Core value or convenient value? Business operations don’t always fall neatly into each. I was in a meeting last week with someone from the small business area of the Victorian Government. Over the course of our conversation the topic of core values came up, and he mentioned that public servants have a set of values – all neatly codified into legislation within the State Services Authority!
And they are a nice neat grab bag of the usual suspects – respect, integrity, leadership, etc (you can check them out for yourself here).
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Of course, I have no idea how the values were chosen, or even if they are held by the people expected to enact them. But the larger question is, can you really choose a set of values for an organisation and expect people to simply follow them?
Certainly by my definition of values, the answer would be no.
In essence, core values are enduring guiding principles that stem from the beliefs of the people in the organisation, not from an aspiration or perceived market need. Or to think of it another way, as defined by management thinker and author Jim Collins, “if circumstances penalised you for holding the core value, would you still hold it? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then it’s not a core…”
In other words, if your values aren’t inconvenient at times, then they probably aren’t authentic or core.
So does your organisation take the legislative approach to values, or do they take their cues from the beliefs of the people who have to live them?
Unfortunately, too often I see the legislative approach, but like a person trying to be something they’re not, the cracks show pretty quickly under the strain, so why go to the trouble of choosing happy, shiny, convenient options and trying to make them fit.
The stakeholders of the organisation bump into the real values every day and while your authentic values might not read like a list of the most wanted, at least they will be something that people can live up to. There will be other beliefs, operating principles and strategies that change with market conditions, but these aren’t CORE values.
How do you know if your values are core? Asking if they are ever inconvenient is a great beginning.
If you want to read more about core values here some terrific resources:
- Article – Aligning Action and Values
- Article – Make your Values Mean Something
- Audio Clip – Good to Great author Jim Collins on Core Values
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Max Hardy writes: Interesting piece there Michel. Of course when they are inconvenient, really inconvenient, people are inclined to review their values. Think about a time when you had a major change of heart, or mind. About something significant. Think about it – chances are something that you thought was core – suddenly looks wobbly. It is scary and our core values don’t change often but they do change and can. Just not very often. People being exposed to other cultures is a time when this can happen. Good piece. Thought provoking. Keep it coming Michel!