Monday, August 11, 2014

Six Rules of Living Your Values: Introduction

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This HBR blog post on building a new company culture has been sitting in my inbox for a while. In it, Francois Nader, CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals, talks about how focusing on a new set of core values helped him turn that company around. But he doesn't talk much about what those core values were. No, more helpfully, he focuses on what he thinks it takes to make your core values--whatever they are--stick.

Of course, anyone can write down words, call them values, and incur no change. Something has to be done to turn them into an actual culture. I believe that these rules − which I applied at NPS − can work at other companies, too.

In summary, here are Nader's six rules:

1. Define the values in simple, sixth-grade language.
2. Don’t post plaques on the wall declaring the values.
3. Teach people what the values mean.
4. Recruit people who naturally are inclined to live your values.
5. Make values a primary filter for performance evaluations.
6. Your values must be non-negotiable.

When I first read this list, and what Nader says about each, I found them and his comments to be deeply insightful, and thought they would be a good filter to pass my own association's core values through. As you may know, we recently went through a process to define a set of core values for our organization, and I've been blogging here about the peaks and valleys that we've encountered on that journey.

But each time I sat down to compose that blog post, I was confronted with my own honest assessment that I and my organization haven't done much with our core values, at least not as measured by the standards of Nader's list. It seemed a little intimidating--and even more risky--to reveal that many shortcomings in a public forum. This, despite the fact, that one of the purposes of this blog is "working out loud:" thinking, processing, and learning from the work I do while I'm doing it.

I also realized that I potentially had a lot to say on the subject. Much more than what is usually acceptable in a single blog post.

So I've decided that I'm going to tackle Nader's six rules over the next six blog posts, reflecting on what my own association has or hasn't done, and speculating, when appropriate, on what we might do differently. Next week I'll start with Nader's first rule about core values: Define the values in simple, sixth-grade language.

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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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