The intersection between values, culture and the promises you keep

I’m starting to feel like a broken record. But I spend a lot of time talking to people about promises and their role in building organisations, [Bob] and “brand” and while I do see more people becoming conscious of their promises, there’s a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t seem to be getting across.

When making promises and keeping them, the piece of the puzzle that appears to be getting in the way of keeping promises is core values and culture.

To keep the promises you make, you’ve got to make promises you CAN keep. And to do that, you’ve got to know how the people in your organisation behave. What’s important to them? What do they care about? What makes them tick as a group? What will they do?

Yes, I know for some organisations that values are a poster on the wall and culture is some airy fairy thing that consultants like to talk about. But there is little that shapes the ways an organisation acts, or doesn’t act, more strongly. And keeping promises is all about actions not words.

I’m not advocating for changing culture or values here (you may want to try but that’s a completely different blog). What I’m saying is that before you make a promise, have a look at the culture of your organisation, at your values (the authentic ones) and be realistic about what they mean for the promises you want to make.

There is no point in promising amazing customer service – like – if it isn’t in your organisation’s DNA to do it.

There is no point on promising lowest prices – like Walmart – if it isn’t hardwired into the way you work and think.

There is no point in promising to care about the environment – think Patagonia –unless everyone is connected to why that matters.

While being deliberately cavalier or just plain clueless about what promises are being made might be the biggest barrier to keeping them, the second biggest barrier is most certainly being aspirational with them.

It has to start with what you can do. Not what you’d like to do. Not what you think the customer wants you to do. What you CAN do.

And being clear about what you can do, why it’s that way and what the value of that is, requires self-awareness and discipline as an organisation.

So connect the pieces. When thinking about your promises, also talk about your values, look at your culture, be real about what you can and can’t do, then look for the value in what you can do.

That is how you make promises you can keep, build an organisation that survives and thrives and a [Bob] that people care about.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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