Why values matter

A new year has begun! About this time every year, we hear about how the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February, how gym attendance spikes and then returns to pre-holiday levels, how new financial practices are adopted and quickly discarded. Why does that happen? 

Whether it’s a personal resolution or a change you’re making at your organization, it’s often because we too easily set goals without thinking about why they truly matter to us or how we’re going to meet them. That’s why we love to set goals by starting with our core values, which provide a lot of information about what is most important to you. When you make decisions through the lens of those core values, the way forward gets a lot clearer.

Meaningful values should be more than lofty concepts you believe in – they should be integral, crucial parts of your daily work. There are so many incredible benefits to knowing what your values are and making them a part of the fabric of your organization. In fact, your organization’s core values serve as a roadmap that helps you:

  • Shape your culture
  • Find the best people to do work with, from employees to vendors to strategic partners
  • Make big decisions, determining what to say yes to and when to take a pass
  • Figure out how to respond when things go wrong

When an organization knows what their values are and threads them through their day-to-day work, it helps them navigate stormy seas and maximize golden opportunities. Put another way, if you want to be successful as an organization – you’ve simply got to know what your core values are.

How do you know if you have the right values?

Your core values will be effective for you when they are an accurate representation of who your organization is at its core.  Imagine a collection of characteristics, wherein if you eliminated one from the list, it would fundamentally change the fabric of your organization.  Here are a few things that core values usually aren’t:

Aspirational. We’re not talking about things you wish your organization could be one day, but the things that you hold dear today. Let’s picture an organization that as a general rule, has a hard time sticking to deadlines. There’s a culture of consistently running five minutes late to meetings and coming in 2-3 days late with project deadlines. If they named “accountability” as a value, this shows wishful thinking rather than a true reflection of what they hold important above all else. In an organization where accountability is truly held as a core value, things don’t run habitually late.

Pay-to-play. There are some things that lie at the core of every strong organization. These are things that we should just expect from one another. They’re not distinct values that make your organization special. Integrity. Honesty. Respect. Unless your organization goes far beyond a basic level of human decency in these areas, these are pay-to-play values, not core values.

 Easy to determine. It’s not a case of just picking a bunch of nice-sounding words from a list of values that you found on Google and throwing them in your strategic plan. Deciding your core values comes with some struggle and disagreement – and a meaningful investment of time. It’s worth it. These are the things that are going to shape how success is defined at your organization, who gets hired and fired, and what gets celebrated. If you pick too quickly, you’ll soon discover they’re not worth the paper they’re typed on.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out Part 2 of “Finding Your Values,” where I delve into the process of developing the right values for your organization. You may also enjoy episode 122 of the How to Change the World Podcast, where I work with professional coach and habits expert Chesa Mendez to explore and identify her personal core values. (It’s a great sneak peek at the process!)

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