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Last weekend, I was at a pub having a drink with my friend Michael when suddenly I became aware of a drunk person pushing tables and chairs near the entrance and uttering nonsensical threats. My full attention and interest were instantly channeled towards the drunk person, as the value of the casual discussion with Michael evaporated.

It became abundantly clear at that moment that something I perceived as more important than the casual discussion with Michael had pulled my attention.

Importance of Values

Being faced with an infinite number of facts, objects, and possible directions in the world highlights the need for a values hierarchy or framework to navigate and make sense of the world.

Without a values hierarchy, in the sense of a hierarchy of importance, an individual would be overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions or take any action.

The very fact that you are reading these lines right now suggests that you have placed more importance on reading this article than on other possible actions, such as scrolling on Facebook, taking a nap, or checking your email. Even if you disagree with what you read right now, or think it’s untrue, you probably do so because you value truth.

It is impossible to not have values, as every action and move, including the movement of our eyes and the orientation of our attention, is guided by a values framework.

Values in Action

Like in the previous example in the bar, our eyes may be drawn to a drunken person because our values prioritise safety, alerting us to potential threats or fights. Similarly, while breakfasting with our eating companion in a hotel, our attention may be drawn away from them and towards a beloved song being played in the lobby, revealing the value we place on music. Finally, we may absentmindedly work on our laptops at work while ruminating about a recent argument with our spouse, a sign of the high value we place on family peace.

Even if we choose to do ‘nothing’, or stay in bed all morning, our decision is likely rooted in our values, such as valuing peace, avoiding conflict, seeking rest, conserving energy, prioritizing personal growth, or valuing simplicity.

The Central Question

There is no doubt then that whether knowingly or unknowingly we are being guided by a values framework. What is less clear, and here is the greatest question any person, including any CEO or founder, can ask:

What should be the highest value, or the value placed at the pinnacle of a person’s or company’s values hierarchy?

Two Key Guiding Value Dilemmas for Companies

Here are two of the most fundamental value dilemmas companies face:-

A. Change vs Stability (the two ‘meta-values’)

  • Change: Embracing adaptability drives progress and resilience but can create instability and uncertainty.

  • Stability: Providing security and predictability builds long-term trust but risks complacency, stagnation, and atrophy.

  • Balancing Both: Successful organizations balance stability with change and conservatism with innovation. They embrace innovation in an ordered manner without disrupting fundamental principles and systems that work (the ‘core’ of the business), while continuously upgrading to stay in sync with an ever-evolving world (upgrading on the ‘periphery’).

B. Customer Satisfaction vs Employee Happiness (‘who matters most?’)

  • Customer Satisfaction: Prioritising customer needs boosts loyalty but can overshadow internal considerations including employees wellbeing.

  • Employee Happiness: Focusing on employee well-being increases retention and creativity, often leading to satisfied customers, but it requires significant investment in culture and resources.

  • Balancing Both: Successful organizations balance customer satisfaction with employee happiness, creating a harmonious and productive environment.

Determining the highest value requires careful introspection and alignment with broader goals.

Workshops for Value Alignment

Additionally, it is often necessary for companies to engage in interactive discussions at all levels to ensure that the importance of values is clear to all managers and employees alike. Such interventions can include stimulating and inspiring workshops with all managers and employees present, where meaningful discussions can be facilitated by an experienced coach or consultant.

These workshops often include interactive games, brainstorming sessions, and take place in a relaxed and safe atmosphere to maximise receptivity and engagement. They also help with team building, bringing leadership and employees closer together, fostering a unified understanding of the organisation’s values and the challenges linked to not adhering to them.

Conclusion: What are your thoughts, dear reader? Do you find yourself caught between opposing or conflicting values? How do you navigate such tension?

Feel free to share them below!


PS: Part of this article is derived from Chapter 6 (Values) of my latest book, The MARVEL of Happiness: Principles, Stories, and Lessons for Living Fully. All rights reserved. For more insights on the concepts discussed, refer to the book: The MARVEL of Happiness.


“Philippos combines a rare blend of extensive professional experience drawn from his fifteen-year tenure at the highest echelons of the legal profession and a unique talent as an impactful speaker and an effective communicator of inspiring ideas and critically current themes that can truly help professional organizations level up and move to the next level.”

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