Change how you think about values

Change how you think about values

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It’s time for a values reality check.

Coming to work for you doesn’t mean you get to tell me my values. I’ve had them long before I met you, and they’ll still be around when I leave.

Yet that’s what too many organisations try to do.

I’ve written countless words about values over the years. And I think some of the core ideas still hold up. For example, you need to choose and understand your values. You can’t usefully put them to workwithout understanding their boundaries. To give them oomph, make sure they’re non-negotiable.

But it’s time to retire other ideas. Such as only hiring people who ‘fit’ your values. Something I now think is akin to cultural roulette.

I’m not suggesting you hire whoever walks in the door and hope for the best. In the minefield of hiring and firing it’s always good practice to avoid obvious ‘mis-fits’ who ‘won’t work out around here’.

However, there’s a world of decent people that sit between ‘they’re just like us’ and ‘they need to work someplace else’. You’re just unlikely to get a read on their values from a resume, interviews and a couple of reference checks.

Other glitches in using a hiring fit mindset are tight labour markets make it hard. Part-time and casual staff make it complicated. And big multi-location workforces make it impossible.

It’s a bind.

You need people to share your values so others can count on how you do things. And. You can’t rely on people you hire to share your values.

So what’s an organisation to do?

There is an answer.

Ditch the idea of people ‘sharing values’ and move to ‘standing alongside’ them.

People often get hired for what they can do and leave or get fired because of who they are. Or as Canadian CEO Frank Slootman says, “Behaviour is not a skill that can be learned.”

Still, when someone takes a job, it includes how they should behave day-to-day along with responsibilities and skills they’re expected to have.

Enter ‘standing alongside’ values.

It starts by acknowledging you know people already have values. And even if you’re not looking too hard at what they are, you’ll sometimes still find people with one or two that overlap yours. But what about the rest?

Let staff know you expect them to stand alongside your values in whatever they’re doing. (I’ll leave the illegal and immoral for another day).

People used to the insults of indoctrination are hugely relieved to learn you don’t expect them to trade their personal values at the door.

Remember, the last place they worked and the one before that expected them to embrace a different set of values. People don’t need values replacement therapy or induction into the cult of you. Asking for a commitment they’ll put how you do things to work is usually enough.

But you must explain what that is and show them how it looks in practice every day. Then give them a bit of time to find their feet.

Lowering the stakes turns values into something more accessible. Something I can use to make the best decision. In the moment. When I’m at work.

Your values are how you do things. Start there. And leave fit out of it.

See you next time,


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