. It’s not a laugh a minute but it’s profound. Or you can get a Barrett consultant, like me, to run you through the book’s contents in a few hours. Either way, two bits of advice:

1. don’t pay for a values session until you’ve looked into Barrett’s work

2. Do not try to inculcate the organisation’s values by chanting them in unison at company meetings. Ever.


3 responses to “Core Values vs Aspirational Values

  1. I am very happy to what I have learn from a great post like this which I could relate with. In return, I would like to share my comment – The core values of an agency are all those values we hold which form the basis on which we perform task and conduct ourselves. We now have an entire universe of values, but some of them are so primary, so necessary to us that through out the changes in society, government, politics, and technology they’re STILL the core values we are going to abide by. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant. Core values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ to achieve our mission. The values underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which tactics we employ to fulfill our mission. The core values will be the essential elements of how we go about our jobs. They are the practices we use (or should be employing) every day in all the thingsthat we do.


    • Dear Scott
      Thanks for this feedback – somehow your comment got into spam so I just found it now. The idea of whether core values are constant or not is a thought provoking one. While values are timeless in nature, I think people put emphasis on different values at different times in their lives. We are moulded by our experiences which may draw us towards a new value (for us) or to move one value “centre stage”. For example, if one is deeply betrayed by a lie – perhaps “trust” starts to take a bigger place in one’s life? It may always have been a value of mine, but I might start living it more, being more conscious of it in every day life than I may previously have been. Which brings me to the concept I’ve been exploring that we each interpret values in such different ways. “Integrity” to me might well mean something quite different to you. For organizations, I believe it’s critical to discuss, debate and agree on OUR interpretation of our values. Without this they are meaningless. I’ll post an exercise I found and reworked on this issue.


  2. Pingback: Dewey Leboeuf bursts its walls | Shark Free Waters

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