What influences how you live your life?

Values is a complicated word. It shouldn’t be really, but it’s one of those words, like its sister “value” that means different things to different people. So it is hard to pin down. But that’s also what makes it such an interesting word to work with.

Ask people what their values are and you will get a range of responses, which can be difficult to categorise. The last person I asked said her number one value was truthfulness. I asked her how she lived it out. Did that mean she was always truthful? No, she admitted. So, when would she choose to be truthful, and when would she choose to be economical with the truth or even tell a lie? I could have gone further and started exploring how truthful she was to herself. But that would have meant entering very complicated and probably uncomfortable territory.

What about organisational values?

Organisations are often big on their values. They use them to define “how we do things round here”. Values are effective, as long as people, especially leaders, adhere to them. If people think that the leaders don’t live the values then they will become meaningless. And it’s the people’s perception that matters. The leaders may think they are living the values, but if the people don’t see this you will still have problems.

So we all have different values, and our perception of what those values mean can be very different. Which is why I don’t find words like “truthfulness” or “integrity” very useful on their own. If you are going to use them then set them in a context that helps people see how you are going to live them out. Some organisations, like Google, have a clear set of value statements that reflect how they want people to work and indicate what kind of culture you can expect to find there. Defining values in this way can help turn an organisation around. I met some guys from the Liverpool Victoria insurance company a few years ago who were extremely conscious and proud of their company values. The company had introduced them as part of a very successful culture change programme, which transformed the company’s fortunes.

The CIPD 2010 report ; “Shared purpose: the golden thread” makes the point that we have to live out values, and we have to see the values as being lived; We cnot just words on paper. The CIPD found that purpose alone did not make a difference to an organisation, but purpose aligned to a clear set of values did. The values provide the glue that holds everything together. They define “how we do things around here.”

Introducing “rulesets”

We can also define values as the “principles” by which the organisation operates. I also quite like the word “rulesets”. Instructional designers use the word “rulesets” to define the content they put into a learning module, and what they leave out. In an organisation I think of rulesets as the set of rules that govern my behaviour.

Whatever we call them, a clear set of values will address the following human needs:

1) the need to belong. When I feel connected to the values of my organisation I feel part of it. I feel I belong there because I share the same values as everyone else.

2) the need to feel safe emotionally. The stated values tell me what is acceptable behaviour. So I know where I stand when I behave in a certain way and what reactions I am likely to get.

3) the need to be valued. When my values align with the organisation’s values I know that others share my beliefs. This increases my sense of self-worth.

4) the need to be in control. I know how I should behave so I can feel in control of the behavioural choices I make within the guidelines laid down.

The “values diamond”

As with purpose we can identify a values diamond.

The Inherited values are the ones inherited from the founders.

The Believed values are the ones written down or stated.

The Lived values are the ones that people actually live by in the organisation, and are rewarded for.

The True values are aligned to the True purpose.

To change culture and behaviour you should start by mapping and attuning to both the purpose and associated values. What do they say about the organisation at the moment? What do you want them to say? Perhaps more importantly, what do you want to retain in terms of values, and how do you want to move them forward?

Get alignment and attunement with your purpose and values and you are on the road to realising your organisation’s true potential.