Yesterday, Marc Davison asked a question in the form of a blog post. Who are you? It was a post about corporate values, a topic near to my heart and one I’ve been writing and speaking about for years. I encourage you to read the post. It’s a story about how he experienced corporate values in the behavior of an employee at Mitchell Gold in Portland, Oregon. She was the embodiment of great corporate values in put into action. On purpose.
Behavior is the truest form of communication.
We can’t help but live our values. We do it unconsciously. We often lie about what they are, based on what we want others to feel about us. But the truth of who we are is displayed by our behavior, in every action we take. We can hide it from some, but we can’t hide it for long. Behavior is the truest form of communication. Our words either confirm or contradict it.
Values in action, values on purpose, is where real power lies. I’m constantly amazed at how many companies don’t understand this universal principle. And it always starts with the leaders of the company. In Marc’s story, the lady whose behavior so impressed him explained the sign he saw on the wall as he left their buiding. “These are our core values,” she said. “The things our owners built this business on and make every decision by daily. I read them when I open the store and again when I leave. It’s what we live by religiously.”
Your values are your true brand.
It has to start with the leaders. Leaders must have a clear vision for their organization, they must understand what their personal core values are and they must put those values into action in every decision they make in their organization. And it must be religiously guarded at every level of the organization. Your values are your true brand, and values are experienced, they are not read.
The goal of identifying your core values is to align your words with your behavior authentically.
It is NOT about changing your behavior. This is the mistake people make when setting out to define what their core values are and that mistake trickles down into every area of their business. They write down pretty words that are nothing more than good intentions, or a vision of what they would like to be but really aren’t. There is no power in that.
Values that don’t align with the behavior of those responsible for leading an organization can never be put into action. Why? Values are the dark matter of human relationships. We attract people to us by our real values, the ones our behavior reveals, not our stated values. When leaders place pretty words on a wall that they can’t live themselves, they find themselves surrounded by others who also can’t live those values. It’s how the world works.
It starts with who you are.
“Marc, I’ve always had MY core values, but upon opening my company I created a set as well,” Elizabeth Cooper-Golden replied to Marc’s post. “I struggled for days trying to put them in writing, when all along, they were the same as my personal core values.” This is true for everyone. Your coporate values will mirror your personal values whether you like it or not. It’s better to align your words and your behavior authentically. This is where the real power comes from.
How do you define, in terms of values, who you are?
I find that most people can’t explain, in actionable, behavioral terms, why they do what they do. They don’t know how to put into words – words that can create replicable behavior – what really drives their actions.
It’s a process that involves a great deal of introspection and honesty. Bill Leider explains the basics of the process this way, ” I would start by reflecting and examining what my “hard-wired” values are, the ones that I’ve had since I was around 7 years old. And I would ask myself if those values are consistent with how I want to live my life and pursue my dreams. If so, great. If not, it takes constant awareness and consciousness to change them. Next I would reflect on what values I truly want to embrace in the course of my life and the pursuit of my goals. What can I truly commit to, in good times or bad, when it serves my short term interests and when it does not. Then I would whittle the list down to no more than 10. And I would define, in detail, what those values truly mean to me – how I will express those specific values through my behavior.”
That’s not easy. Our real values are often not the words we use when describing ourselves. We like to think we’re better than we really are. This process requires a high degree of honesty with ourselves and a willingness to look deep into what we can truly commit to, without fail.
Identify. Define. Explain.
- Identify what is truly important to you, your authentic values.
- Define what each of those values really mean, in relationship to your business.
- Explain how the values get lived, every day, by every person in your organization.
Here’s an example from my own journey:
Identify: We value ideas.
Define: We place great value on ideas – all ideas from any and all people and sources. We respect ALL ideas-and the people who express them. We believe that there are NO BAD IDEAS. All ideas are valuable to our process of learning and growing. We encourage people to speak out, to give a voice and a life to their ideas. We know that not every idea will be implemented or acted upon. Some may prove unworkable; others may not be used for any number of reasons. Some may not be put into action as given, but might serve to spark other ideas. That is the value of every idea.
Explain: The most effective way to encourage and foster the continuous flow of ideas is to value and honor their source, i.e. the people who provide them. We are committed to accepting ideas without judging them based on whether or not we agree with them. That does not mean that one must agree with every idea. But we can suspend our judgment for a brief time in the process of embracing and valuing another person’s perspective. We can and must do this with sincerity and respect. That is how to live the value. That is what we are committed to do. We will not tolerate the dismissal of ideas.
I started with Marc, so I’ll end with Marc. He concluded his post with this: “The point, of course: words, mission statements, website copy and professions of lofty ideals will only get you so far. Making such things manifest in your customer interactions in every way possible, on the other hand, is how you stand out from the crowd. It’s not easy, but the rewards are rich.
No. The good stuff is never easy. But it’s always worth it.
