Monday, January 6, 2014

In the Eye of the Beholder

image source
Four weeks ago, in Making the Rubber Hit the Road, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

Our values statement was now finished, with four core values, and each with a list of observable behaviors that we intended to use as benchmarks to determine if individuals were demonstrating the values in their day-to-day activities. As our first test of that concept, I had asked each staff member to prepare a no-more-than-one-page description of how they believe their recent actions had demonstrated the values and behaviors were had all just agreed were correlated with our current and future success.

I didn't give them a form to fill out. In fact, I encouraged them to invent their own format for responding to my request. I wanted to see how different people approached the task, and my hope was that it would help reveal examples of real actions people had taken that clearly aligned with the values and behaviors. Those examples, I figured, needed to be identified, documented, and celebrated if we were to increase their prevalence within our organization.

What I got back can best be described as a mixed bag. Each response was unique, but generally speaking, they could be grouped into three main types:

Vague paragraphs of affirmative statements

These were the least useful in my estimation. Rather than cite specific examples of how they demonstrated the values and behaviors, the staff people who returned these turned the behavior descriptions into affirmative statements about how they regularly conduct themselves.

If any examples were cited, they were extremely broad, frequently listing projects or task areas that the staff person was responsible for.

I had left the door open for people to respond in any way they thought appropriate, so I didn't hold these kind of responses against anyone. But at the same time, they made me question how seriously they took the exercise or how much they understood what we were trying to accomplish.

Detailed checklists

At the other end of the spectrum were those who went down the list of behaviors associated with the four values (31 in all) and cited a specific example for each and every one of them. Inevitably, some of these examples were good ones, but others seemed forced.

Again, I offered no recriminations, but these responses really took me by surprise. I thought we had been clear throughout the development process that the values and associated behaviors were more aspirational than descriptive of our current environment. Thinking that any one of us consistently demonstrated all 31 behaviors was publicly out of the question, but still, for some, there was an intense desire to measure up, to check every box and to receive a passing grade no matter the exercise. I appreciated the enthusiasm and creativity that went into some of the examples--but found myself questioning these people's readiness for self-reflection.

Project examples

By far the most useful responses were those that took specific projects and broke them down into individual tasks that clearly connected with the values and behaviors. For example, citing the work done on a particularly challenging project, one staff person said that they:

- Challenged prevailing assumptions, and suggested better approach.
- Used knowledge of how members function to tactfully and clearly propose major strategic change in committee activities.
- Secured agreement and strong support among committee members in spite of the investment and ownership they had in the previous efforts.
- Engaged committee in iterative process with designing a new request for proposals and other feedback.
- Drove it forward despite some hiccups in working with vendors and committee.
- Took smart risks, and a bias toward action.
- Made the plan clear to members and staff, and linked it to organizational goals.
- Brought other perspectives into the process by engaging committee, and acknowledged that this is an experiment.

All of which had clearly been done and which all demonstrated the value of Leadership and its associated behaviors. Unlike the vague paragraphs of affirmative statements, it was concrete and specific, and unlike the detailed checklists, it didn't try to cover all the values and behaviors. It was one specific example of how a staff person demonstrated leadership in the performance of their duties.

This was my first attempt to talk concretely with my staff about how their actions did or did not align with the values we had defined in our new values statement--and I think it was a mixed success. A few people responded well, but most had not, and I think those who didn't felt confused by the assignment I had given them.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: A second set of conversations about values and behaviors and another way of framing it.

+ + +

This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

No comments:

Post a Comment