Values are not there as a billboard for your goodness.
Frankly, I don’t care what someone who doesn’t work for me, with me and buy from me thinks of them and nor should you.
So, when I talk about good and bad values, it’s not with any moral judgement. Instead, it’s the role they play for an organisation.
Wrong values languish unremembered and ignored until an action or decision bangs up against what you say they are. Good values are a vital constraint and consent for how “to do things around here” every day.
Practically speaking, how you get your values off the poster on the wall or web page and into people’s day-to-day work is what makes them ‘good’.
Yes, some organisations do bad things, and so it follows they must have tainted values. But it isn’t that simple.
There is often a fundamental mismatch in the incentives and what the organisation puts first that pulls people away from their values.
Writer and political activist Upton Sinclair says it best,
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
For example, predatory incentives to sell when the value is ‘do what’s best for the customer’.
Read more about good and bad values. Click here
The gap of doing that organisations fall into sits beyond uncovering and articulating values. And when someone says, ‘I’m working on our values’ it’s the figuring out step they usually mean. However, those efforts are not a proxy for the ongoing work of making them visible.
Here are three reasons people get stuck.
1. Delusion — The values were never the values, so they quickly get buried under the weight of business as usual or pushed into culture change territory. And from there, it’s a quick slide into the too hard basket. Until the values-go-round begins again.
2. Project mindset — A done check in the box sits at the end of the values work. Except it’s not done. It’s barely begun, but there was never a plan for that work.
3. No bridge — The values are genuine, and so is the intention to use them. However, the bridge connecting them to people’s day-to-day work never gets built.
Author Mark Manson says,
“Values must be cultivated, consciously tried and tested and steeled by experience. Values are worthless if they don’t contain some sort of real-world manifestation.”
The manifestation Manson talks about is a bridge made of loose yet pointy behaviours. Loose in who they apply to and pointy in the motivation and intent of what people do and how they do it.
So it doesn’t matter if I’m running the company or a checkout, crunching numbers or code; I can apply them to what I need to do.
Here’s an example of what a behaviour bridge looks like for a company whose values included one to “act with integrity”.
While digging under the value the team found a particular problem with over-zealous promises made without thinking through what was required to keep them.
Clearly the value needed a constraint to curb the impulse to over-promise and avoid the hit their integrity took when that happened. The behaviour bridge became “never make a promise without a plan”.
Notice that the behaviour is loose. Anyone, anywhere in the organisation, can use it for any kind of promise. And it’s pointy. The specific intent of the behaviour they want is clear, making manifesting the value more likely.
How many behaviours does a value need? That depends on your organisation’s culture. I’ve found three works well and allows organisations to cover those boundaries of what the value is, what it isn’t and when it goes too far.
Multiply behaviours across the number of people in your organisation. Then again, by their actions and decisions every day. And you will make the most of your values.