Identifying Values

Many people have given little more than a passing thought to identifying the values that govern their personal behavior, and even fewer organizations have done so. Instead, they accept the values of others or let situations determine the values. In almost all cases in which values are not clearly defined, good decisions are more difficult to make. Without values, people are easily influenced and decisions are subject to frequent change or compromise. “Situational values” confuse people, and create problems and complexity.

Successful leaders make important decisions based on a set of core values…doing the right things for the right reasons. In an organization, personal values may differ. A leader will help everyone focus on a “common-good” value that will engender a desire for cooperation and team work, without invalidating those personal differences.

What are your values? Can you easily and specifically identify them? What about the people throughout your organization? Are they committed to the organizational values?

Take time to clarify or review the values you hold as a leader. Focus on what is really important to you, and ask yourself, “What are those few beliefs that I value so strongly that I will not compromise?” Sometimes when crystallizing your values, it helps to identify and clarify those values that you respect in other leaders you hold in high regard. What values do their actions, habits, and life-style exemplify? Often the values you see and respect in others are indicators of what you hold as personal values. How do these values exhibit themselves in your business decisions, in your relationships with customers, employees, stockholders, suppliers, and your community? Crystallize those values which YOU identify and embrace as the values by which you want to live your life, as well as those of your organization.

Involve key people in the process of identifying what the core values should be. Get support and input from other senior managers. You may also want to elicit input from other people throughout the organization; the more involvement and commitment they have in the process, the more ownership they’ll have of the results. Use all of this input to crystallize the core values.

After you have crystallized your personal and organizational values, you will find it helpful to rank them. The first two or three should be those values that you will not compromise. Your highest-ranked core values remain firmly established and rarely change. Strategies, practices, procedures, and structure should be continuously evaluated and open to modification and improvement. Ranking values helps establish priorities for decision making. Organization values are an integral part of your Strategic Plan and the cornerstone for the actions and decisions of everyone in the organization. If you have not done so recently, revisit your Strategic Planning process and the plan itself. Additional time spent in this activity will have a positive impact upon your bottom line and ultimate success.

The key to Valueship is crystallizing the values that establish the parameters for behavior. Those values are driven throughout the organization by your behavior and your example. As an executive and a leader, if you engage in behavior which conflicts with your values, you will sacrifice your credibility. The end does not justify the means.

The true test of a commitment to values is whether or not those values are upheld during a crisis. What does your behavior or the behavior of the people throughout your organization express about your values? Will you compromise any of your values for expediency, or will you champion values under pressure?

At one time in the history of the United States of America, it is said that there were Iroquois Indians who made decisions only after they examined the effect of those decisions on seven generations. We have come a long way from that point of view. At one time we looked up to our leaders as heroes and role models. We held them up for our children and future generations to emulate. Today it is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone worthy of recognition and role-model status. We must change that-for our own good and for the survival of a values-based society, the future of which rests on the ability of our leaders to articulate, exemplify, and operationalize personal and organizational values.

“Perhaps more than at any previous time, an organization today must know what it stands for and on what principles it will operate. No longer is value-based organizational behavior an interesting philosophical choice. It is a requisite for survival.

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