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The difference between Values, Principles and Behaviours

We all know how important it is to foster the right culture at work. No doubt you've heard a lot of people talking about the need to set meaningful Values and Principles. But what does this actually mean and how does it impact your teams behaviours? No doubt you've been looking around for a clear answer and landed here hoping to find an answer! 

Well we have you covered. Here's a simple comparison of the difference between Company Values, Principles and Behaviours. Use these guidelines to set the right values for your business and turn them into action with clear principles. First, some definitions.

Values, Principles and Behaviours Defined

Values: The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. In short, it's what we hold important.

Principles: A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning. 

Behaviours: the way in which one (or a group) acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.

Values, Principles and Behaviours Compared

Values

Principles

Behaviours

Indicate what we hold as important

Guidelines influencing how we operate and make decisions

Actual behaviours we exhibit / have exhibited

Based on core ideologies

Based on what we value

Guided by our principles

Not actionable in itself

Actionable

The action itself

Example:

Creativity above all else

Example:

We work with only the most innovative people

Example:

1. Not hiring a qualified but low creativity candidate. 2. Seeking talent only in creative domains.

How does this relate to setting our company values?

I'm not going to go into why setting your values is important and what's the right way to go about it. Lencioni has some great material on this in his HBR Article.

Assuming you are planning on setting your values, here's why it's important to consider your Values, Principles and Behaviours holistically. As we've explored, values are not terribly actionable. The additional context the principles bring give us a much better idea of how we bring the values to life. They'll help inform expectations and give us an indication of where we need to do things differently.

Up until this point it's all academic. This is where the behaviours come in. I like to talk about specific instances where we have lived or not lived our principles and values. The more specific we can be about the situation, the more actionable it is. These real situations help engrain tangible examples in people's minds which they can follow in the future.

This practice also helps sharpen our principles by washing real situations by them

Should you communicate your Company Values, Principles and Behaviours?

If you're wanting to guide behaviour as your business grows, then absolutely communicate your Values and Principles. Reinforce them every chance you get.

Communicating behaviours can be a little trickier and not always necessary. We don't want to publicise every example we have. We also want to be exceptionally careful about negative examples. No one wants their screw up to be cemented on the company charter!

Instead, I like to have each team discuss behaviours they've seen and how they align to the Company Values and Principles. This makes the examples much more tangible and actionable for them.