‘What do you most value in life’ is one of those existential questions that can make you twitch nervously, however much you realise that it is probably quite important.

Oh yes.

Honesty is more important to me than ensuring that everyone I encounter remains happy throughout our encounter. Do I have to tell you that this has got me into trouble on more than a few occasions throughout my career – well, my life?

To a large extent, our persona, or makeup is shaped by what we hold to be most dear. For some it is status, or achievement, or leaving a legacy. To others it is simplicity. I’m sure leaving a legacy was a bi-product of the way she lived, but Mother Teresa valued simplicity big time. To anyone who knew her, this was just obvious.

Think of anyone you know and I’m sure you can come up three things you reckon they place a high value on. Boris? He wants to be regarded as a great statesman, he wants to be liked, he wants to be funny (the last two being essential ingredients of what makes a great PM, of course). Jo Brand? Wants to provoke thinking that challenges orthodoxy, wants to be hard edged and shocking, believes in the ascendancy of women. Just guesses, of course.

And, as organisations are just collectives of people, some of whom have more influence than others in the way things are run, they too (the organisations) inevitably place more value on some ways of working than they do on others. Try unconfusing the following, so that the main values match the organisation accurately:

Beatles Fan clubEverything inspired by the needs of, and our love for, animals
World Wildlife FundTake every opportunity to satirise British politics
Arcadia (Phillip Green’s lot)Clients interests come first
Battersea Dogs HomeNone published
Official Monster Raving Loony PartyIntegrity
Goldman SachsStop damaging our only life support system

I hesitate before suggesting that every organisation should declare their values. I’d rather start by conducting a survey of every person in the organisation to ask what they think the company, club or whatever, values most highly. Then distil this down and show the leaders and run out of the room quickly.

When they have recovered, those leaders should talk through what they really want to value most highly, as opposed to what their people say they do at the moment. Put a plan together that will make these values dominant within 12 months, execute the plan, then conduct another survey.

If it has worked, and it is now clear that the key values are actually being lived, breathed and obvious, only then should you begin to consider publishing.

But don’t kid yourself that sticking a nice list on a website, or a wall, will somehow transform your DNA. Science is a wee bit trickier than that.

You’ll see from the list above that some values obviously connect to an organisation. And some don’t. Make yours the sort of organisation where there is absolutely no doubt what you believe…..and practise