Values will only add value if you value them. This might sound like a daft thing to say until you reflect on the fact that often we remain unconscious of our values, and too often we find ourselves compromised by our attempts to operate by our values.
In my work with companies and individual clients, I am struck by how often Values are in conflict. And yet, I have also seen what is possible when values are truly articulated, aligned and alive. Because of that, I believe that there is much to be gained by:
Identifying our values and promoting them
Ensuring that our values are meaningful, beneficial and valuable
Taking steps to make it possible for us to adopt our values consistently!
Too often we take our values for granted. In essence we devalue their value by not given them the time and attention they deserve. They deserve our attention because of the following characteristics.
Values are Consequential. Values can’t be drawn out of a hat. It’s not a lottery. If you value something, you’ll be inclined to protect it. If those values come under attack, you’ll be taxed. Real values, therefore, need effort and commitment to secure, so your values should really mean something to you (there’s a real and personal consequence to having and not having them) as opposed to the feeling you get with some company value statements which appear to have been purchased as a job lot from a Value-Mart closing down sale! It’s only a value if you truly value it.
Values are Ingrained. What we value is a matter of personal choice coupled with learned behaviour. Sometimes, because of the habitual and ingrained nature of inherited values, we are unaware of what our values are. And even if we do know, we can be unclear why we value something so much. It’s a bit like voting habits: we can find ourselves attached to a political party without ever really questioning where our allegiance has come from other than “I’ve always voted Labour and my parents always did before me”.
Values are Always Personal. How much value we ascribe to a core value is determined by ourselves. That means that a value we prize highly may hold no value or significantly less value for someone else. It can be a tough situation to deal with, because we are social animals and encounter people routinely who have a different value sets to our own. To some extent we can choose who we associate with, but we have limited control over who we work with or serve. That means that our values may be challenged, undermined or completely dismissed; or we may have to fight hard to live our life according to them.
Values are Competitive. It gets more difficult still because each of us has more than one thing we value, sometimes in conflict and all competing for space and priority, and requiring our protection.
Values are Often Compromised. The situation gets even more challenging when we find ourselves operating in a work environment where a different set of corporate values prevail, bearing little resemblance to our own personal values. In my experience, this is a dilemma most people find themselves in most days.
Values are Not Always What They Seem. I was coaching an individual who claimed to prize honesty, quality and safety above all else. He was actually in a Quality role, so perhaps not surprising! The problem he faced was that difficulties in the supply chain which stretched as far as China often meant he had to compromise his attachment to quality, and felt compelled to shield customers from the truth. His view was that the company valued cost, profit, and meeting customer delivery schedules more than it ultimately valued quality.
As we discussed these issues, it became more and more apparent that his public
We discovered this as we reviewed his reluctance to go to the factories in China in order to resolve the quality issues that were originating there. “Why”, I asked, “are you so reluctant to go to China?” After a relatively futile attempt to rationalise why, it began to dawn on him that despite his strong attachment to quality, he was even more attached to something else; otherwise he would have been on the first plane out. Attachments to his family, fear of flying, the belief that people should be able to sort out their own problems were all more important to him (and more in need of protection), than the quality of the product being manufactured in China.
These are tough discussions to have because there is the possibility that you can discover you are in the wrong job (as this person did). Through the coaching process, he was able to re-frame his career and make the changes he needed to find a role and a company that was more in line with his primary values.
Values Are Critical To Success – Especially When You Know What They Are. I’ve discovered that knowing what you value most is critical to your success. The problem is we often don’t find out until we get to a critical point. It’s only when things we truly value come under attack that we become aware of what it is we actually value. That’s why we tend to make big decisions and changes in our lives when confronted with personal tragedy. It’s often only then that we realise what’s important to us.
Values Are Your Calling Card. Your values are your brand. They give people a sense of who you are and what they can expect of you. Whether you know them or not, people become aware of what you value by the way you live your life, the decisions you make and the things you get excited or angry about.
Values Drive Decision Making. I realised that many of my core values would struggle to be upheld if I remained in my first career as an actor.
The itinerant lifestyle compromised the value I attached to strong relationships because I was always moving on from one company of people to another; the value I attached to ‘making a positive difference’ was often compromised by the pragmatic need to earn money which occasionally meant accepting work that was of limited value to anyone; and my absolute commitment to quality was being routinely compromised by some of the sub-standard productions I was engaged to work on.
The outcome of all this is that I found a new way to use my skills whilst being true to my values. That was the point when I moved away from acting and towards a career in people development.
Knowing your core values allows you to make good decisions about where to place yourself, who to work with, what sort or work you do, what sectors you choose to work in. They give you a sense of who you are and where you are going: they provide you with a mission in life.
If this is true of the individual, it is also true of a business.
Core values are like the electricity that runs through a circuit. The equipment can’t
A company that claims to have core values that are then not lived by is a company with the wrong published core values and possibly a company that’s running out of gas.
Core values aren’t dispensable, but they do have a hierarchy!
One of our clients works in the textiles industry. A question I have put to them is: “Are you a design-led company or a sales-led company?” It’s a pertinent question because the answer will dictate how the business is run. Good designs and sales are both prized very highly, but when push comes to shove, would they know which one took the top spot? If not, how could they build effective systems and processes, and be clear about their expectations of people? How can you recruit people who fit the culture if you aren’t clear what the culture, values and priorities are?
The idea of Core Company Values has become devalued by the apparent scant regard many companies display to their published values. There is often a lack of congruence between what they say they value and how they act. If there was a trade description act equivalent for company values, many companies would fall foul of the law. That’s a shame, because like it not, every company has values and these get communicated, even if they aren’t the ones on the fancy poster in reception.
Publishing your values isn’t the end of it (or even the start). Publication represents a proud and public commitment to live by them, and an invitation to everyone who interacts with you to assess your credentials and monitor your sincerity. You can only be sure of this if those values become fully integrated with the business, monitored, celebrated, prized and, above all, owned by every person representing you.
Values are core to your business. They are the head, the heart, the feet and the hands that drive all your decisions, actions and interactions. Get them right and live by them, and see how much value they can add to your bottom line.