Our Values. You see this phrase everywhere – your mechanic’s shop, the locker room of your gym and in hospital elevators everywhere. But what is the value of that list of values? What value does it hold for you? What value does it hold for your customers? Having appropriate, meaningful values is one part of establishing your vision. Your purpose and your picture of the future make it complete. Let’s consider those lofty words framed in your foyer or customer lounge area. What value do your values hold? How do they relate to your purpose or your picture of the future?
Your picture of the future describes what things will look like when you are successful in carrying out your purpose or mission. Your values are how you want your people to behave along the journey. Transferring your values throughout your organization or practice creates a “front line transactional and relationship-producing [culture] designed to serve the customer with the greatest possible value, trust and benefit.”1 Consider three simple keys for giving meaning to the values you’ve established for your organization.
Key # 1 – Not So Many
Do you really think your employees are constantly striving to adhere to a list of 12 values framed in the break room? People can’t focus on more than three or four values that really impact behavior.2 Values are not created to impress your customers or to discipline employees who stray from them. Values are about what is non-negotiable to you, the business owner or leader of the organization. If you want to give your team the best opportunity to behave by the values most important to you, whittle down that list to three or four. Your hard work will be worth the investment of your effort. You team will be able to focus on what’s most important to you.
Key # 2 – Prioritize Your Values
Behavior happens in various situational contexts. For this reason, values must be rank ordered or prioritized. Here is where a good consultant will usually ask, “Which of your values is most important?” And here is where idealistic management teams typically reply, “They are all equally important.” Really?
Suppose your business is an urgent care clinic and two of the your values are safety and promptness of care. Are those always equally important? Certainly not. Some situations will be such that the only way you can honor your value for safety would be to elevate it above promptness of care. Life is about value choices. Your business is no different. You would not do anything to violate a value for safety in order to equally honor one which was subordinate.
Consider the late Walt Disney. Mr. Disney started his theme park business with four rank-ordered values: (1) Safety, (2) Courtesy, (3) ”The Show”, and (4) Efficiency.
Since Walt’s picture of the future was people leaving his theme park as happy as they were when they entered it, safety had to be a priority concern. If someone entered with two good arms and left later with one arm in a sling, they were not going to be very happy.
When “conflicts arise, people need to know what values they should focus on. Without guidelines, people will create their own order of priority [which] may lead away from fulfilling the desired organizational purpose and picture of the future.”3
Key # 3 – Measure Your Progress
Our noble purposes may unwittingly lead us to develop an ethereal view of our actions and attitudes. Consider a business whose values are integrity, respect, individuality and character. Ask the management team if they are behaving by their values. Ninety percent of the time you get an almost immediate and dismissive, “Of course”. Saying we are living by our values is one thing; proving it is another.
Our clients work through a simple exercise. You can do it, too. Place each of your values, one at a time, into the blank below and complete the sentence. Use it as a measure of how well your values drive behavior in your organization . Make it a test of everyday reality.
We will know we are honoring our value for __________ when…
Example: We will know we are honoring our value for safety when we have thirty-six months without a workplace accident requiring medical attention.
Any time your test statement doesn’t match reality, realign your organization or its people to your values. As Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Integrate these three keys into what you value and watch your performance climb.
1 McCarthy, Kevin W. The On-Purpose Business. (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press), 1998), p. 117.
2 Blanchard, Ken. Leading at a Higher Level (Upper Saddle River, NJ: BMC, Blanchard Management Companies, 2010), p. 24.
3 Blanchard, Ken & Hodges, Phil. Lead Like Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 90.