The Key Success Factor For Your Company Values Initiative

posted in: Culture, Values | 0

Many initiatives for “company values” fail because they are devised by top management and imposed on the work floor, and because they do not take into account that different people, teams and organizations/functions may need different values.

Thus now that you have taken the journey so far, and have a small set of core company values discovered, it is time to share this throughout the entire company. And enter in the conversation!

In the previous posts we’ve discussed several ways to discover your company’s core values. Although so far the discovery involved a relatively small group of people some of the ways described can be re-used now.

You may ask all people to do Dave Logan’s “Mountains and Valleys” Core Values exercise as described in “What are your personal core values?

Or use one of the options shared in “Get People’s Perspective On Company Values”:

The only ‘rule’ is to select one of the methods that will allow you to receive a sufficiently large, meaningful number of responses. For not-too-large companies (personally I would say <100 employees) this might be sufficient. Though remember, your values have to come off the wall. It means just asking for people’s values and perspectives and work those through in a back room just to communicate the outcome is likely not the way to get people enthusiastic. A meaningful conversation about the Values, the shared perspectives and the differences encountered are as crucial to the culture as the act of asking for people’s values and perspectives.

For larger companies it is tempting to follow a similar approach, take the “Tony Hsies Approach” and check off if you got the core values right. It might work. It might be enough. It depends on the current culture, the state the company is in and the attention given to values in the past. If people know you take having and action on company values serious because you’ve shown that before, than this will likely be sufficient.

However, for companies larger than say about 100 people a slightly different approach might be needed if this is your first attempt to be active about it. The approach proposed is an adaptation of the “Do-It-Yourself Team Values” approach described by Jurgen Appelo in his Management 3.0 book [P93-94]. – Note: you can of course use this exercise as well in smaller companies. It provides an opportunity for teams to find their values in addition to the core ones.

The idea is simple, though to do it right it may take some time. It works like this: Print the Big List of 250 Values and give a copy to each of your managers/team leads. They can coach the exercise with all of their team members.

Each lead will tell the team that, together, they must select between three and seven values from this list. These must be the values that they consider to be the most important, given their function, current project, situation, and personalities. They can choose some of the identified core values (highlighted as in the example), but they can also select some other ones. Talk about the mutual expectations until you reach consensus on a merged list of three to seven values (“five plus or minus two”). You now have agreed on the final team values.

Values List

Now depending on how large your company is, and how hierarchically organized you might have team values still at a relatively ‘low level’ in the organization. The only way to consolidate into something solid that will be carried broadly in the company is to have conversations: at peer-team-organization levels all the way back up to the executive level. At each round, in each conversation talk about the mutual expectations until you reach consensus on a merged list of three to seven values (“five plus or minus two”). As said, that may take time…

Be willing to accept that the final outcome might differ from the Core Values you identified – though if you’ve followed through the exercises I described in the past weeks it is likely that there will be at least a partial overlap.

Make the final list clear to all people and stakeholders by displaying them on posters, mugs, task boards, coffee machines, screensavers, and lunch menus. Integrate them in peer recognition systems (assuming you have one… you do… don’t you?), company objectives, weave them into your strategic plans and be willing to hire/fire based on them. In short, define what you’ll be doing to take those values off the wall – the key to success is to communicate it – and start doing it!

Note from Management 3.0: The Big List of 50 Virtues was inspired by the Wisdom Commons website where you can find many more virtues applicable to everyday work and life. Of course, teams are free to augment the list with other virtues that they consider essential.

Note from me: Maybe just a small reality reflection, “the entire company” is likely to work up-to a certain size, and really, there’s no this-method-for-this-size rule. A caution I would like to give is for large(r) companies. For these the “entire company” may be defined as all people nominated for the ‘Mission to Mars’. And that is simply because I believe it is not a realistic exercise to try to align input on values of 30.000 or 100.000 employees. If all nominees of the Mission to Mars are addressed one may assume they are a fair reflection of the people employees look to when it comes to engagement, culture, values and behavior. – This doesn’t excuse you from defining what you’ll be doing to take those values off the wall – and communicate it – and start doing it!

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