By Tanya Schecter
My clients often ask, “Do we really need to look at values? Values are so touchy feely. You know, fluffy. Isn’t it enough just to know what they are and have them on our walls?” As an answer, I tend to partially agree. Values are touchy-feely. And, knowing them and operationalizing them is the difference between words that sound nice and look pretty and tangible, long-term success.
Roughly, only roughly 10% of all organizations that profess values actually live them. And, the ones that do are often the most enduring and successful of all organizations in the marketplace. Think Patagonia, Starbucks, and Amgen. All of these organizations have strong values that they can articulate and lean into for decision-making purposes.
Articulating values, however, is no easy feat. It requires delving into what’s most important to us, what we want to align ourselves with, and what we want to come back to when we stray or are faced with a fork in the road and encapsulating this into values-based words that reflect this deeper meaning. Because of this, values can’t be imposed: they need to be claimed, both by the organization and by each individual through self-identification and a desire to embody that which they represent.
For this reason, organizations whose employees adhere to and identify with their expressed values have a much higher rate of succeeding. If an employee doesn’t believe in the values, it’s may be a matter of doing further education and exploration to find out where their personal values overlap with organizational ones to create alignment. And, if alignment isn’t possible, it may be that the employee and organization are simply not a good fit for each other.
Values are easy to adhere to in times of ease. They’re much harder to act in alignment with when having to make tough decisions that may have an immediate fallout. Values move from the realm of touchy-feely into a concrete strategic advantage when used to guide short and long-term decision-making that helps an organization fulfill its purpose and mandate. This is especially true when having to make decisions that may be economically or strategically painful in the short-term to achieve long-term gain and stay in alignment with the professed values.
Similarly, values are operationalized at the individual level when individuals can articulate their personal values and those of their team members and co-workers. Knowing our own values and those of who we work with often eliminates conflict through readjustment of personal expectations and assumptions by seeing the world through the lens of another person’s eyes (e.g., since Cathy values spending time with her family, she likes to work through lunch instead of eating with the team so she can get home early and spend some one on one time with her young son). It also allows for conflict to be addressed at a deeper level (e.g., are we fighting over content or a values conflict?) so that it doesn’t resurface and we can find alignment around commonality.
And so, yes. Values are fluffy and touchy-feely. And, when operationalized, they are integral for alignment, integrity, and success to occur. What’s the next step you can take to identify your personal values and determine how you can operationalize them along with those of your organization?
To learn more about the importance of values, read chapter three of Lead from Your Heart: The Art of Relationship-based Leadership by Tanya Schecter and Matthew Gould.