What does it mean to deliver value?

I recently heard a business leader put it bluntly, “if you don’t complete the work you planned in 90 days, you delivered no value.”

I don’t agree.

The same leader then asserted that completing your planned work within the quarter means “you delivered value to the business.”

That is not how it works.

Ever experienced getting something done – and then facing crickets when you explained it?


You wondered, probably aloud. Or worse, you decided their lack of understanding signified they don’t care.

What the leader got right was the need to finish work to deliver value.

Just finishing is not enough.

The cold reality of delivering business value

Even if you solve the right problem at the right time in the right way, the key to delivering value — and especially business value — is whether the outcome gets recognized as valuable.

We need to deliver results recognized as valuable. We need our work recognized as valuable.

Like it or not, just finishing a project, building a slide deck, and throwing it over the wall (or even presenting it perfectly) doesn’t mean you delivered value.

What does it mean to recognize value?

For many, value is an elusive, squishy concept. They aren’t wrong.

Value is subjective, positional, and shifts. The thing, though, is that value also happens in norms. It’s why we have markets for things where people assess value. Even auctions help establish the value of otherwise subjective things.

Don’t let the perception that value is slippery impede your ability to deliver it.

The key is to present your value in a way recognized as valuable.

Consider what it means to recognize.

To “cognize” is to know or perceive, to understand. The definition doesn’t include “make logical or financial sense,” though they might be important. Recognition is the act of knowing or perceiving something previously known.

Perception of value is based on how you connect your results to something the audience already understands or is familiar with.

At the most basic level, value is how you help the business survive or thrive. People need to see our work connected to how it helps them in order to recognize it as valuable.

Get visual to make value visible

We’re a highly visual world, and it is imperative we tap into this to make a difference. Just making a final presentation is not enough. Instead, consider different ways to engage people and make value visible:

  • Get visual with simple sketches and basic diagrams
  • Show your work, early and often
  • Craft better stories to communicate what counts

Explore ways to connect with the audience and explain the value based on what they are already familiar with. Avoid the temptation to jump right to Visio, PowerPoint, or other tools that often end up too polished and sterile. Maybe try a graphic novel (or cartoon panels). Experiment to find the balance between connecting the dots and going too far.

And while the focus is on showing your work, words are a powerful medium.

You can — with practice and maybe some help — paint a picture with your words. You can sculpt an experience with words that allow people to paint their own pictures and connect with the value you delivered.

Ask questions to learn what to show

Save yourself time and hassle by asking the right questions to find out what other people think is valuable. Explore the situation by asking why this matters, what success looks like, and how it helps.

I get excellent results asking, “what can you do now (as a result) that you couldn’t do before?”

Use the opportunity to consider the impact of friction because friction erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out.

Bottom line: make the investment

Make sure people see and understand how what you delivered is valuable or you risk getting stuff done that no one cares about. And that feels horrible.

Making value visual is an investment that protects your work.

Do the work to make it easier for folks to recognize value.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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