Corporate Values: Beyond the Bathroom

Pretty much every organisation has values. In many cases, they look remarkably similar from organisation to organisation; a result of “benchmarking” or, if you want to be cynical, a lack of imagination. But what are corporate values actually for?

One definition of corporate values is: “Corporate Values are the fundamental beliefs upon which your organisation and its behaviour are based. They are the guiding principles that your business uses to manage its internal affairs as well as its relationship with customers.”

Now, that’s quite an impressive statement. If they’re fundamental to YOUR ORGANISATION, why do we see so much similarity between the values chosen by different organisations? Surely, they should be as unique and diverse as each organisation, especially as none of them would describe themselves as “just like so-and-so”. And, especially in service-based industries, surely your organisational behaviours, attitudes and the relationship you build with your customers are key to differentiating you from “the rest”?


Part of the answer comes from the importance given to defining and, more importantly, living the values within organisations. In more than one organisation, I’ve seen the values proudly displayed as a poster on the bathroom wall. When I’ve mentioned it, the response given is normally “So everyone sees them, every day”. Unless one of your values is “Clean hands”, I’m not sure how effective this communication method is.

Another part of the answer is that it’s not just about the words you chose; it’s also about how they are defined. The values should provide the “moral compass” for the organisation; the reference point when faced with a difficult decision. That’s what the “guiding principles” part of the definition means. And, like all things excellent, it’s not always easy to live the values; to actively put them into practice. But, it’s when decisions get hard, you find out how important values really are.

Let’s take Google as an example. They famously started with the value of “Do no evil”. A very honourable statement. But is this being lived? A quick look at the news quickly reveals a number of instances where this value is being questioned. To the extent that Google appear to have quietly dropped the “Do no evil” reference from their corporate materials.

From a personal perspective, I was asked to do something in an organisation I previously worked in which I felt went against its values and, whilst not illegal, was clearly unethical. I refused. After a number of heated discussions and my continued refusal, my position was made redundant (which was actually not a bad outcome as I’d already prepared my resignation). When asked what had happened about a year later by someone I know, I told them the story. Their response was “You can’t let ethics get in the way of business.” I replied, “If you can’t let ethics get in the way of business, how can you say you have ethics?”

And that’s the question you, and your organisation, should ask. Values, by their very nature, are something that we place value on. And, if we value something, we have to be prepared to make sacrifices; and is it worth sacrificing your values?

When children ask me about difficult decisions they face, I normally annoy them by not telling them what to do but to think about the impact of that decision; “Will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning?” If the answer to that is “no”, the decision is “don’t do it”.

And, for excellent organisations who actually value their values, the same should apply. The business world isn’t different to the real world; it’s the same. Why would you do something in business you wouldn’t do in your private life?

If you value your values, can you afford to ignore them?

Brexit through the excellence prism

Brexit is an issue that has the potential to impact not only the British and European economies but also the global market. The ongoing uncertainty, after more than 2 years of discussion, debate, and negotiation, will have to end, one way or another, as the deadline of the 29th March looms. Taking a step back, how does Brexit fair when viewed through the excellence prism?

It started with a referendum, a democratic vote. As reasonable starting point and the question put was clear – do you want to Leave or Remain in the EU? In excellence terms, a referendum is basically a perception survey on steroids. And, when we’re assessing a survey, one of the things we check is the sample – who was included? The referendum covered anyone registered to vote in the UK. That means foreign nationals, including EU citizens, living in UK could participate, so long as they were registered to vote.


But it excluded the estimated 1 million UK citizens who live and work in the EU, taking advantage of the “freedom of movement” that has been such a bone of contention and which was one of the contributing factors to triggering the referendum in the first place. Not good from an excellent perspective – that’s a relevant stakeholder group which was excluded. However, giving the difference between the “Remain” and “Leave” vote was more than 1 million, even if there had been a 100% turnout (extremely unlikely) AND all of them voted to remain (again, even in this population, extremely unlikely), whilst it might have made the margin closer, the outcome would have been the same.

The campaigns in the run-up to the vote were unlike a “normal election”, where people vote for a candidate based on their policies and the winner is then held accountable by the electorate for delivering against the promises made. In the referendum, the government wanted to remain – pretty easy to keep that promise as it effectively meant “doing nothing”. Who would deliver the “leave” vote wasn’t considered, and that’s been the problem ever since the vote to “leave” was cast.

There’s also the issue of the tactics adopted in the campaign. Probably the most memorable argument from the “Leave” campaign was plastered across the side of their bus – the claim the government could spend an extra £350 million a week on the National Health Service instead of giving it to the EU. No one is committed to delivering that promise. The “Remain” campaign adopted “Project Fear” tactics; focusing on the negatives of leaving, not the positives of staying. Neither side put forward a clear, inspiring and inclusive vision for the future; something that is a basic building block of excellence.

