Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Post Plaques on the Wall Declaring the Values

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This post is part of a series in which I'm analyzing the efforts of my organization to define and embrace core values through the six rules for doing so defined by Francois Nader, CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals. For the series introduction, go here. For my comments on the first rule, go here.

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Here's Nader's second rule, along with what he says about it in his HBR blog post:

Don’t post plaques on the wall declaring the values. Mounting your values on a wall can trivialize them and give the false impression that they have been already achieved by decree. Values have to be internalized and lived and cannot be an object on a wall. Building a culture with values that everyone embraces requires leading by example, interpersonal communication, and permanent attention.

Boy, do I agree with him that values cannot just be an object on a wall. And the idea that values can be "achieved by decree" is the all-too-frequent reality that almost soured me on the whole project of defining core values for my own organization. From my point of view, the only values worth identifying are the ones your organization is still trying to achieve.

But I'm not sure that the values shouldn't be put on the wall. Perhaps not engraved on a plaque, but certainly written on a white board, and maybe painted as a kind of mural, especially if everyone on the team wields a paintbrush.

Because values--especially values that are intentionally defined as those the organization is still working to embody--have to be ever present if people are going to remember and focus on them. Leading by example is critical, but even leaders need to be reminded of aspirational values if they are going to do more than talk the talk.

In my own organization we've struggled with this. Right after defining our values, we didn't get any plaques made and we didn't paint any words on the wall, but we did put our values up on the screen during every one of our weekly staff meetings. The plan was to start every meeting off with a moment or two of reflection, and an opportunity for anyone to cite an example of how one of their co-workers had embodied one of the values in the past week. Initially, some people tried, but it felt forced, and after a while we stopped doing it.

And, as a result, we stopped reminding ourselves of the things we were supposed to be working on. Some of us, I think, kept working on them in the unrecognized landscapes of our own minds, but some forgot about them, dunked, as we all are, in the deep pool of tasks and expectations that drive our behaviors.

So putting your values in some visible place (bulletin boards, perhaps, or computer screensavers) is a very good idea. As long as everyone understands that they are not there because they have been achieved, but because we need to achieve them.

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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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