The value of values

I read with interest Alexander Kjerulf’s blog post on 10 things companies should stop doing now. Obviously any article in a top 10 format is going to talk in very general terms but I was surprised to see number four on the list… Corporate values.

I think that rather than simply casting aside values there is a greater need to define what we mean by values and where they fit into an organisation. To simply stop considering them is very much in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Values do not exist in isolation. This is where I think Alexander’s problem is with values;  corporates coming up with vague nebulous values and simply imposing them on the company. Or values are simply stored on a piece of paper gathering dust, rather than acting as a unifying set of goals and principles.

Values exist in an onion shape, in that there are multiple layers of values. Corporate values are just one of these layers.

At their most basic, values can be thought of as existing at these three levels:

  • Personal
  • Team
  • Organisation

Dr Steve Peters in his book The Chimp Paradox talks about the stone of life, where we store our personal values. Organisational values are critical to the Toyota way (lean) as mentioned in the book This is Lean by Niklas Modig. Team values are important in Agile and there are well defined techniques for helping teams develop shared values (see Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins).

These three value layers feed into each other. If we have team or organisational values which conflict with our personal values then we will likely experience cognitive dissonance, causing us stress.

This means that in most instances values at the team and organisational level should be negotiated and agreed. Only our personal values are non-negotiable. Although like anything our personal values can change with experience.

Values are living and breathing entities, like plants they need light and water to grow. We need to ensure that when the seeds of values are sown they take root and we attend to them regularly.  Also that unrealistic or unhelpful values are pruned back as we, our team or organisation grows.

Values far from being a static burden are a living embodiment of who we are and what we believe and as such they are at the heart of any organisation. Use dusty old values as a catalyst for change and don’t simply toss them away without at least first trying to fix them.

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