Everywhere you look now people are talking about values. Not just corporations, but recently (and as so often happens) the politicians, who once again are demonstrating that the business of business and the business of politics have plenty in common.

But while expressions like (my pet hate) ‘fit for purpose’ are as worthless as King Worthless of the Worthless people, there is real value in values.

“You can copy our policies, but you can’t imitate our values”, said Nick Clegg at yesterday’s Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow.

And earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron set out a list of British values he (and erstwhile Education Secretary Michael Gove) wanted taught in all schools  – “… fairness, tolerance, the rule of law.”

Values are valuable because when they are thought through, clearly expressed and committed to by both an organisation and its people, they set a culture – and that’s the one thing that can make all the difference in today’s world.

In his book What Matters Now, leading management thinker Gary Hamel shares his agenda for building organisations that can flourish in a world of diminished hopes, relentless change and ferocious competition.

The story goes like this: Leaders today confront a world where the unprecedented is the norm. Wherever one looks, one sees the exceptional and the extraordinary: Once-innovative companies struggling to innovate; next generation employees shunning blue chips for social start-ups; hundred year-old business models being rendered irrelevant
overnight; investors angrily confronting CEOs and boards; newly omnipotent customers eagerly wielding their power – and social media dramatically transforming the way human beings 
connect, learn and collaborate.

Hamel admits in ‘What Matters Now’ that there are lots of things that matter now. But in a world of fractured certainties and battered trust, some things matter more than others. While the challenges facing organisations are limitless; leadership bandwidth isn’t. That’s why leaders have to be clear about what really matters now.

Hamel identifies the five issues that will determine whether an organisation thrives or dives in the years ahead: values, innovation, adaptability, passion and ideology are the five, but values are the key to unlocking the other four.

Values are valuable because they shape any organisation to reverse the tide of commoditisation, defeat bureaucracy, astonish audiences, foster extraordinary contribution and outrun change.

Well-judged and well-managed values are key to building a company that’s truly fit for the future. (Or political party, Mr Clegg or nation, Mr Cameron.)