Many companies have Vision, Mission, and Values statements, hanging on the wall in nice frames. Most often I feel a certain discrepancy between theory and practice.
If you search the internet for advice on how to come up with a values statement, you may end up with not much more than: brainstorm, discuss, and agree on a few.
In 2015, I stumbled upon the book “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni. His signs for a healthy organization are: minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees (my thoughts when reading the book were: that reads like Catalysts ;-)).
He continues to describe a company’s values as the company’s personality that provides employees with clarity about how to behave, which reduces the need for inefficient and demoralizing micromanagement. The values will naturally attract the right employees, repel the wrong ones, and reduce employee turnover (also sounds good, so I kept reading).
At Catalysts we have adopted his scheme of four different kinds of values:
- Core values: just a few behavioural traits which are quite constant over time.
Sometimes we take those values too far. We will allow ourselves to stick to them and fully live them even if outsiders don’t understand and like our behaviour.
- Permission-to-Play values: our minimum behavioural standards, every new team member must have them already.
However, although necessary, they don’t represent a competitive advantage by themselves.
- Aspirational values: a few values we wish that everyone of us develops over time.
We aspire to adopt them and do our best to manage them into our organization. But they are neither natural nor inherent.
- Accidental values: they are unintentional, not necessary, and not good for us.
We work to get rid of them.
It is important to separate those different kinds of values – for better clarity and focus.
Lencioni’s approach to identify the core values is easy, yet powerful:
1. Identify the employees who already embody what is best about your company: What is true about those people that makes them so admired? Those qualities form the initial pool of potential core values.
2. Identify employees who, though talented, were or are no longer a good fit for the organization. Possibly because they drive others around them crazy and would add value to the organization by being absent. What is it about them that makes them a distraction and a problem? The opposite of those annoying traits provides yet another set of potential candidates for core values.
3. The leaders need to be honest about themselves: Do the leaders embody those values?
After we had identified our values, we worked out one slide per value to convey the meaning. We use the full presentation when onboarding new team members.
To make sure that we reflect about our values from time to time, we collect “value stories” and talk about them in our weekly General Meetings.
- give us cohesion
- help us to have the same mindset
- allow each individual to confidently make many decisions without thinking too much about them.
One can decide intuitively and still be confident that others would decide similarly.
I can encourage every organization to follow Lencioni’s approach to understand one’s values of those four different kinds, to flesh them out with some more words, and to set up some organizational practices to institutionalize the values in everyday’s life.