Monday, September 19, 2016

Talking About Values

I had a rare treat this week. It's actually something that should happen a lot more frequently than it does. But in the rush to get all the "work" done, it's often something that takes a back seat.

I had a talk with a staff person about our organization's core values.

I mentioned last week that we were onboarding a new staff person at our association, and this sit down about our values with her and her supervisor is part of our regular orientation process. As I found myself sitting across the table from her, a couple of realizations occurred to me.

1. We should have had this conversation before we hired her.

I've come to believe that alignment with our values is more important than skill or knowledge sets when it comes to hiring new staff. It is more difficult to access the needed skills of someone who doesn't embody our values than it is to develop the needed skills in someone who does.

Recognizing this, we have tried to adjust our hiring process to screen for alignment with our values, but we haven't gone far enough. A couple of "what would you do in this situation" questions meant to tease out our values isn’t good enough. We need a whole interview session dedicated to our values, how they came to be, why they're important, and what the candidate will do to help the organization live them.

2. There's value in sharing the story of how our values came to be.

Understanding how our values came to be is just as important as understanding what they are. It's actually a story that illustrates the values themselves, as they weren't carved in stone and handed down from on high, but developed collaboratively by the people who now choose to live by them.

In doing so, our focus was neither to describe the values that currently existed (i.e., those things, good or bad, that were rewarded and reinforced within the organization), nor to copy the buzzwords in vogue at other, wildly successful organizations. Our values are ours. We chose them, not because we are able to live up to them every day, but because we believe trying to live up to them translates into success for our organization in our environment.

3. New staff people should be empowered to be part of this evolution.

And given that aspirational nature of our values, every new person coming into our organization is an opportunity to move the needle towards greater alignment with these goals.

New staff people should be given opportunities to demonstrate our values from day one, and given permission and support to call others out when they act in ways that contradict our values. Their mere presence on the team should be leveraged to prompt even more discussions about our values in the organization.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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