Core Values

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I've written about values statements and how much I hate them. They're phony, I've said. They're never about the values that an organization actually holds, they're about the values the leaders of that organization wished it held. And those leaders stretch the values so far into the unrealistic ideal, that there's no way for the people in the organization to take them seriously.

Despite these misgivings, I've led my own organization through a process to create our own values statement. I saw then and I see now the benefits that come with identifying and clearly stating the values most strongly associated with success. If nothing else, doing so provides a reflection point for everyone in the organization to check their own thinking, behaviors and actions. At best, it can become a rallying cry for the people to embrace and move towards.

I write about our core values, the process we used for creating them, and the successes and difficulties we've had along the way. Here's an index of the related posts appearing on this blog:

Communicating Your Values

09/19/16 - Talking About Values
I had a rare treat this week. I had a talk with a staff person about our organization's core values. We are 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.

03/30/15 - My Script for Reinforcing Our Core Values
To better communicate our values in our organization, I come to realize that I need a script. Not a list of values and behaviors, but a short paragraph that embodies those ideas, but remains phrased in simple, everyday language.

03/23/15 - Values and Behaviors in Sixth Grade Language: Teamwork
Where I make good on the promise to rephrase our organization's values--and the observable behaviors associated with each that would help us understand when we were living up to them--in simple, sixth grade language. Last up, teamwork: how we work together to deliver exceptional service.

03/16/15 - Values and Behaviors in Sixth Grade Language: Integrity
Where I make good on the promise to rephrase our organization's values--and the observable behaviors associated with each that would help us understand when we were living up to them--in simple, sixth grade language. Next up, integrity: how we act with honesty and professionalism in all our relationships.

03/09/15 - Values and Behaviors in Sixth Grade Language: Enthusiasm
Where I make good on the promise to rephrase our organization's values--and the observable behaviors associated with each that would help us understand when we were living up to them--in simple, sixth grade language. Next up, enthusiasm: how we can be excited about growing as individuals and about growing the organization.

03/02/15 - Values and Behaviors in Sixth Grade Language: Leadership
Where I make good on the promise to rephrase our organization's values--and the observable behaviors associated with each that would help us understand when we were living up to them--in simple, sixth grade language. First up, leadership: how we lead the organization in creating new value for our members.

02/23/15 - Values Advice for New Employees: Teamwork
With respect to our value focused on Teamwork--where each individual must work with others to deliver exceptional service--I expect people to bust out of their silos by being curious about the work that other people do and by offering to help before they are asked to.

02/16/15 - Values Advice for New Employees: Integrity
With respect to our value focused on Integrity--where each individual must act with honesty and professionalism in all their relationships--it is critical to accept the inherent ambiguity in our environment. Things are uncertain, and we must act with honesty and professionalism despite that uncertainty.

02/09/15 - Values Advice for New Employees: Enthusiasm
With respect to our value focused on Enthusiasm--where each individual must be excited about growing as individuals and about growing the organization--the most important thing is for everyone to develop an association professional mind and skill set.

02/02/15 - Values Advice for New Employees: Leadership
With respect to our value focused on Leadership--where each individual must lead the organization in creating new value for our members--I encourage new employees first and foremost to understand who our members are.

Current vs. Aspirational Values Statements

04/02/12 - Every Organization Needs Two Values Statements
I have a confession to make. I've always hated values statements. I hate them because they're fake. And being fake, they too often undermine the very purpose they were created to fulfill.

How I Developed a Values Statement for My Organization

01/20/14 - The Most Important Value of All: 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. 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.

01/06/14 - In the Eye of the Beholder
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. As our first test of that concept, I had asked each staff member to prepare a no-more-than-one-page description of how they believe their recent actions had demonstrated the values and behaviors were had all just agreed were correlated with our current and future success.

12/09/13 - Making the Rubber Hit the Road
We now had our final values statement. We had put a lot of work into the process, and I was very satisfied with the result. But it would be dishonest to say that everyone didn't realize that the hardest work still lay ahead. We had our values--but they described the culture we wanted to create. Even if everyone diligently applied themselves, making the values manifest in our organization was going to be a challenge.