The “Irish backstop” issue that now dominates the news wasn’t even a consideration during the campaign. But the origins of the “backstop” are in the Good Friday Agreement; a legally binding agreement that makes a hard border illegal. Understanding and complying with the law is a basic requirement; it’s not even on the excellence scale.

Finally, once the political dust settled, the UK had a Government committed to delivering Brexit. Red lines were drawn and negotiations started with the EU. And those “red lines” have become a mantra over the last 2 years, along with “delivering the result of the referendum”. Whilst the result of the referendum cannot be debated, the “red lines” that have defined the deal that’s now stuck in Parliament can be. Where did those red lines come from?

They weren’t in the referendum question – that was a binary choice. They were in the Conservative Party manifesto of the 2017 election but that failed to return a majority in the House of Commons, let alone attract a majority of the public vote. The UK is now facing the choice of a deal that does not deliver what the majority of people want or a no-deal that not only damages the UK economy but also has significant impact on the EU, especially Ireland. People are being given a “lose-lose” option.

Excellence means creating “win-win” situations where no stakeholders opinion is ignored. Achieving a “win-win” means compromising; finding a middle-ground where no one feels like a loser. Whilst it might be too much to expect “excellence in politics”, is it too much to ask for a little bit once in a while?

To RoboBee or Not to RoboBee

I was watching the National Geographic channel the other night and there was a short film, from a series entitled Innovation Explorers, about a scientist working in robotics. He starts with what he admits is a grand statement; that “robotics will be the next internet”, before explaining the project they’re working on; building a drone of bee-like robots, inspired by nature. He explains that while individual bees cannot fly far, by working together, they are very successfully before adding that his robobees “could be useful in applications where you don’t want to put a human or animal”.


Taken at face value, this appears to be a great example of “innovation for the sake of innovation”. It’s not clear how this innovation could be put to practical use; what currently unsolvable problem will suddenly be unlocked by the appearance of a robobee (or, indeed, a hive of robobees) on the scene. They’re going to have to wait and see if someone else can find the problem that only a robobee can solve.

This set my mind off in 2 directions. The first is the parallel with what I see happening in many organisations. Innovation is important (it must be because everyone says so). Innovation is “the next big thing” and “if you don’t innovate, you die”. Now, there’s obviously truth in that; think of all the former global giants who’ve been on the wrong side of a disruption and are now desperately playing “catch-up” or have retired from the race altogether. But many organisations don’t stop to think about the basic questions: what, where and why do they need to innovate? They start with a generic “how?” and, in many cases I’ve seen, the result looks something like a mid-90s “Employee Suggestion Scheme”. The focus is on ideation, and generally it’s quantity over quality.

Without a clear focus, ideas may come thick and fast but very few are addressing the “big issues”. And, more often than not, the system becomes overloaded as the process for sorting the “gold from the dirt” cannot cope. The organisations that “get it” focus the creative energy and talent of the people, and other stakeholders, on the strategic challenges they face. They start with a set of specific problems that need to be solved. They don’t start with a solution, then go looking for the problem it solves.

Which takes me back to the other direction my somewhat scrambled brain wandered off in; what do bees actually do? For years, scientists have tried to work out how such a tiny, fragile and, let’s face it, not very agile creature manages to survive. How can they fly such long distances with those wings? How do they communicate the location of food sources so effectively? How do they even remember where those food sources are with such a tiny brain? The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed these are the “how”, not “what” questions. With all the coverage of COP24, it’s clear the scientists are now understanding the “what” better than the “how” as, with global bee populations declining, we’re finding out the hard way what they do. It may be too late to find out how.

Which leads me back to our intrepid inventor and his robobees. Maybe this is his niche – the problem that fits his solution. Maybe his robobees can help the eco-system survive by doing what real bees do, while someone else works out how we can help the bees recover their numbers sufficiently. But, if we’re going to be able to successfully create a robobee capable of doing this job, we would have to have a better understanding not only of what they do, but how they do it.

However, as a species, maybe we have taken a step forward. At least we have now identified a problem that needs an innovative solution. Get your thinking caps on.

BEX partners with CIMMO

The Institute is pleased to announce that it has entered into an agreement with the Chartered Institute of Marketing Management of Ontario in Canada to promote excellence and to collaborate on marketing excellence. “We are delighted to partner with the Chartered Institute of Marketing Management of Ontario,” commented John Bourke, President of The Business Excellence Institute, “the cooperation will add value for our members in Canada and will benefit both organizations”.

