Walk the talk beyond mere displays of values on walls and letterheads

Friday January 14 2022

It is vital to have clearly articulated values before aiming for a productive culture, otherwise, personal interpretations create moving targets that are hard to achieve. PHOTO | FILE


The reality show Big Brother Naija is probably the biggest show to ever hit the Nigeria airwaves.

It generates millions in advertising as tens of millions of eyeballs are glued to their TV sets. Winners receive millions in prize money. State governments, organisations and individuals also line up to give extravagant prizes to the winner, including luxury cars and even houses.

Kudos to the winners but this reveals something about the society. What we value shows our values. Let us flip this. Students spend years burning the midnight oil and after rigorous years often marked with closures and strikes, they finally graduate. Yet society gifts them unemployment and police brutality.

Broad interpretation

But things are beginning to change. The governor of Ogun State in south western Nigeria offered Joy Oyinlola Adesina, who emerged as the best graduating student from the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, with a house, cash and a scholarship. It has been reported that at least one other governor followed suit.

Again, culture always follows values. If we imbibe the right values, we will embrace the right culture. This is true at a personal, organisational and even national level.


So many organisations have their values framed on the walls of their offices. These values include things like integrity, professionalism, teamwork, customer focus, innovation, etc. It’s funny that most organisations have literally the same or a few overlapping values. The truth, however, is that what changes an organisation is not the values on the wall but rather the values in the hearts and minds of the executors.

Big question is; ‘how do we get the values from the wall to the heart?’

It all starts with definitions. Having a unified definition is the starting place for a productive culture. Without a unified definition of values, each one will be subject to personal interpretation, which is very dangerous.

A story is told of a former state governor in northern Nigeria that was kicked out of office. It is said that $4 million in cash was found at his official residence but he maintained his innocence before court of all the charges of corruption, arguing that the government money he was supposed to have stolen was found in the government house so he could not be held for stealing it.

This has happened to me. I was part of a panel selected by a bank to hire senior officers. Everything was going well until a cousin of mine walked in. She got so excited and went off track completely, and inquired after my family in the US.

At this point I excused myself from the interview because of the conflict of interest. Later, an uncle claimed my cousin had prayed ahead of the interview and God answered her prayers by planting me there as an agent of favour. Hence it was wrong to walk out and that I needed to repent and apologise for letting her down.

In conclusion, in the absence a proper definition of values, they will be subject to personal interpretation and this neither builds the team nor grows the establishment. If anything it triggers retrogression, silos and mediocrity.

Wale Akinyemi is convenor of the Street University ( and chief transformation officer of PowerTalks; [email protected]