11/25/13 - The Final Four
In reviewing the suggestions my staff members for the draft values statement that had come out of staff retreat, I had identified what I perceived to the common concerns and priorities. I now felt I had the information I needed to distill it down to the shortest and most relevant list for both the organization that existed and the organization I wanted to create.

11/11/13 - Reading Between the Lines
I had challenged my staff to take the initial values statement I had drafted--which contained the nine broad areas we had discussed during our retreat--and combine or refine the values and associated behaviors described so that there were no more than six areas (and perhaps less). In reviewing their work, I made the following observations.

10/28/13 - Cut, Copy and Paste
The next step was to share the draft values statement with my staff. As we had worked together to come up with all the ideas, now I wanted to work together to whittle it down to something that would be memorable and functional within the organization.

10/14/13 - The Preamble
The initial draft of our full values statement incorporated both concepts that seemed to address dysfunctional elements of our current culture and those that represented more aspirational aspects of the future organization we wanted to create. And I added some of my own ideas, including a preamble meant to convey two essential ideas.

09/30/13 - From Flipcharts to Initial Draft
Now I had nine pieces of flipchart paper, each covered with bullet points representing the honest thoughts and concerns of my staff, and it was my job to take that information an distill it down into an initial draft that could be used for the next phase of statement development process.

09/16/13 - Flipcharts Don't Lie
At our staff values retreat we started constructing a values statement everyone could support. The session provided a needed forum where staff could openly and honestly share their thoughts--in some cases, for the first time--on what was preventing us from achieving the success we desired.

09/02/13 - Mental Rules for the Staff Retreat, Part 2
Here are the rules for the staff retreat discussion that I kept to myself.

08/19/13 - Mental Rules for the Staff Retreat
After digesting the results of the anonymous staff survey I circulated to gather feedback on the current values our organization rewarded and the kind of change that was needed if we were to be successful in the future, I had to prepare a few mental rules for the staff retreat where we would discuss the results and start identifying our values. Here are the ones I shared with everyone.

08/05/13 - Careful What You Ask For, Part 2
More common themes pulled out of the responses I received from my staff survey on my organization's current, and aspirational, values.

07/22/13 - Careful What You Ask For
The responses I received from my staff survey very accurately described our organization's current values--warts and all--and provided a solid foundation on which our future values statement would be built. In the summary I subsequently drafted, I identified some common themes.

07/15/13 - The First Step Is Always to Do a Survey
I wanted to co-create a document with my staff that fairly described the values--and more importantly, the behaviors by which those values could be observed in action--that everyone agreed were most closely associated with success in our environment. In order to get there, I knew I needed to create a space where honest dialogue could occur.

07/08/13 - Accepting the Value of Values Statements
It was more than a year ago that I wrote about values statements and how much I hated them. They're phony, I said. Well, guess what? Shortly after I wrote that post, I started working towards a values statement for my own association.

On Transparency

06/23/14 - On Transparency
One of the walls in our office suite is all windows, giving us a view out into our building's atrium, and everyone else a view into our conference room. We chose this office suite intentionally. It makes a statement about transparency. It tells everyone in the conference room and everyone walking around outside that this organization does things above-board. That it has nothing to hide.

Six Rules of Living Your Values

09/29/14 - Six Rules of Living Your Values: Conclusion
Over the last six weeks, I have tackled the six rules of living your values, as defined by Francois Nader, CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals. I have reflected on what my own association has or hasn't done with each, and have speculated, when appropriate, on what we might do differently. So what, if anything, have I learned? Do I intend to do anything different as a result of this analysis, or was it was just was way to pass some time?

09/22/14 - Your Values Must Be Non-Negotiable
Yes and no. It depends on how new your values are and how genuine your employees are in their attempts to understand and adapt to the environment defined by the new values. If your only tool for dealing with infractions is an ax, you may wind up doing damage you can't repair.

09/15/14 - Make Values a Primary Filter for Performance Evaluations
This is something I have done inside my organization. Our evaluations measure performance in three areas--completion of job responsibilities, achievement of strategic program objectives, and demonstration of our values and their associated behaviors. But that third piece on our values remains the most elusive of the three.

