These past few weeks, we’ve been exploring Guiding Principles: the ideas that create the framework for your company or organization. We’ve covered your mission or statement of purpose, describing what you do, and your vision, describing the impact you want to have on the world. What else is there? Values.
The Clothes You Wear, The Car You Drive
Your organization’s values are a list of traits or concepts that the company holds in the highest esteem. They are the ideals you aspire to and your description of a perfect organization. If your vision is your destination off in the distance, and your mission is the direction you will take to get there, then your values are the car you’re driving. Is it a sports car, an RV, or a tractor trailer? That’s completely up to you.
The purpose of having values is internal calibration. You can judge the appropriateness of what your company produces by its mission statement, and you can judge how far you’ve grown in relation to your vision. Values are what you use to evaluate your internal structure. Your company’s values describe how it goes about completing its goals and growing its programs. More than anything, they define the culture within the company, and act as a handy guide when hiring new staff, setting new rules, or interacting with customers and patrons.
Putting Words Into Action
For example, does your company value transparency? If so, then the metrics and results of performance evaluations should be freely available to the person being evaluated. Staff meetings should be events where company members give a free exchange of ideas across departments.
But let’s take a real-life example:
The Kellog company lists its values as:
From this statement, we could infer that a malicious employee with an inflated ego would not be a good fit in this company because it runs counter to the values of integrity and humility. Similarly, an employee who screwed something up would be expected to take responsibility for their actions and make them right in order to be in alignment with the values of accountability and results.
Not all companies necessary value these things. Some financial firms may see humility and simplicity has barriers to the goal of securing the highest possible returns for their investors. An arts organization may place higher value on the process rather than its results.
Checking Your Alignment
Values are the most elastic of the guiding principles, and are the most likely to shift or change depending on changes in staff and leadership, but this makes them no less vital. In fact, values are the best tool in a leader’s toolbox! They do more than just define the fabric of the company’s inner workings; shared values align the people in your organization towards a common goal (its vision). They define your company as a community of like-minded individuals. A company with strongly-communicated values, and leaders who embody them, will find itself working intuitively, like a well-oiled machine.
Now that we’ve fully defined what Guiding Principles are, next week we’ll circle back around and start talking about how you can structure a workshop series to examine, evaluate, and update them for your own organization. Until then, hit me up here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter if you think I’ve missed the mark.