Does your brand have an OVS?

Does your brand have an OVS or Operating Values System?

Most of us understand that our computers have a foundational operating system or OS. It’s the interface between a computer user and computer hardware.

Your computer’s OS is vital software that performs all the basic tasks like file management, memory management, process management, handling input and output, and controlling peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers. Without it, your computer would be a large paperweight.

Like computers, companies and their brands also need an OS. Often a company’s OS is expressed as their production process or internal work methods. The rational ways they do what they do.

I would like to suggest that organizations get an OVS (Operating Values System) in order to function properly and to help support the Purpose of a company.

“89% of executives say companies that lead with purpose have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.” - Porter Novelli’s 2020 Executive Purpose Study

Here’s why I think having an Operating Values System is so important.

Over my career working on some of the world’s most famous and successful brands, I noticed that they had two things in common: Well thought out purpose with well-articulated values, and great customer/employee experiences.

What is the relationship between a brand’s experiences and its purpose and values?

Here’s my take. And it is quite simple.

While your Purpose is your WHY and the elevator speech for your company, your “Values” provide a framework for how people in your organization make good decisions.

Not perfect decisions mind you, but decisions. Values (sometimes referred to as Principles) are a brand’s Constitution. Your “We the people…”, articulating the things you stand for — but more importantly, it has things you stand against.

Why is it so vital?

It helps you “land” your brand to the customer at critical moments of truth? It helps you have a North Star for executives to make sound decisions, and it declares your values publicly so that customers/employees can decide if your brand is for them.

An Operating Values System has two components. A clearly articulated Purpose statement, and underlying set of Values or Principles.

While the Purpose Statement is an important piece of any modern business today, it’s the Values that are the real magic. The soil in which it which Purpose either grows or withers.

The problem is that so many Purpose Statements and Values or Principles are often locked up in Powerpoints and boardroom walls. They are not “lived” on the factory or retail floor. Many values are bland and expected

Corporate culture.

Clients often talk to me about the importance of their company culture. Often company’s talk about culture as access to ping pong tables, fancy offices and company fitness spaces. While these things might add proof to your culture, they are not values or culture. Culture is best expressed by how you act and behave. Values are the oxygen that Culture needs to survive. Culture, like Brand, is the total sum of the shared experience of values and purpose more than any physical offering.

“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.” - Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

The value of OVS for brands.

Here is the real value of an OVS for brands. When your leadership, your employees, your board members, and your suppliers understand your Values, they are able to make fast and good choices that ultimately affect your brand’s perception and the experience for your customers.

However, when a company’s principles are vague, motherhood-ish or missing altogether, it’s like running DOS, the people delivering the brand experience have no guidance system in which to make good decisions and the OS often crashes and devolves into disorder.

As mentioned earlier, if the purpose of a Purpose is to articulate the essence of the brand. It’s “WHY”. Then the purpose of Values is to further dimensionalize the purpose in order to help people make the type of decisions that are in the spirit of it.

I have had many experiences trying to return an item to a store where it was a real hassle and a bad brand experience. The front-line employee had no OVS in which to make the right decisions. They had to call in supervisors and higher-ups in order to solve my problem and to indemnify them from responsibility. This left a less than desirable impression on me the customer. I no longer deal with this brand.

There has never been a better time to reboot your OVS.

I’ve found that getting both the Purpose and Values/Principles right early in the forging of a new company is critical to the brand experience so that as a company scales, there is an “Operating Values System” foundation.

While installing this OVS at the start of a company is ideal, you can reevaluate and rearticulate your purpose and values at any time. You can upgrade your OS to an OVS. And now is an important time to do so.

There are two things driving the need for OVS today. Employee Engagement, and Consumer Activism.

Employee Engagement

Employees are under stress. Employees have had a lot of change thrust on them in the last year. Working from home, education of their children, on again off again business conditions. I think having a sound OVS can help.

An OVS is becoming particularly necessary as businesses shift to remote and hybrid operational models. Modern technology like Slack and Zoom can only do so much to pull an enterprise together; your purpose and OVS must be an integral part of the bond that binds your company with your people and helps to keep your brand altogether.

I would also think that not having an OVS might also contribute to employee stress and mental wellness, in that not having clarity on the values, and some discretion to deliver them would be very stressful. The mental wellness of its employees is something many companies should be concerned with right now. It is imperative, therefore, to give your employees a guidance system in which to make good decisions.

Consumer Activism and values-aligned purchasing.

The second reason is that people are aligning their purchases with their values, and employees are choosing to work with companies that they believe in.

“People do business with those who believe what they believe.” - Simon Sinek

With all the reformation movements around social justice and the environment, your stakeholders are looking for brands they can trust and that are an extension of their values.

People increasingly expect brands to actively contribute toward the betterment of society as a whole. Moving forward, a brand’s social and environmental actions will become an increasingly important driver of choice and loyalty.

Move your purpose out of your PowerPoints and into the brand.

While many companies have their values statements posted somewhere on their website, PowerPoints and boardroom walls, relatively few have succeeded in institutionalizing them as part of their operating system or brand experience.

Activating your Purpose will lead to growth!

Here is an example of a brand with a brilliant OVS for a company I had the privilege to work with. IKEA.

We’re a diverse group of down-to-earth people with a passion for home furnishing. We come from all over the world and share an inspiring vision: “To create a better everyday life for the many people”. How we realize this vision is based on our shared humanistic values. These values guide our work and build our inclusive, open and honest culture. We work hard, but we have fun doing it. We believe that every individual has something valuable to offer, and we are always looking for people who share our positive attitude and values. By living these values, we create a strong and unique culture that brings us all together.

Now’s the time to reboot your Purpose.

I believe there is an urgent need for brand leaders to reevaluate and modernize their cultural principles and current values into an OVS in order to make positive change for their employees, their consumers and their bottom line.

Rebooting an organization’s Purpose is one way to get out of a crisis like COVID-19 faster. Not all companies would need this, but for those who do, coping with defining a compelling purpose and set of supportive values can be a challenge.

My advice is to bring in some expertise to help you build your OVS. At our company, we use something called Growth Through Values™ Framework. Happy to fill you in on this rebooting approach.

Originally published at on April 2, 2021.

I believe in the power of creativity to change the world.

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