‘The word value is used prolifically, yet few of us truly understand how helpful grasping values can be for our organizations, and indeed our daily lives’
Values. What comes to mind when you hear this word? Framed words on a business’ wall? The moral certitude of Sunday school? The word value is used prolifically, yet few of us truly understand how helpful grasping values can be for our organizations, and indeed our daily lives.
Values “act as a compass, or a north star, guiding us as we make decisions, leading us towards people we want to become. They are the underlying reasons you do what you do...Identifying your values, so that they are not abstract ideas, but are known and explicit to you, can be enormously helpful. They are the essence of who you are, the heartbeat of your own why...Values are of the heart, not of the head, and yet at the same time they provide a lens through which you can process tough decisions, so that you aren’t winging it. Rather, you are bringing about a level of intentionality about your life ... which is key to your well being, and to have a compass during changing and challenging times.” Knowing our values can act as a vaccine against social contagion, although a “single choice point does not define who you are or what you value.”
Often, values get confused with goals. Goals are achievements that typically correspond to the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based). Values are not this - they are your “why” - and they just are. There are no rights and wrongs when we are talking about values. While goal conflicts abound (many in safety understand the ubiquitous nature of goal conflicts), values are more grounding. For example, wanting to respect physical distancing, but simultaneously wanting to celebrate a significant achievement may reveal the values placed on science and family (not in conflict), but the goals are conflicting. Goals can be modified (e.g. celebration can be done virtually, postponed until physical distancing no longer needed, etc.), but the values remain the same. If you can check it off as done, you are working with a goal, not a value.
How do you find your values? Lists of values may be a good place to start. The easiest way is to understand what gives rise to a reaction (either organizationally or individually). What gets your back up? What inspires you to defend and fight back? It is highly likely you can identify values from such experiences. Other ways include to dream about a worry free existence - what would you be doing? After any given day, reflect on what you enjoyed and what gave you energy. It is work to find these values, but they can be extraordinarily helpful once identified.
Pat Lencioni identifies four different types of values. The core values are the ones that you will go out on a limb for. You have a high willingness to pay (e.g. money, ego, relationships), and these values are differentiating and invariant. Breaking these values is akin to selling your soul. You (as an organization or as an individual) should have maybe 2 or 3 core values. These can be used to help in decision making, be it, for example, in corporate processes of hiring, or individual issues of relationships. Knowing your core values is very revealing, and very helpful.
Another category is accepted values. “These values are the minimum behavioural standards that are required in an organization. Although they are extremely important, [accepted] values don’t serve to clearly define or differentiate an organization from others.” These are values that are the generic ones that are common to your group, be it your country, your industry, your organization, your neighbourhood, or your family. There are often more accepted values than core values (maybe 5-8). These are still very important, and help in decision making, but are not as differentiating as core values.
Other categories are values you need to be wary of. Aspirational values are just that - values that one would like to have. It is important to ensure that aspirational values are not mistakenly classified as accepted values, or worse, core values. If a value is one that you would like to be defined by but are not already, it is an aspirational value. Very intentional living, be that as an organization or an individual, can help to bring an aspirational value into the accepted value category.
Accidental values are ones that you may mistakenly adopt that are not aligned with your core values. “Over time, as if on auto pilot, we can come to want things that we have never considered wanting before...These things may look good and desirable on the surface, but they might not be truly reflective of you, and how you want to live.” As an organization, accidental values can “undermine the efficiency of an organization’s operation. It can also mean that organizations adopt practices which are unsuitable because they are seen as ‘normal’, ‘appropriate’, or the ‘right thing to do’...What fits one successful company (or industry, or even a nation) does not suit another.” As an individual, it is “keeping up with the Jones’”, and may become destructive and soul destroying. Being clear about your core, accepted and aspirational values and ensuring you are living them can help keep accidental values from creeping in.
Defining values is just the first step - living the values is the journey. As mentioned, decision making can be greatly facilitated using values as a lens or a filter. However, “living your values, or walking your why, will not bring you a life free of difficulty... Even if your choice turns out to be wrong, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you made the decision for the right reasons. You can show up to yourself with courage, curiosity and compassion”, true both for organizations, and individuals.
1. David, Susan (June 1 2020). Podcast: Checking in with Susan David. Episode: What do you value?
2. David, Susan (June 1 2020).
3. Lists of values are easy to come across. A simple Google search of “values” yielded https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm, https://www.threadsculture.com/core-values-examples, https://www.developgoodhabits.com/core-values/ and many other websites. Another great resource is https://maintainingmentalfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-06-23_CSSE_Webinar-Series-Anchoring-your-why.pdf.
4. Pat Lencioni labels this category “Permission to Play”
5. Lencioni, Pat (2012). The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p97.
6. David, Susan (June 1 2020).
7. Alvesson, M & Spicer, A (2016). The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Stupidity at Work. London: Profile Books, p152-3.
 David, Susan (June 1 2020). Podcast: Checking in with Susan David. Episode: What do you value?
 David, Susan (June 1 2020).
 Lists of values are easy to come across. A simple Google search of “values” yielded https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm, https://www.threadsculture.com/core-values-examples, https://www.developgoodhabits.com/core-values/ and many other websites. Another great resource is https://maintainingmentalfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-06-23_CSSE_Webinar-Series-Anchoring-your-why.pdf
 Pat Lencioni labels this category “Permission to Play”
 Lencioni, Pat (2012). The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass, p97.
 David, Susan (June 1 2020).
 Alvesson, M & Spicer, A (2016). The Stupidity Paradox : the Power and Pitfalls of Stupidity at Work. London: Profile Books, p152-3.