According to Collins English Dictionary, values are “the moral principles and beliefs or accepted standards of a person or social group”.

“At their simplest, values are those things we want to have in our lives so much that we put them above other things.”

Jackie Le Fevre

Why do we have values in organisations?

In order to have purpose – whether as an individual or an organisation – you must have values.

Values should help us understand our expectations of the organisations that we work with or work in. Like the subtle ways that family values are taught and strongly embedded in us, it seems natural to live them every day.

Demonstrating day-to-day alignment to values permeates from the top. And like family values, if you see your parents do it then you follow suit. It’s the same for leaders: live the values and others will too. No one is exempt.

Whether you’re talking about personal or organisational values, first you need to understand and acknowledge why you feel uncomfortable with certain activities or situations. Once you know what you are/are not prepared to tolerate then you’re comfortable with who you really are.

Voicing your values doesn’t mean you all have to think the same way. And you can have different values if you treat each other with respect and integrity.

What happens when you ignore your values?

Sticking words to a wall or printing pretty pictures when no one works within or towards them is a terrible situation.

Values are related to your branding, part of your employee experience in attracting and retaining talent as well as customers. They set an instantly recognisable standard for what you or your company is about.

If you have values as a standard and nothing sits behind them, then you have a problem.

Conflict with your values results in a rage rising from within. Sleepless nights. A knot in your stomach. Anger. Disappointment. Shame.

Think about why you’re not sticking by your values. Take time to remind yourself why they’re important to you. Look at the sacrifice others may have made to ensure the values are upheld.

Actions speak louder than words

It’s OK to promote people on technical capability. However, this soon falls down when behaviours are poor and unchecked, leading to a toxic culture.

Like performance, behaviours should be measured. It’s easy to recognise people for the work that they do yet ignore the way that they do it and treat others. Brushing bad behaviours aside gives the message that such conduct is acceptable regardless of what you achieve.

Be self-accountable. Challenge when principles are overlooked. Do what you say what you’re going to do. Equally, invite others to hold you accountable.

Finding your values

Leaders set the purpose, purpose aligns to strategy and, from that, your values emerge.

When coaching leaders to articulate and live the values, it helps to think in terms of ‘what do you care about?’, ‘what’s important to you?’, ‘what motivates you?’.

Also encouraging them to look back and revisit the origins: why they were put in place, what they mean and how they align to the strategy today and for the future.

Finally, what do you expect to see people do to personify them? (See the art of storytelling below). Only then can you start to decipher what they mean to you personally and to the team collectively.

Take a value. Work through what it looks like – good and bad examples. If, under scrutiny, it becomes apparent that it isn’t part of your culture and you can’t see a way to make it work, then question whether it should be part of your values set at all.

If you must include words like ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ into your values then, as a business, you’re doing something wrong. Every business says that they are ‘honest’ – but then what business would claim to be ‘dishonest’!

Values must be a differentiator, a core part of your culture, with your culture being one of your unique selling points specific to you.

Remember, values can be fluid and interchangeable depending on what’s happening around you – economic forces, sector shifts, competitor landscape, social pressures – but the essence that first formed them should remain steadfast.

The art of storytelling

Yet being able to recite values doesn’t mean we understand them. It’s the link between a value and what behaviour you’re expecting (or not expecting) that’s so important. Create pen-portraits of what good and bad behaviours look like.

Integrate the value words and behaviours in how you talk, write, communicate within an organisation.

Stories help us remember, provide context for information

Good stories appeal to the heart and engage the emotions as well as the mind. Great stories set imaginations on fire. They’re compelling, motivating, inspiring, unforgettable. Like a virus, they can be contagious. Find the right stories to demonstrate your values.

To work out your values you can use the values sheet here that we use on our Coaching Retreat Days. Just circle the ones that mean something to you and try to reduce it down to between three and five. If you want to find out more about our values and how they inform our decisions and the everyday, listen to episode 4 in season 7 of our podcast!

Discover how we can help your organisation and leadership team identify, revisit and bring values to life. drop us a line here

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