One of my current company’s stated values is “Do the right thing”, which I’m starting to see the value in. It’s not that I avoided the right thing before, nor do I think that my coworkers and I never do things with improper motivations.
Instead, I see the value statement (or mission statement or what have you) as a bearing for a group of explorers. If some men set sail from Europe with the intention of heading west, then anyone can look at a compass and yell “Hey! We’re going the wrong way”. Maybe you actually have to go north, south, or east from time to time to avoid terrain or a storm. Sometimes the winds just won’t let you go west. Still, having a stated goal means people can point out that you’re heading away from your goals, if you don’t catch it yourself, first. Otherwise, you could just be adrift at sea forever.
Going back to my company, the “do what’s right” clause has come up in discussions a couple of times, and it’s kept me from writing sloppy, short-sighted code. This experience makes me want to set some personal goals.
Edit 2015-01-12: The title of this article was changed from ‘Values’ to 'Company Values’ to clear up any ambiguous reference to programming values.