I read your website, but what are your REAL values?

Do you really know your values?

We find most people in organizations don’t.

It’s not unusual for us to walk into a new client’s offices, ask them what their values are and get a reply like —

“Oh, they’re something about excellence, integrity and, I think, teamwork. I don’t remember exactly, but I know I have a copy of them somewhere. I’ll send them to you. Oh, wait, I think we have them on our website.”

Even if people can recite the official values, if they’re generic and off-the-shelf they probably don’t evoke meaning for most people. Values need to be true, compelling and distinct. If they’re not, they won’t drive and unite your culture.

Just in case you haven’t defined your values statements yet, you can always borrow Enron’s — Integrity, Respect, Communication, Excellence. (Had they actually used them, the leaders might not have gone to jail.) Enron’s values were off the shelf, and definitely not embedded in the culture. There is a big pay-off in developing your own values — uniquely relevant to you, your organization and your brand.

Now, when we ask people in an organization, “What seems to be really important around here?’’ We get real, human replies like —

“Never let down a customer”…“Make your numbers, not excuses”…“No surprises!”… “Grow, Baby, grow”…“Collaborate to innovate”…

If these are true and important to the long-term success of the organization, they become essential drivers of culture and useful operating values, giving guidance on daily decision-making to people throughout the organization. If your values aren’t serving this purpose, it’s time to revisit them.

True, compelling & distinct Values are essential to a united culture.

Just to be clear…it’s okay to have character values like integrity or respect, but they have to be real, they have to be lived, and they have to be a part of the dominant discourse within your culture. If not, you’re better off dropping them from your official employee handbook. People can sense and truly disdain insincerity and hypocrisy.

So what are the true, compelling and distinct values of your enterprise?

There are several ways to discover and set your real operating values:

  1. Look at Your Vision — If your vision is a version of…“We’ll be #1, rich and people will love us”… it’s not going to help you much. If you’ve developed a truly rich, detailed Vision, then ask yourself… “What are the values behind each of these ambitions? What’s truly most important to the success of this vision?”

  2. Investigate Your Culture — Be like Sherlock Holmes. Watch and observe how people really operate right now. Based on your observations, what do you deduce are the beliefs and values driving their behaviors? If you like what you see, cement the behaviors into your official operating values, replacing the generic ones. If you don’t like what you see, develop values to change the behaviors.

  3. Interview Your People — Ask people what they think are the real values that drive your culture i.e., “how things get done around here.” Ask people who are happy and unhappy, productive and less productive. Hold discussions with your people…they’ll like being asked and you may discover what truly drives behavior and decision-making in your organization.

  4. Pull It All Together — Using one or more of the above discovery steps, pull your team together, share your insights and shape the operating values you want to use together. Keep the list to no more than five (you only have five fingers, generally the max people will remember) and articulate practices to describe how to live these values. Circulate widely!

How about an example?

Here’s an example of what it looks like to identify a real value and articulate the practices that bring it alive. At our consulting firm, BEAM Inc., we have five values. Here’s our first operating value along with the practices that help define the understanding of the value in behavioral terms:

Value — “BEAM’em Up!”

(When you phrase your values, make them brief, memorable, and meaningful. Go beyond a one-word cliche. )

Practices for “BEAM’em Up!”:

(Spell it out for current and future team-members — What does it mean you DO?)

  • Encourage the exceptional; tap into the truth, beauty and good in each of us

  • Elevate the conversation; ask big, bold, and courageous questions

  • Foster transformative experiences that bring wisdom, deep/broad perspectives, and deliver surprisingly delightful outcomes

  • Heighten joy and fun… radiate optimism and good humor

When you identify the four or five true operating Values and their Practices, embed them in your culture.

These become a powerful guide. Your whole team can make more aligned decisions, identifying the right way forward for you. These set the tone. They’ll shape how people treat each other, and how they approach their work — one more way you make your brand uniquely yours. They also can be applied in evaluating individual and department performance. Values are an important part of the performance review process in determining how we live our values individually and together.

If your current values don’t do these things for you, dump the off-the-shelf or untrue values and create your REAL Values.

When you evaluate your current or new/future values, ask yourself… Are they…

  • True, Compelling and Distinct?

  • The most important (4 or 5) values we need to instill in our organization to create the kind of culture of which we can be proud?

  • Clear, brief and memorable?

  • Valuable in creating and maintaining our culture? Do they support effective decision-making and are they motivational to people throughout the organization

So, today I’m asking you…

What are the REAL Values you live by, and are they what you want to drive your culture and individual performance?

Written by Dan & Meredith BEAM