09/08/14 - Recruit People Who Naturally Are Inclined to Live Your Values
We do this, but it's hard to see real culture change occur as a result of this process. It's hard, primarily, because we're small, and hiring is an episodic, not a continuous activity for us, and because new hires inclined to live our aspirational values can find themselves swimming upstream in an organization less ready to embrace those same values.

09/01/14 - Teach People What the Values Mean
Time for some painful honesty here. I have not done this as well as I should. Even with values that are aspirational in nature--and perhaps especially so--people in the organization must see that they are taken seriously, and that the leaders are working just a diligently as anyone to embrace them.

08/25/14 - Don't Post Plaques on the Wall Declaring the Values
I agree that values cannot just be an object on a wall. But I'm not sure that the values shouldn't still be put up 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.

08/18/14 - Define the Values in Simple, Sixth-Grade Language
We did a pretty good job with this, Nader's first rule for living your values. At least when it came to the statements of our values. The behaviors by which we'll know when folks are manifesting the values? Those could use some work.

08/11/14 - Six Rules of Living Your Values: Introduction
Where I introduce the subject, inspired by a HBR blog post by Francois Nader, CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals. I'll 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.

Walking the Walk

05/05/19 - Phone Interviews Are No Longer Just a Skills Check
My phone interviews are purposely held to no more than 30 minutes. But even in that short amount of time, you can get clues as to the things that make a person tick, how they approach challenges, and what it might be like to work with them in the office.

11/12/18 - The Importance of Interviewing for Values
I'm less interested in the concrete answers to whatever questions I'm asking. I am much more interested in seeing if I can relate to the candidate, if I can envision interacting with them in a staff meeting, on an airplane traveling out to a conference, over a coaching lunch, or in a disciplinary discussion. How would this person, I mentally ask myself, conduct themselves as a member of my staff team, or in front of my board?

11/05/18 - We're Number Two!
When trying to incentivize behaviors, you need to make sure that the prizes offered match the effort folks are putting in. Offer a lackluster prize for coming out on top and you risk people calibrated their efforts for second place.

10/15/18 - Talk About How You Will Live Your Values
I was worried, one Board member said in a comment typical of others. The information the facilitator presented was interesting, but I was suspicious of its value for us and our Board. But once we started talking about how we wanted to live those values, everything just clicked. This was one of the most useful conversations we've ever had around our Board table.

10/08/18 - Behaviors Are a Necessary Part of Values
You have to describe as accurately as possible the behaviors by which you'll know that the values are or are not being lived.

08/07/17 - Giving Core Values Teeth
I heard a great way for organizations to give their core values "teeth" at a recent conference I attended. Make them a "pass/fail" assessment that comes at the very front end of your performance evaluations.

01/16/17 - Values Can Take Time to Change Culture
Given the relative small size and stability of our organization, any culture change that results from this commitment to our values is going to take some time to manifest itself. Time not as in weeks and months, but more likely time as in years.

06/02/14 - Sharing Information Helps You Think
Now that I've decided to share information openly and proactively, in support of manifesting the behaviors described in our new values statement, I find myself not just finding the time to document my attempts to execute our organization's strategy, but, as part of that process, to think about them more carefully.

05/19/14 - The Case for Sharing Information
Having asked everyone to make a commitment to more mindfully manifest a chosen behavior in the office--and having communicated that performance evaluations would, in part, be based on their willingness and ability to do so--I decided to lead by example and do what I had asked everyone else to do. The behavior I chose is: We share information openly and proactively, demonstrating an understanding that our actions impact others.

05/12/14 - Assessing Your Willingness for Dialogue
An assessment completed by me and two of my staff members at a conference we all attended helps me realize that by honestly engaging with them on where the assessment said we were and where we wanted to go was a golden opportunity to reinforce behaviors associated with our values, and to speak out against ones that weren't.

05/05/14 - Leading by Example
Everyone in my organization -- including me -- takes one our behaviors -- not one of the values, one of the forty-some behaviors that support the values -- and makes a commitment to more mindfully manifest that behavior in the office. How? By communicating the observable actions we plan to take so that when we take those actions it is clear and obvious that we are acting in support of our chosen behavior.

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