Scale the values pyramid

Scale the values pyramid

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Values. Everyone has them, but not everyone knows what they are. The resulting gap can drive a wedge between what you say and do. Which matters. Because there are definite benefits in them becoming how you do things.

One look at companies that stand alongside what they believe even when there’s a cost correlates with enduring stakeholder bonds, kept promises and reliable results. Those ties and confidence help organisations achieve their goals and tackle bumpy terrain.

The flip side is equally clear. Many organisations are counting the costs of poorly held values that erode trust, crater reputations, and become front-page scandals.

Finding your core values is the first step in the ongoing project of who you are and a foundation of your identity and brand. As management thinker and author Jim Collins says in his book Built to Last, “The key is not what core values an organisation has, but that it has core values.” 1

Whether your to-do list includes finding values or you have a list in place, the good news is you can always take steps to animate them beyond a poster on the wall. Steps that can help you bridge the chasm between what is said and people’s day-to-day unheroic work.

The steps form a pyramid of deepening effort that rises from a basic knowledge of what your values are and mean. Taps people’s fluency when using them in their everyday activity, even when it’s inconvenient. And emerges as mastery where they spread through the organisation and beyond.

However, it’s worth noting that getting to the top of the pyramid isn’t for everyone. A cult-like grip on values isn’t always necessary, and even a modest boost can benefit people’s enthusiasm and commitment to their work. There are also circumstances where investing too much effort would waste energy potentially better spent elsewhere. For example, if you’re in built-to-flip mode and simply need something to put on the website while you line up buyers.

Choosing to embrace values as how you do things means rejecting hype. Which happily also removes the pressure to wax poetic, mimic mavericks, or seek difference for difference’s sake. Values are not something anyone other than those doing the work needs to relate to.

And while reams of rhetoric will tell you to list only ‘genuine’ values. In shorter supply is useful guidance for what comes after. Where using your values is an ongoing endeavour for the whole organisation—individually and collectively—whether you are one person or thousands, new hires or long-time colleagues. It’s never done.

In the coming articles, I’ll explain the pyramid steps and offer concrete ideas for how to make more of your values. Next up. The nitty-gritty of knowing your values and what they mean.

In the meantime, if you want to dive deeper into how to make the most of your values, download the Values collection—20 articles to help you find and put your values to work.

Thanks for reading.

1. Jim Collins, Built to Last, Chapter 11 Building the Vision, p222

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