Identify Valid Company Values, Not Slogans

We love our value statements, posters and tag-lines. Values are so important that many organizations promote them like they are badges of honour.

Some companies create videos to describe them, slogans to make them memorable, display them throughout the office, and even share them with the world.

However, many of these organizational values are not embedded in the culture of the company – they can become empty words without a connection to decision-making, strategy, performance management, or daily interactions.

How has it come to this? What are we missing?

I am lucky that I have been instilled and continue to develop a thirst for learning, which has become a strong behavioural reality in my life. This has aided in all aspects of my life. Recently, I have been increasing my learning activities to include multiple audio books that I listen to on my drive to and from work. My latest audio book, entitled The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni (founder of The Table Group), is fantastic as it connects many of his previous books, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting – to name a few, into an approach to develop and assess organizational health. There is so much good content in here that I recommend that you take a listen or read yourself – it also have plenty of short and powerful stories of application at companies.

Within the area Discipline 2 – Create Clarity, there is a wonderful section Question 2: How Do We Behave? which discusses values. Based on his book and my own experience, values have become such an ingrained concept and activity (which the author suggests gained prominence from the popularity of the book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras – another great book). Values have deeply penetrated our psyche and overwhelmed our leadership. Unfortunately, this has become less than desirable as many of the values of today’s organizations are generic terms with little meaning and impact on our work life.

How Can We Make Sense of Values?

A powerful framework that Patrick Lencioni introduces is Four Types of Values. They are…

  1. Core Values: “Used to guide every aspect of an organization”
  2. Aspirational Values: “Must be purposefully inserted into the culture”
  3. Permission-to-Play Values: “Must be delineated from the core to avoid dilution”
  4. Accidental Values: “Guard against [them] taking root because they can prevent new ideas and people from flourishing”

Based on this model, I believe that many of the stated values by companies are aspirational instead of core. Here are some examples that seem to be aspirational in nature, you be the judge.

  • Commitment to each other” — consulting company. How does this support work-life balance, flexibility, and team collaboration?
  • Integrity is everything” — HR company. How does this protect against politics and infighting?
  • Diversity & Inclusion” — financial institution. How does this inform daily decisions and performance management?
  • Collaboration: We win as One” — financial institution. How does this shift the-silo culture of departments and help individuals overcome competition?

Through this learning and my own development of creating visuals to enhance and share my learning, I created a Sketchnote / Doodle that depicts the four types of values, which I am developing my own style and process from these two wonderful visual authors: Mike Rohde and Sunni Brown.

Above is my visual depiction of the main concepts about values from the book, The Advantage. A great story from the same book describes one organization’s decision to use “Willing to sweep floors” as a core value. This value informs decision-making and behaviours that are followed and expected at the company – doing whatever is necessary to help the company succeed. The author encourages each of us to identify values that are true to our own company as well as meaningful only to use, not be used as slogans or catch-phrases for company-wide memos.

Do Your Company Values Apply to Your Daily Life and Decisions?

Have you every looked at your companies’ values and thought the yourself, “We don’t follow those values”? I believe that it is important to create values for a company to live by, as long as they are meaningful, inform decision making, and are tied to behaviours. Many organizations are on the Agile journey trying to either adopt one of the Agile frameworks, such as Scrum or Kanban, or trying to deeply transform through the use of both the mechanics as well as the Agile mindset. Without examining our current values, we will be unable to bring in new values that may cause pain or deep change.

What type of values does your company have? Please share examples.

I hope that each of you continue to find joy in your life and opportunities for growth throughout your career.

Paul J. Heidema

NOTE: Previously posted on LinkedIn on October 12, 2016

Warm regards,

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