Business people, me included, are resigned and cynical about company values being inauthentic. Ask BP. I’ll bet they have values. Enron and Arthur Anderson did, too. So, those are the horror stories of companies and organizations run amok. That is the ugly side.
I have also seen our clients—based on their articulated values—do the right thing over and over again. I have done the right things because I was standing for a value. This country has done the right thing—countless times—standing for its values of free speech and individual rights.
In this process, when we say values we mean behaviors that we expect from ourselves and others. This is conduct that will support the organization in delivering on the Reason for Being and are also, independently, the right behaviors and beliefs to have. You are only looking for 4–6. Too many and you end up with something like you do when you add all colors: sort of a purplish, brownish goop.
Start out by asking the group what values they come to work with. Then ask if they did not have to work they would still demonstrate those values and behaviors just because they are the right ones to have. Also add what values, because they are the right ones, would you want your children to adopt for work.
Typically I ask for more than a one word answer. If the value is “Integrity,” then I ask the group to give me a sentence that describes what integrity means. Everyone then writes their 3–6 values on flip-charts and posts them on the walls. Participants then present their values and the group can ask questions. Typically, the group discovers that their values are in the same ball park. There is comfort and reassurance for the group in that fact. This is good news.
The next step begins when you split the group— typically into groups of 5-7 people. Ask the groups: Given our Reason for Being, what are the 4-6 behaviors and values that will truly support the business, employees and customers? What are the right values to have, even if they are not advantageous in some business situations? These do not have to incorporate or include with any of the individual values. They do need to align.
The groups then present what they created. There is dialogue and comments. Then, similar to what was done in the Reason for Being session, organize the participants into two groups and ask them to synthesize all this input and come up with the organizations values. It can be based on what has been generated before or something new and organic.
Again, I now get directly involved demonstrating my unbelievable value. We distinguish and demonstrate commonalities between the two versions. Compile one version that contains or incorporates what the groups have created. A group is then formed to wordsmith and generate the final cut of the values. The leader of the group and their “by when” dates are established. This methodology is simple, easy, and works.