Monday, January 20, 2014

The Most Important Value of All: Self-Reflection

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Two weeks ago, in In the Eye of the Beholder, 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. My first experiment in framing a discussion with each individual staff member about how their actions compared to those values and behaviors had been a mixed success, with everyone bringing their own interpretation and varying levels of self-reflection.

For the second discussion, I chose a slightly different path. Rather than ask people to freely associate their own behaviors with the values we had described, this time I gave them a very specific task:

To prepare for our discussion, please draft a one-page memo describing no more than three behaviors that best represent your consistent actions within the organization—and at least one behavior that, upon frank and honest reflection, you have failed to demonstrate adequately. Remember that when we drafted our Values Statement, we agreed and were careful to say that it represents an aspirational vision for the organization, and that all of us would need to work towards making it a reality. The self-assessment exercise is meant to facilitate a discussion based on candor and a willingness to improve.

That should take care of it, I thought. All of us are strong in some areas and weak in others. Who could argue with that? As we moved forward with making our values real, I wanted to send a clear signal that the measure people should strive for isn't the number of noted behaviors they display around the office. The measure that really mattered to me was how willing was each person to self-diagnose their areas of weakness and identify ways that they themselves can improve.

And I felt that these reports were much more helpful to me and our process than most of those in the first round had been. Nearly everyone, I found, did a really good job of finding concrete examples of how they had demonstrated three of the behaviors aligned with our new values. Forcing them to pick, I felt, had helped them focus, and the documents provided excellent opportunities for me to reinforce positive behaviors where people had correctly identified them. And where there was some difference of perspective between them and me, limiting the conversation to only three situations helped tremendously in creating concrete dialogue around what was expected.

But still, I found some staff struggled with the second half of the assignment. Some showed what I thought was remarkable introspection and vulnerability--very correctly identifying some areas where they not just fell short of expectations, but, in some cases, behaviors in which they acted in direct opposition to the new values. These comments did not bring disciplinary action for me. Quite the reverse, in fact.

But not everyone chose to step up to that plate. A handful, in my judgement, backed deliberately away from the point of assignment, offering up words that were neither self-reflective or useful.

The conversations that followed from these documents went in two corresponding directions. Most were congratulatory and encouraging, prodding people to move in the direction they themselves had identified. But some needed to be confrontational, challenging people to be more honest about their own conduct and the kinds of behaviors we had all said were needed for our success.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: Where are we now and how will we move forward?

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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

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