Season’s Greetings & Best Wishes for an Excellent 2019

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and Holiday season and all the best for an excellent year in 2019

Feliz Navidad  –  Joyeux Noël  –  Buon Natale  –  Frohe Weihnachten  –  Veselé Vánoce  –  Boldog Karácsonyt  –  Glædelig jul  –  Vrolijk Kerstfeest  –  Hyvää Joulua  –  Wesołych Świąt  –  Feliz Natal  –  Καλά Χριστούγεννα  –  С Рождеством  –  З Різдвом Христовим  –  Maligayang pasko  –  Nollaig Shona  –  God jul  –  Mừng Chúa Giáng Sinh  –  メリークリスマス  –  สุขสันต์วันคริสมาสต์  –  חג מולד שמח  –  मेरी क्रिसमस  –  聖誕快樂  –  圣诞快乐  –  메리 크리스마스  –  كريسمس مبارك  –  كريسمس سعيدة

Excellence Hall of Fame 2019 Inductees

Dublin, Ireland, 5 December, 2018

The Business Excellence Institute is delighted to announce that the successful nominees, elected to the Excellence Hall of Fame for 2019 are, in alphabetical order by first name, Clara Shih, Feargal Quinn, and Henry Mintzberg.

Clara Shih,

Clara Shih

Feargal Quinn

Feargal Quinn

Henry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg

Clara Shih – Founder Hearsay Social & Board Member of Starbucks

Clara started her career aged 15 in Femilab. She later earned co-terminal Bachelors and Masters degrees in Economics & Computer Science from Stanford before earning her second Masters from Oxford while working for Google in the UK. After Google, she joined prior to starting her own company, Hearsay Systems. She has since written two bestselling books, been appointed to the board of Starbucks, and has been named one of Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs”. You can learn more about her here.

Feargal Quinn – Founder Superquinn & Senator

Feargal is one of Ireland’s most popular entrepreneurs. He founded the Superquinn supermarket chain which helped introduce supermarkets to Ireland in the 60s. An internationally respected retailer, he has served as chairman of the Irish Post Office and as a Senator in the Irish Senate. He has written 3 books and has been a Marketing Professor in NUI Galway. He shared a “Listener of the Year” award with Oprah Winfrey and has been awarded both a Papal Knighthood and the Ordre National du Mérite. You can learn more about him here.

Henry Mintzberg – Professor of Management, McGill University, Montréal

Henry has been one of the world’s leading management thinkers for many years. After earning his PhD from MIT, he joined the faculty in McGill University in Montréal and, while there, has served as a consultant to numerous businesses and governments. He was the first management academic to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and has recieved many other accolades including 18 honorary doctorates. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and an Officier de l’Ordre National du Québec. You can learn more about him here.

The Induction Ceremony is a Black Tie Gala Dinner with a “fireside chat” that will take place in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, on Thursday, 28 March, 2019.


About The Business Excellence Institute

The Business Excellence Institute is a membership body that promotes business excellence as a multi-disciplinary profession, excellence in management, and the use of innovative approaches to personal and organizational development. It works with individuals and organizations ranging from small family businesses to federal governments to help them deliver outstanding results for all their stakeholders. It has members on 5 continents and while predominantly practitioner focused, it also has academic members.


Tickets for the Induction Ceremony Gala Dinner, can be purchased here

Dianne Tyers, Jennifer McDonald & Tom Butterly elected Fellows

We are delighted to announce that Dianne Tyers (Canada), Jennifer McDonald (Jamaica), and Tom Butterly (Switzerland) have been elected as Fellows of the Institute.

Dianne Tyers FBEI

Dianne Tyers

Jennifer McDonald FBEI

Jennifer McDonald

Tom Butterly FBEI

Tom Butterly

Dianne Tyers

Dianne is an educational consultant and entrepreneur with almost two decades’ experience running her own company. She has developed products and services – including teacher education – for educational bodies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. She has also conducted numerous educational sector quality assurance projects around the globe. Dianne holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physical and Health Education (University of Toronto), an MA in Applied Linguistics (University of Queensland), an MBA (Ivey School of Business) and a PhD in Entrepreneurial Education (University of Toronto).


Jennifer McDonald

Jennifer is an international management consultant & corporate brand transformation specialist. She began her career as an economist with the Ministry of Labour in Jamaica. She was later instrumental in building Jamaica’s National Land Agency before taking on the role of Chief Executive of its Passport Immigration & Citizenship Agency. Jennifer holds a BA in Geography & Economics, a Diploma in Management Studies, and an MBA in Marketing (University of the West Indies). She has also studied Energy Project Management at the University of Connecticut and Organizational Development at Harvard.


Tom Butterly

Tom is a leading international trade facilitation and development expert and a consultant to organisations including the OECD, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, and a number of UN agencies. He has experience working in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America and previously served as Deputy Chief of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Trade & Economic Development Division and as its Chief of Trade Facilitation. Tom holds both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Economics (Dalhousie University) and a Diploma in Telecommunications Technology (Technological University Dublin).