Kim Wood says
This reminds me of my passion statement I came up with after hours of deep thought a number of years ago.
I realized this same thing – it’s who I AM !
“My purpose is to use and show my devotion to others by allowing my creativity to discover paths that help others lead to the pot of gold at the end of their particular rainbow.”
(It certainly could be worked over by a Grammarian, but it works for me 🙂
Jeff Turner says
Grammarian’s will always have work. 🙂 So, how do you translate that into daily actions?
Kim Wood says
How does it translate into daily actions?
My daily activities and the endeavors I choose to get involved in must help people accomplish their goals, whatever they may be.
I was made to help people – that is what makes me happy 🙂
Jeff Turner says
Perfect. Now, take that passion statement and marry it with a solid, purposed values understanding and you have some real magic. 🙂
Byron Van Arsdale says
First, brilliant piece of work here where you’ve articulated an important and challenging path.
Second, this reminds me of why the following statement never works: “Do as I say, not as I do.” One of my favorite statements.
Third, what you’ve described is a Zen-like path where contradictions are the norm and grounded clarity is essential. Each of us has blinds spots that keep us from seeing the obvious.
Behavior is the truest test as you say. Simply brilliant writing. Thanks.
Jeff Turner says
Krisstina Wise says
Again, great article, Jeff! It fits in the context of your last post.
When I founded The GoodLife Team 4 years ago, my first exercise was establishing the mission, vision and core values of the Firm. I didn’t think it would be possible to build a great company without these first in place as the Foundation of the entire organization.
And now, years later, by standing for the Core Values through my personal actions as well as the behaviors of my awesome leadership team — our GoodLife Value System is synonymous with our GoodLife Culture.
It gives me goosebumps when I think about it — I LOVE our Culture here and I respect, value and appreciate every team member … everyone is extraordinary and I feel fortunate to be in business with them. (I wonder if this has anything to do with one of my personal values to not be in any relationship for just the money).
And, since I hire and fire by our company Core Values, it is important that every Team member (Agents and Staff) know and embrace them. In our new hire training, it is required to memorize and be tested on our company core values. And, once per week, during our 9:03 huddle, the entire Team says our Core Values out loud, together, with some fun hand movements. Next time you are in Austin, you will need to ask for a demonstration 🙂
One more thing I will add is that we have a Team member that is our Core Value leader. Her job is to make sure our Core Values are always at the forefront our organization. This makes it impossible for any of our behaviors to be incongruent with our value system.
One thing that I did, that could be helpful to others in establishing their business core values, is to model other companies who exemplify their core values. I modeled Zappos, Four Seasons, and Apple.
And, I imagine there are real estate companies for others to model. Jeff — I’d be curious who you assess in our industry to lead by example, who lives their corporate core values and whose entire company exemplifies the values of the firm. I am always looking to improve my business and therefore would like to know who is doing this really well in order to get some new ideas.
As always, thanks for the great thought provoking article.
Jeff Turner says
Krisstina, I would like to come spend a couple of days at your office, if that is ok with you.
Brad Nix says
The messages in this post could not be more timely or relevant than right now in my life. I literally sat in a room with senior executives of a community bank for 9 hours today as we charted a strategic plan for the reshaping of how the world views money. Our work is founded in making all of these changes because it’s the right thing to do. For our customers, our staff, our community. Which all comes directly from our values.
We have more work to do in terms of putting these values into action across the multiple location organization. But it’s obvious to all of us that the success ahead will be rooted in these foundational value steps.
Literally mapping values to what specific employees will do tomorrow and every day forward is going to take some hard work. This work will be the best work of my life.
Thanks for sharing these valuable thoughts today.
Jeff Turner says
Brad, it’s been great speaking with you about this journey and discussing the importance of a values-based business. Watching you go through this process is truly a joy. As you know, I’m ready and willing when you need a sounding board.
Lynda White says
Many people live their lives out of accordance with their values, and don’t understand why they are so unhappy. It’s the same with businesses. You have to be true to yourself in order to succeed and truly be happy with life, business or anything else. GREAT article!
Jeff Turner says
Great read! Taking it one step further… the topic on values and identity… what is it about values that “identify” one’s self? Can you have values and it not be your identity? Can you have an identity without values?
Or is it possible that identity is not directly related to values?
The way I see it is that your values aren’t WHO you are. In fact, nothing you can really see, express, or do is really WHO you are. WHO you are is non-attached.
What I mean is that I can experience my life and values… and then I can experience me experiencing my life and values. The fact that I can experience myself experiencing something whispers to me that my values are merely an expression of my identity, but not my identity itself.
So I guess the next question to ask is… what IS “identity” and how do we know?
PS. Disqus? That’d be neat. 🙂
Jeff Turner says
That was very existential. Are you saying you’d like it if I added the Disqus plugin? 🙂