By Tom Ambler, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

Note:  This article is part of a series taken from Thomas E. Ambler’s article The Strategic Value of  Values originally published in Compass Points in April 2002.  In Part 1, we introduced the series.  In Part 2, we discussed Values’ Value.  In Part 3, we discussed Market Value.  In Part 4, we discussed Internal Value.  In this post, we discuss Defining Your Values.

Defining Your Values

Workable processes for initially defining your Values are available in plenty of books. For example, check out the Mission Statement and Goals sections, pages 178 to 183, in Simplified Strategic Planning, by Robert Bradford and Peter Duncan.

Here we will limit ourselves to mentioning several key principles and techniques as follows:

  • Define no more than 6 Values at the deepest, most fundamental level possible, without regard for how they match up with the outside environment; these are your Core Values.
  • Don’t try to define your Values using a democratic process – the top leaders have much greater weight in selecting the final set because they must authentically exemplify Values which inspire their followers.

Once established, these Core Values should be subjected to two tests. The first test is the Credibility Test. Have the behaviors of you and your people inside and outside of the organization been consistent with these Values over the past year? If not, are they really core and/or what must change?

The second test determines which individual Values or combinations of Values have particular strategic worth, in that they can provide sustainable competitive advantage. The technique, borrowed from Simplified Strategic Planning, is the same as that used with Competencies to determine which are strategic. (See page 86 of Simplified Strategic Planning.)

Recognizing Values in Strategic Planning

When you analyze and strategize your markets, be sure to consider the Values dimension explicitly, looking for competitive openings within which you can leverage your distinguishing Values.

Use your Core Values as a “gate” through which any new opportunity must pass. If an opportunity can’t be structured in such a way to pass, dump it!

Deal with the strategic issue mentioned earlier, “which customers and suppliers should you ‘fire’ because they don’t fit your Values?” If your participation in a core market segment becomes too small due to a Values conflict, challenge your Values only to the extent of seeking a deeper, more timeless value or principle to replace the one that conflicts with your market. For example, a hallowed practice of making your product “super-rugged” may need to be challenged by a deeper Value like “satisfying the customer”.

The next topic in this series will be Alignment of Values Within The Organization.

For information on how to take your strategic planning to the next level, please listen to our webinar: Why Isn’t My Strategic Planning Working?

© Copyright 2016 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Tom Ambler is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at

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