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.