Most of the times people tend to mix virtue, morals and ethics not having a clear idea which term to use and when. We are asked for an ethical behavior or moral business and at the same time are explained that values have changed in last decades. The subject is doubtlessly too valuable. What is usually missing is an important measurement framing. Why?
Values are our fundamental beliefs. They are the principles we use to define that which is right, good and just. They guide us when we determine right versus wrong, good versus bad. We could name them our standards since we compare or evaluate deeds whether they meet that standard or fall short of it.
Morals are values which we attribute to a system of beliefs, typically a religious system but may as well be from political or other fields. In a business context values could be described as excellence, quality, safety, appropriate service as they all define some elements of right and good. Morals are mostly attributed to a higher authority which strongly influences our sense of morality through accepted values.
What about ethics? Ethics represent our actions and decisions. When someone acts in ways which are consistent with our values (our sense of right, good and just) we characterize such actions as the ethical acting.
Let’s return to values. Values could further be divided into personal, business, cultural or even material as in case of monetary worth of something in areas such as accounting, economics, marketing or mathematics. Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Personal values most probably determine your priorities. They are usually somewhat stable, but although they don't have strict limits or boundaries deep down, they are your measures.
Company values are one of those things that may be characterized as soft and squishy. They change in a life-cycle of a company (when a start-up becomes a larger company values have to be explained and socialized). For a company, to define itself and guide behavior of employees, it is very important to have clear values. The upper limit at which this is necessary can vary depending on how tight the team is, how many locations are included, in which sector a company works. But a good rule of thumb would be between 50-100 people.
When values are shared by all members of an organization, they are extremely important tools for making decisions, judgments, assessing probable outcomes of contemplated actions or choosing among alternatives.
In leadership good and refined values can truly contribute a lot in making decisions. This is particularly important with the hardest decisions where numbers and analysis solely cannot give the best answer. For a leader exhibiting behavior based on the values is crucial. If leaders and/or executive teams do not lead by them, the values become a responsibility of each employee. As such they become a differing and not a binding element of a company.