Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Values Must Be Non-Negotiable

image source
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. For my comments on the second rule, go here. For my comments on the third rule, go here. For my comments on the fourth rule, go here. For my comments on the fifth rule, go here.

+ + +

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

Your values must be non-negotiable. Over and over again, I have seen managers tolerate unacceptable behaviors because they believed the individuals’ technical expertise was vital. This shortsightedness is a recipe for disaster. One person’s expertise is not a good trade for negativity, loss of credibility, and the metastases of other unacceptable behaviors throughout the organization. The moment you make one exception, you’re doomed.

Another piece of excellent advice, although I fear the last line about doom following inevitably from one exception is a bit melodramatic. The real world may be a more nuanced than that line would let on. If someone is toxic to the organization, by all means, the organization is better off without that person, regardless of the technical expertise that they possess. But toxicity and behavior contrary to stated values are not necessarily the same thing--especially when the the organization is still working to figure out what behavior in alignment with its stated values can and should mean.

In one of the posts in this series, I wrote about the challenges associated with bringing new people into an organization--new people who were hired because they align well with the organization's stated values--but who find themselves inside an organization still trying to actualize itself according to those terms. New employees wonder if they've made the right decision, and feel like they are swimming upstream. And existing staff question the fit of the new employees, rejecting rather than embracing the different ways of thinking and doing they represent.

Well, something similar can happen just among existing employees who are genuinely trying to understand and adapt to the environment defined by the new values. No one will live up to them all--at least not initially--and behaviors that are contrary to the values should be expected and discussed, not rejected as unacceptable. Within a proper context, exceptions can and should always be made, especially if they can be used to demonstrate counter examples about the values and their associated behaviors to the rest of the organization.

Continued and intentional actions against the values would, of course, be cause for greater alarm, but an immediate and zero-tolerance policy towards behaviors contrary to the values--one infraction and you're gone--may be counterproductive. Not only would you risk dramatically decreasing the size of your workforce, but you could leave those who remain with serious questions about the intentions and wisdom of their leader. You are, after all, getting rid of good people with talents others need to rely on, and you're doing it for reasons that not everyone has fully bought into yet.

Values should be non-negotiable. But the path that employees take toward bringing their actions into alignment with those values should be heavily negotiated. If the only tool you can wield in that process is an ax, you'll wind up doing damage you may not be able to repair.

+ + +

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

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.