“Value” is a term popping up a lot in my conversations lately. Like many words in the English language, it gets defined and used in diverse ways – which is a source of frustration in those conversations but also a catalyst to have a conversation that is richer in meaning.

So why is the notion of Value useful in thinking about and making change?

Making change in an organisational context is essentially to add Value to a situation. Often change is framed with unconscious and unexamined Value. If we don’t really know what Value we seek to have created, it’s very difficult to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Organisations want to be successful in the change they make. They seek to have their people ‘get on board’ or ‘take ownership’ of the change sought. But is there good alignment between the change sought for the organisation, and what is of Value to the people asked to change?

There is a perspective (an alternative to the common rhetoric that people won’t change) that people will make change that is meaningful to them. Another way to think about ‘meaningful’ is ‘valuable’.  But I’m not simply taking about money or rewards. It’s time to expand our notion of what is of Value.

Value vs. Values 

In this article I’m talking about Value and not Values.  So let me take a moment to differentiate the two.

“Values”, like Integrity and Accountability, are the beliefs and standards one holds about what is of greatest importance. These Values shape how you show up in the world. When you experience a conflict with others, a violation of your Values may be the cause.

It may be Values that are driving an entity to make a change. They may need to get out of a situation where Values and actions are not aligned. Much is made of the idea of ‘cultural fit’ for organisations and its employees which is a conversation about aligned Values, which would translate to aligned behaviours and attitudes.

Then there is “Value”, where you perceive something to be valuable – something for which you would pay or sacrifice to have. Value is predominately seen as the financial value of a thing. You exchange your time and your expertise (‘work’) to get Money (aka Income), and you use money to get products and services that you consider valuable. The latter is what is referred to as Value Proposition. In a business-customer exchange, you will purchase products and services that result in the specific proposition of Value for you. This can often be abstract things like Peace of Mind, Convenience, Reputation, or can also be concrete things like Utility or Functionality.

This same idea of Value exchange can translate to Employer-Employee or Organisation-Staff contexts. In these exchanges, people may be asked to ‘pay’ or ‘sacrifice’ in order to achieve the organisational change.
Organisational change might be to implement new Values, and that in itself might have Value.  See – it gets confusing with the language doesn’t it? I often use this shorthand: Values are what you live by, Value is something you create or gain. Values might be one reason you are changing; Value is what you want as a result of changing.

The notion of Value Proposition

Much is made of the idea of Value Proposition. It’s at the core of human-centred design: find out what people want (the Value), then provide that.

For businesses looking for competitive advantage, they want to know that what they produce or serve is going to attract customers to exchange their money, loyalty, etc. for those things. They invest a lot of time into understanding what is valuable to customers.

However, Value Proposition is often framed as ‘What I am proposing to give you’ rather than ‘What you’re seeking is what I propose to give you’. The former approach can fail to recognise that Value is in the eye of the beholder/recipient.  Someone will only feel grateful and satisfied by what you intend to provide them if it has Value to them – else it’s a non-event.

For example, let’s say a company wants to introduce new ways for its salesforce to collaborate. They build beautiful intranet sites with collaboration features to make this easy – but the sites are not accessible on mobile devices. The salesforce is rarely in the office and does most of their collaboration remotely.  Typically sales people are driven people who want to quickly and effectively move sales through the pipeline – so tools that don’t assist them while they are on the move are a hindrance and a threat to high performing work.

This company was seeking to create the Value of Collaborative Salesforce (or Market Share or Increased Revenue). What the salesforce saw as Value was Performance and Mobile Working. Everybody might agree that all these aspects of Value sound good, however, the choices about what change to implement didn’t create the Value desired by all.  So what do you think is the likelihood of the salesforce personnel adopting this change?

Seeking a vocabulary for Value

In this article from the Harvard Business Review, 30 elements of Value in four categories are arranged in a Value pyramid.  It’s a useful reference point even though it’s about a customer perspective of Value.

In what I’ve written above, there are some mixed notions of Value.   They might not resonate with you as Value, because Value is contextual and often in the eye of the beholder. So I recommend you do a personal exercise for yourself about what is Value to you as a starting place for deeper thinking on this matter.

Here’s the results of my personal exercise.  Think of each of these items of Value as something I would pay for or sacrifice to get, something that would greatly please me to get as a gift, something that has great worth to me and would influence my choices.

Home/Domestic Personal Work Business Close Relationships





Utility (it works)






















Trusted Partnerships



Thought Leadership

Quality Time








You may want to ask the question of ‘What is Valuable to me/us?’ rather than ‘What is Value?’.

As I illustrate with my personal example above, the answer to the question will depend on context. What I value as a customer is different than what I value as an employee. What I value as a customer may differ depending on the product or service I am using, or even the time in my life when I am using the product or service, or the context (for business, for home) where I need the product or service.

This is why the items in my list above may appear synonymous but have different meaning. The nuance reflects a different perspective or sense of Value for that context.

Not all Value is equal

There is Value of different orders, and various levels of nesting. For example (within a Business context), Business Intelligence might be Value, or it might be the means to get Insight Value, or Insight Value might be the means to get Competitive Advantage. Or, Insight might be the means to get Inventions, which might be the means to get Intellectual Capital, which is the means to get Competitive Advantage.

Some things that look like Value may in fact be a strategy (i.e. a means) to achieve Value, e.g. Diversification is a likely a strategy rather than Value in of itself. The test is whether you get something that is Valuable enough for you to exchange Value that you have to give.

Making change to get Value

In order to make change that has Value, think about these steps for Value creation:

  1. What is Value? Get all significant stakeholders to understand and agree on Value.
  2. How is Value created and captured? Determine the appropriate ways to create or capture that Value.
  3. How is Value measured? Choose and use metrics so you know you are achieving the Value sought.

Here is an example from an Organisation’s perspective

What is Value How is Value Created & Captured How is Value measured?
Market Share Conducting an aggressive marketing campaign into new market segments with the assistance of an innovative marketing partner to gain new customers 20% share of one new market segment; 50% increase in share of two existing market segments
Modern Workforce Conducting a professional learning & development program guided by principles of 70:20:10 and personal empowerment, to gain new skills in existing staff Two new skills per staff member;

Shift from Basic to Intermediate, or Intermediate to Advanced, in one skill per staff member

Here is an example from an Individual’s perspective

What is Value How is Value Created & Captured How is Value measured?
Enhanced Reputation Being associated with people and participating in projects that are doing things that are interesting challenging and high performing 3 amazing stories (per year) I can tell about being on such projects/in such collaborations
Belonging Being an member of a group where I have been properly welcomed and integrated People know my name and what is important to me

Can you conceive of an organisational change project that could incorporate and produce all these ideas of Value at the same time?


Value is in the eye of the beholder. In organisational change there are many stakeholders, many people with personal perspectives on what they Value.  This creates a challenge and an opportunity to meaningfully connect with people about what is valuable to them. Discover what is truly valuable, put in places means to create that value,  and check that it is being delivered if desired change is to persist.


UPDATE 2019: You can now get a set of cards with a range of Value Elements to use in a Value Exchange activity.


Author: Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

This post was simultaneously published on LinkedIn.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks so much Helen. Loved your article. you have given me some additional food for thought on what we value and how we can look at how we measure that value. As always insightful.

    • Glad you got value from the article about Value ;-) I got value from you dropping by and letting me know your thoughts. Look forward to hearing from you at later date about how you might have applied the insights you gained.

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