The True “Value” of Values

By | April 21, 2011

Topics covered: , | 2 comments, join the discussion!

The main theme of my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit is that everyone succeeds when workplace practices are aligned with values, and in particular the ethical value of respect. The reason is simple; values are the glue that unite us in our humanity.

I share a story in Road to Respect about an experience I had as a participant in a values exercise at a bullying symposium. In this exercise each individual was given a paper that listed 14 ethical values. The facilitator then divided us into groups. Each of us had to choose the five values that were most important to us as individuals. Then we had to tally our individual results and identify the five values that were most important to our group. Finally all of the groups reported back and the facilitators identified the five values that the majority of the groups had identified as most important.

The values that emerged were compassion, fairness, honesty, respect and responsibility. The facilitator then shared some information with us that quite frankly blew me away. Those five ethical values emerge consistently no matter who does that exercise. He produced graphs and charts that included the responses of very diverse groups of people in different parts of the globe. Whatever our gender, age, ethnicity and nationality, it seems we share common ethical values.

Often, however, our differences prevent us from starting the conversation to discover that shared connection. There can be no doubt that it is often difficult to see a reflection of these ethical values in modern society, which seems focused on individuality, greed and competitiveness. Who cares about you as long as I get more? We distract ourselves with the cult of celebrity, the acquisition of stuff, and focus on what we look like, as opposed to why we are here and what we contribute.

Here in Canada we have a business focused television show whose most prominent ad features one of the hosts saying, “Greed is good”. I have to tell you that every time I hear that line I get angry. When exactly did greed become a good thing? I am not a religious person but isn’t greed included in the list of seven deadly sins, along with sloth, anger, pride, lust, envy and gluttony?

Somewhere in the last 20 or so years, we shifted to a society where what used to be considered sins have been translated to virtues. It took the financial meltdown and its aftermath to expose what I believe is a values crisis in modern society. The question to be posed now is how we are going to respond?

I saw a sign of hope recently when I discovered values.com. This site is designed to encourage and inspire us to think about, and talk about our values. It states “The Foundation for a Better Life began as a simple idea to promote positive values. We believe that people are basically good and just need a reminder. And that the values we live by are worth more when we pass them on.”

Almost every contemporary workplace has stated organizational values. Respect often features prominently in these elegantly crafted statements. The problem, as I discuss in Road to Respect, is that in most workplaces those values are “paper values”. They are not talked about. There are no strategies, no reminders to ensure that these values are reflected in workplace practices and workplace relationships. As a result no one is actually living them. They have no real “value”.

I start every day reconnecting with my personal values – Respect, Creativity, Engagement, Responsiveness, Joy, Love. This ritual reminds me on a daily basis who I am and who I want to be in the world. I make a conscious and deliberate choice to align my actions with my values, just as I counsel my clients to do in their workplace cultures.

I have experienced the incredible power of values to break down barriers and create community. I was working with a client to assist in resolving a long standing and destructive conflict within a senior team. In one of our first sessions we did a values exercise. Two team members, who had barely spoken in years and were convinced they had absolutely nothing in common, were stunned to discover that they shared core personal values. That realization was the first step in facilitating the shift to a healthy and productive working relationship.

How often are employees in your workplace reminded about your workplace values? How do you think it might affect your business results if your values were truly lived in your workplace, supporting a positive and respectful workplace community? If you are not sure check out the success of values based companies like Zappos, Four Seasons Hotels, and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Please take a moment today to check out values.com. Share this site with those you work with. It’s a great way to get the conversation started.

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2 Responses to “The True “Value” of Values”

  1. Great and important post. Values must be real not only in the organization, but in the everyday work of employees — such that each employee understands what the values mean in what they do every day.

    I’ve written elsewhere: The missing, but critical, point to understand is that values and culture are inextricably intertwined. The problem arises when a company has its STATED values (on a plaque on the wall, coffee mugs, ID badges) that are entirely different from the demonstrated and TOLERATED values. Regardless of the STATED values, it’s the TOLERATED values around which the culture is formed.

    Think of it this way — ENRON had several stated vales, included integrity. But they sure didn’t demonstrate integrity in their work. The company culture was very much one that encouraged deceit and profit at all costs.

    Helping employees understand the values in their everyday work is as simple as strategic employee recognition — structuring a recognition program based on the principles of frequent, timely and specific recognition that links every recognition moment to the company value demonstrated.

    I wrote more on this idea in this post: http://blog.globoforce.com/2010/06/corporate-culture-myth-or-reality.html

  2. erica pinsky says:

    Thanks so much for your comments Derek, which completely reflect my perspective and experience. Stated vs tolerated values is where I start in Road to Respect. In Chapter 1 “Choosing to Walk the Talk” – A Paper Strategy – Talking is a lot Easier than Walking, I tell a story of doing an investigation for a client (personal harassment aka workplace bullying), sitting in the boardroom doing interviews, staring at their elegantly crafted values statement on a huge board on the wall, and meeting employee after employee suffering becuase of tolerated abused.
    I will check out your post and am so grateful to connect with others “singing off the same song sheet.” Together we can make a difference!
    I would also like to invite you to sign up for my monthly client e-news Refelctions on the Road to Respect, as I believe the content will be of value to you. You can sign up at erica@ericapinskyinc.ca