Walking the Talk of Business Values

Walking the Talk of Business Values

There’s strong evidence to support defining and articulating business values and then demonstrating them in the way they operate. Indeed, who would question the importance of this, ‘values alignment’ in ensuring a business walks its talk?

Personally, I like that phrase, ‘Walking the talk’.  I was first introduced to it as a serious statement of commitment to values alignment by great friend, the late Bernie Speight.  Sadly, the lovely Bernie passed away before her time, but not before leaving an impressive legacy of her own personal integrity.  We’ll come back to that word, integrity in a moment.  I reckon it must be the most commonly cited value businesses claim for themselves.  It just that sometimes I wonder if it just trips off the tongue, or onto the page.  I wonder what it really means to have integrity in our values?

Let me offer another example of someone walking the talk.  I want to name him, because I consider him a great man, although he will be known to only a few who read this.  Yet his greatness is, like Bernie’s in impression he made.  His name is Charlie Harris.  He’s a lovely man and, at the time I knew him was national director of a UK charity supporting development programmes for young people.  I can hear him saying and repeating and reiterating the phrase, ‘we mean what we say’, when it came to the values and practises of the charity.

It’s funny, I’ve used that phrase, ‘The impression he made’.  It’s a phrase that reminds me of an image I wrote about in a book a year or so ago.  I wrote about lives being like a footprint in sand.  In wet sand the imprint is washed away, in dry it might stay.  That phrase, ‘The impression he made’, makes me reflect all the more on the people who make their mark on life, whether positively or negatively.

What is it about them that makes that impression?  My own judgement is that so much is summed up in how they live their values. 

Charlie and Bernie (both real people with their names unchanged) are reminders of great people, unsung maybe, but people I am proud to have known.  I’m glad to have my name connected to theirs.  It’s a privilege.  Sadly, there are others whose names I would not trumpet, I would not celebrate.  

These are people who have not in my experience, ‘Walked the talk.’

If anyone reading this were to write two lists, one for those who walked the talk and one for those who didn’t, my guess is that the second list would be longer.  But on which list would we put ourselves.  Personally, I would love to be on the list of those who walk the talk, but should I be and should you?

So, in reflecting on this very point, let’s return to that most common of claimed values  of ‘integrity’.  If there was any that might be about ‘walking the talk’ it would be that one.

Let me tell you a little story.  Very many years ago I set up an organisation that I am proud to say became successful in its field.  When I moved on, some of my colleagues bought me a pewter tankard with the organisation’s values etched into it.  These were inspiration, innovation and, you guessed it, integrity.  I have it here in my office now as I am writing this.  The truth is, I treasure it.  I treasure it for what it is and for the relationships I have and for one particular imperfection.

The imperfection is that the word, integrity is spelled integraty.  

I’m sure the person who organised the engraving or the engraver were inattentive.  It just happens that it appears they couldn’t spell.

Of course, I realise the importance of being able to spell, but that’s a skill requiring some knowledge.  What matters more than either of those things is the attitude and the behaviour that led to the engraving.  Thinking back, it is the consistency of my former colleague’s behaviour and their attitude that mattered more to me than whether they could spell.  It seems to me that you can manage the functional stuff of skills and knowledge.  It is far more difficult to manage the stuff of behaviour and attitude, which in business, leaders need to be consistent.

Now that’s an interesting word: consistent.  In fact, it’s close to the reality of that word, integrity.

Integrity is really about consistency.  All too often, we think it’s about some kind of nobility or, at a minimum suppose it’s a must have value (not that there is anything wrong with that).  But the truth is, having integrity is to behave consistently.  So, we could say that walking the talk is, having integrity.

So, let me ask you, do you mean what you say and do you walk the talk?

We’ve developed some tools to help you both work out how you and your colleagues walk the talk and more to the point tools, that enable their consistent development.  You can check them out at www.spiceframework.com

Written by Michael Croft

October 21, 2020