“You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” —Oliver Goldsmith, 18th century British writer

  • Revisit and revise your values every few years to keep them alive and relevant. They can too easily become stale, stifling, or just ignored. In The Achieve Group’s (my first training and consulting company) early years, we wrote a three-page statement of Achieve’s core values that were later named ACT — Attention to Service, Commitment to Quality, and Trust through Value.

    The values were used to hire dozens of Achievers in the following few years. As we went through a major change and redefinition of our business, everyone in the company participated in a series of “getting into the ACT” discussions that spanned almost a year’s worth of our quarterly meetings. Ultimately the three ACT values remained, but each line of the accompanying explanation was edited and revised. The document went from three pages to two.

    The most significant outcome was not the final two pages of painfully debated words. The biggest benefit came from the participation of every Achiever in internalizing the revised values. They provided a stable and reassuring beacon for navigating the stormy seas of major change and adverse financial conditions we were going through at the time.

  • Use a series of fine “values fit screens” once new job candidates have made it through the technical qualifications and work experience screens. If our values say anything about empowerment, teamwork, participation, or involvement, we need to get those people who will be the teammates of the new candidate actively involved in the hiring and selection process.
  • If we’re not using our values as key criteria in performance appraisal/management and especially promotions, they’re just bumper stickers. For example, far too many managers talk eloquently about teamwork or partnerships, customers, and innovation. Then they promote the meanest, toughest Technomanagers (bureaucratic, technically focused managers) who rarely see customers, are lone wolves, and have left a bunch of dead bodies in their wake. “But,” argue some senior managers, “they get the job done.” Fair enough. So they should stop being hypocritical. They need to declare “the bottom line” or “getting the job done at any cost” or “making your numbers” as the core values. Because that’s really what they are. Who gets promoted for what kind of behavior is the single clearest indication of an organization’s true values.
  • What gets measured gets managed. If we are not measuring and providing feedback to everyone on each of our core values, we’re not living them. For example, if innovation is a value, it needs to be measured.
  • If we have a set of values and we want to assess how well we’re living them, here are a few ways to do that:

    – Look at key organization systems, processes, and structure. Whom do they serve? Do they help or hinder people trying to live your values?

    – Ask a random group of customers, external partners, and internal people to jot down the three things that your organization or team seems to care most about.

    – Have team members give regular, anonymous ratings on how well the leaders are living the values.

    – Ask people what gets somebody fired or promoted.

    – Look at a recent (or current) crisis. What values were really tested?

    – What’s on your team meeting agendas? How is planning, directing, and controlling (management) time balanced with caring for the cultural context and values?

    – What are people rewarded and recognized for?

Get out and get active with customers, external partners, and people in your organization. We loudly signal our values through visible and active leadership. “Our people more attention pay, to what we do than what we say.”

  • Deeply imbed values in all training and organization improvement efforts.
  • If we’re trying to bring about a big values shift, we need to look for dramatic, visible ways to demonstrate the new values.
  • Post your values on the wall at all team meetings. Begin the meeting with everyone reflecting on how he or she has lived the values personally. Or they might give recognition to someone else on the team for a strong example of signaling the values. End the meeting with a team assessment of whether your values were alive and actively used in the meeting.
  • Weave references to values in all the speeches, presentations, and discussions. 
  • We lead people and manage things. Core values are critical to effectively leading people. Peter Drucker is on the mark when he says, “Making the right people decisions is the ultimate means of controlling an organization… your people decisions are your key decisions, because they tell your organization what you value.”