Signs that say a lot about their organizations

Values are a huge thing for many of us. In an organization, consciously or not we are always comparing the values of the organization (and others in it) to our own values. If the values match, we feel that we belong. If they don’t match, we may feel out of place or out of sorts.

When the values don’t match, a few things that can happen. We may alter our values to suit those of the organization, or we may influence the organization’s values to mirror our own. If neither works, we may leave the organization, or we stay on but act indifferently.

This is a huge thing, yet many organizations don’t pay much attention to it. Interestingly, these may be the same organizations that try very hard to create a positive external image. They pay huge sums of money to branding professionals to “design” their organizational image, and buy expensive ad spaces or air time to market themselves.

Some of these marketing efforts do work. Maybe that’s why companies continue to allocate huge budgets for marketing.

For others though, they portray their values in a different and (less costly) way.

They live those values.

As an organizational development person, it strikes me how powerful it can be when organizations live their values i.e. when their internal and external values are consistent. For example, if employees live the organization’s values day-in and day-out, customers will experience those values through regular interactions. These things speak louder than any marketing campaign.

Here are two signs I saw recently:


This sign appears in every Pret A Manger store and speaks volumes about Pret’s identity:

  • Pret is committed fresh food.
  • Pret uses its unique identity and assets (i.e. fresh food) to meet the community’s need as a responsible corporate citizen.
  • Pret even manages to take a dig at competitors who sell old bread!
  • Finally, and I think this is the powerful part, Pret emphasizes that this is the right thing to do. It is a statement of Pret’s values that speaks to both external (i.e. customers) and internal (i.e. staff) stakeholders. Pret employees also better understand why they have to report for work so early every day – to bake new bread and prepare fresh food on site.



This sign appears in all Starbucks stores and it speaks volumes about their commitment to employees. Many organizations also invest in staff development, but Starbucks takes it further by communicating it openly and linking it to their value promise to customers. Effectively, Starbucks makes a few statements with this message:

  • Starbucks cares about their customers.
  • Starbucks cares about their staff. And this makes the statement above even more compelling.
  • Starbucks models the same set of values to its employees, as it expects them to model those values to the customers.

The beauty of this is that Starbucks is acting consistent both internally and externally.

We may think that what Pret and Starbucks have done is a clever trick that many others can adopt too. However, I would advise organizations to think it through carefully before they jump at it. Public commitments like Pret’s and Starbucks’ can be powerful, but they also work both ways. If Pret publicly says that these are the right things to do, but it does not honor them internally, you can bet their employees will be one huge cynical lot. (And you the customer will sense that). Likewise, if Starbucks does not really take care of their baristas, their baristas will take cue from that to determine how to treat customers.

Many organizations fret a lot over their branding and image. In my view, it need not be complicated – simply live up to the same values internally as they would presented them externally. Having said that, just because it need not be complicated doesn’t mean that it will be easy to achieve ;)


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