Electric Dreams: The power of values


The evidence from one of the world’s biggest companies shows how defining values helps you make big decisions and build resilience, writes Camelia Ram

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1. Have a heart – Define what you care about 

Values, or what an individual or organization cares about most, help to shape the future. Innovation at GE provides a powerful example of values in action. Imagination is at the heart of GE – it is the key thing it ‘cares’ about and, thus, everything it does has to contribute to that key value. It “imagines things others don’t, builds things others can’t, and delivers outcomes that make the world work better”.

2. Set a target – Identify what you want to achieve 

Knowledge of values helps to articulate objectives – what the individual or organization hopes to achieve. Innovation is built into the GE Beliefs (see box opposite), which frame the mindset and behaviours to change its culture and deliver on its strategy. The beliefs reflect a renewed emphasis on customer focus and reinvention through agility.

3. Choose your course – Let values shape key decisions 

Perhaps most powerfully of all, values create new paths when companies are faced with big decisions. Innovation has been at the core of reinventing the brand story, helping to place the focus on how the company should do business in the future. The Ecomagination initiative, launched in 2005, was regarded as a bold move by GE, not least because the company was considered to be one of the world’s worst polluters at the time. Ten years on, it is one of the world’s top global green brands. In 2015, the company launched a new initiative with strategic partners, such as Total, Walmart, Intel, Statoil and BHP Billiton, to explore how they can lead the world in finding resource-efficiency solutions. This highlights the power of values to drive transformation
over time.

4. Beat your bias – Values cut through situational pressure

Values influence the alternatives that an individual or organization may consider. Values can help guide decisions when the pressure of the current situation might otherwise push the decision towards a short-term, non-strategic objective. For example, if your current situation is one of resource constraints, it can be tempting to make small changes to streamline existing operations rather than explore more fundamental changes. If, on the other hand, your current situation is perceived as business-as-usual, there may be a bias to ignore fundamental changes that may be occurring in the external environment. However, when guided by values, the individual or organization is empowered to explore alternatives consistent with areas they care about, and therefore grapple with issues they choose to face and have control of. They become more proactive about the choices they make.

5. Stop the rot – Jettison projects that no longer meet your values

It is all too common to fall into the trap of doing more in order to achieve objectives. It is just as important to identify what to stop doing to determine whether choices being made and alternatives being considered remain relevant for the context. To this end, making sense of what is changing – and why – can identify hidden risks or opportunities to achieving outcomes consistent with one’s values (see panel above).

6. Make it a habit – Values must become a routine part of decision-making

As we have seen, being able to articulate what matters most helps to frame choices differently, to create better alternatives, and to develop an enduring set of guiding principles for oneself or one’s organization. Making this routine can be supported by encouraging team members to articulate values in easy decision situations so that it would help prepare them to do it in harder situations. Asking various ‘what if?’ questions to examine how the relative importance of values may change if context changes – in terms of external focus, resource constraints or stakeholders involved – will help identify coherent patterns in what matters most. These patterns define the fundamental, enduring elements of what the individual or organization stands for, which will form the foundations of resilience and adaptability over the long term.


GE crowdsourced its values – known as its beliefs – from its employees.

They are:

  • Customers determine our success
  • Stay lean to go fast
  • Learn and adapt to win
  • Empower and inspire each other
  • Deliver results in an uncertain world