Setting your values free

During a conversation with a new acquaintance, our talk turned to values, actively using them in the organisation and why it’s time to free them from the musty constraints of employee guides and company offsite days.

I’m always looking at whether organisations have the will to incur the (sometimes real) cost of standing behind their values? Too often the answer is no. When push comes to shove, they get shoved into the corner.

It’s easy to see why. Values can be hugely inconvenient even when you want to honour them. And finding examples of true non-negotiables in action can be akin to the proverbial needle in the haystack. For some reason organisations which don’t trade its values also don’t seem to talk about them.

I firmly believe in the ‘show don’t tell’ policy. Freeing values isn’t about plastering them on everything that moves. Imagine for a moment if we all acted like organisations, and along with the handshake, people sprouted their values.

“Hi, I’m Michel, and I believe in fairness, hard-work and innovation…”

While amusing the first time, it would quickly become annoying at best or fuel cynicism at worst. And cynicism is what has happened. Trumpeting them on walls and websites can have the unintended consequence of acting as a daily reminder of all the times organisations don’t live them.

To learn why you should take your values off your web site click here.

If you take a look at the ones who have deeply embedded values, they show up in lots of other ways. When they’re in meetings and walking around the office. When they’ve got something big to decide. When they’re serving customers. When they have a problem to solve. When they fire someone (how they handle this is particularly revealing). When something goes wrong.

In a hundred ways every day, those organisations who choose to show and not tell have woven what they do and don’t stand for into the fabric of what they do and how they do it.

In order to know what your values can do, you’ve got to take those babies out for a spin and let them live a little. Here’s how you set your values free. Don’t constrain them to specific events, or decisions. Let them roam around. Actively bring them into discussions. Call on them for the little stuff. Let them become second nature.

Every now and then it’s going to get complicated because values do collide. When they do, you have a golden opportunity to use that tension to go deeper and find a way to hold onto both. But in most cases they’ll make things simpler.

Find a place today where you can set your values free and share a note on LinkedIn or here in the comments about what happened next.

See you next week.

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