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4 tips for figuring out which company values to invite ‘to the table’

In a previous blog I talked about the importance of having values as unique as your company. Great, but as I’m often asked when I work with organizations, how do you do  this? To answer this, let me share some tips from the second step of my WTH process which includes the following:

  1. W = Put your values on the wall, coming up with a long list of potential values

  2. T = Invite your values to the table

  3. H = Bring your values home, making them your own

This second step is where you take the long list of potential values from the first step, refining and prioritizing those that deserve a seat at the table. And like a table, there are only so many seats around it, so it’s here that you have those difficult (but lively) discussions in order to decide which ones are and which ones are not seat worthy. 

Your company values should be ones that you just can’t walk away from as they are so critical to the life, health and success of your business.

One approach for helping you narrow down and fine tune your list of values is by using the “keep, kill, and combine” process. For each value you’ve ‘put on the wall,’ go back and decide which of these three actions to take:

Keep: put a tick next to these

These are the values that tick all if not most of these four questions in step one:

  1. Are they servants to my purpose or mission?

  2. Are they specific to my company?

  3. Can (and will) they be lived and acted on?

  4. Can (and will) they take us to a new planet?

Think of them as values that are at the heart and core of who you are and what you want and need to be.

Kill: draw a line through these

These are the values that either don’t tick any of the question boxes or if they tick one, they are in conflict with the others, e.g. could cause problems to these.

They could also be what Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage calls permission-to-play values, which he describes as being “the minimum behavioral standards that are required in an organization. Values often seen in this category are those such as trust, integrity and ethics. Now don’t get me wrong, these are absolutely essential to have at any company, in fact, they are like the air that we breathe. But my question and challenge is - should they be standalone values? Or instead, should they be woven into your values, thus making them an integral and natural part of how you run your business and how employees behave?

For example, if you believe that trust should be one of your values, ask yourself why? What does trust really mean and why do we need it to make our company great? Is it trust in how you work together, in how you communicate with each other, or in how you respect each other? Pinpoint the behaviors related to trust that you need to see, and then weave these into your values that truly deserve a seat at the table.

Combine: circle these

These are the values that are similar to one another, so could be combined to have a better overall impact. Look for themes amongst these, so that you can narrow them down and cluster them together.

The outcome of this step is to have a manageable list that you can take forward to the next step, where you select your ‘winning’ values and make them your own. How you define manageable is up to you, the focus at this stage should be less about the number of values and more about the quality of values. Take forward those that you can easily and readily explain and defend - that is the key.

And speaking of taking them forward, there is one more thing I’d suggest doing before going to the final step, which is to test them out. The result of this is that you feel confident that you have stress tested your draft values by running them by your leaders and workforce to see if/how they resonate with them. It’s important to go through this process with them both as they’ll have different needs and different perspectives. Here’s what I mean . . . .

  • For leaders, you’ll need to test that the values are ones that will drive the business strategy and at the same time drive the right behaviors. They need to ask themselves, will they help me hire the right people - recognize the right behaviors - manage performance - and, when things get tough, help or hinder decision making? Will they help me be a better leader? And finally, will I be able to embrace and role model them?

  • For your workforce, you’ll need to test that the values speak to your employees in a way that they help them be understood as well as understand what is expected of them. Try to uncover whether they will create an emotional connection, getting your workforce excited and behind them. 

I hope you’ve found this helpful in either discovering or rediscovering your values. If you’d like to learn more about this you can read my book Bringing Your Values Out to Play, get my DIY Values Toolkit or contact me for questions or support. All the best!


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