Sidestep Future Trouble with this Activity

Our core values are tied to our sense of identity. The more something aligns with our values, the more we’ll fight for it. Our values are behind the objectives we set and the actions we take.

Shared values make up the bedrock of loyalty, for both customers and employees. We’re all hard wired to seek out other people “like us.” We all want to feel like we belong. It makes us feel safe, physically and psychologically.

Therefore, knowing our core values is critical for avoiding a dysfunctional workplace. Without awareness of our values, we can inadvertently set up a conflict situation. When team members are not aligned on core values, they will see objectives differently and disagreements over strategy, next steps, or work prioritization will totally derail us.

Rarely does the energy required to resolve a conflict move us forward. At best, it positions us to start moving forward. It’s far better to avoid the situation in the first place by figuring out our core values and writing them down.

Here’s how it looks:

Belief statement

  • Exemplifying behavior
  • Exemplifying behavior

We believe that everyone has equal value.

  • We treat others as we would have them treat us.
  • We regard people’s time and other resources as precious.
  • We listen to and consider differing perspectives.

It’s easy to feel like this isn’t important when the team is small, because values are implicit. They show through the actions that everyone sees. However, as the business grows, not everyone sees the actions of everyone else. Pockets of teams with conflicting values will form. Those teams take actions that are in conflict with the actions of other teams. Before we know it, the wheels begin to wobble and the business engine is sputtering—wasting precious resources.

This common pitfall can be avoided by making our values explicit — writing them down and making sure everyone sees them.

A great place to start identifying our actual values is with our story—how we got to where we are today. Write it out, paying close attention to the keystone moments—the turning points. Why did we choose one path over another? What beliefs influenced those actions? Our core beliefs are reflected in those actions. Group up those beliefs, slap a descriptive value label on each group, and publish them for the world to see.

But there is a trap. It’s really easy to come up with a list of nice sounding values. Ideals that look really good, but are not really reflected in our actions. It takes some time reflecting to come up with our actual values. Our values need to stand on a foundation of behavioral evidence.

We can know we’ve captured our actual values when we can point to how we:

  1. hire against them,
  2. create incentives around them,
  3. recognize achievements using them, and
  4. lean on them in difficult conversations and decisions.

Feature image by Sarah Ward