So you have values. Now what?

Door Patrick Verheij

Everyone has values, but some of us like to make them explicit. In my profession I often encounter people who enjoy creating personal values, team values, andcompany values. Usually a meeting is required to elicit them.

And then they come up with all kinds of values: honesty, respect, trustworthiness, collaboration, growth, openness, quality, and also success.

Yes, quite often values are stated as single words. Try a Google search on the term “values” and you won’t even need to be creative. An example of quite a list can be found here. It will save you even that search.

The problem with single words is that there isn’t much context to them. Quite naturally the context is discussed during the initial meeting at which the values are coined, but remembering all that is a different thing. Especially when new people enter the stage, but also just with the passing of time.

Some clever people thought of a smarter way to write down values. They introduced the opposite of the value in its description. Well-known examples can of course be found in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

By doing this, we have a bit more context. Anytime we now nag other people about buying a specific tool (yes I am talking to you, vendor), we can at least remind ourselves of asking if such a tool will be effective at all in an organization where people and their interactions tend to be similar to those in a friggin’ asylum for the insane.

Despite the added context, misinterpretations will not be absent and time will still do its devastating job regardless of posters stating those valued values, as I have come to believe. Even in those organizations that claim to undergo a full-fledged agile transformation, hardly a handful of people show any signs of actually knowing the agile values let alone live them.

And there you have it: values need to be LIVED.

So instead of just having a blast during a meeting and coming up with a list of bland values, we need to put some energy in learning how to actually live them. That starts with understanding a proposed value and agreeing on what it means if other people are expected to live them too. Values cannot just be forced on people!

You may also want to discuss “why” any proposed value matters at all in the given context you’re in. Perhaps “quality” is proposed. Or even better: “we never compromise on quality”. Why for socks sake does your team or company need just that? Also consider the opposite: what would be the consequences of any lack of attention to quality mean for the team or the entire organization? And then there is the practicality of course: is quality (or never compromising it) always possible? Don’t be surprised if such a value clashes with the value of “making money” of “listen to the boss”. Such values are persistent and tough as rock but almost never explicitly mentioned.

My advise would be to avoid the whole discussion about the why and the priority of your values completely at first. Just start by defining a short list of values that seem relevant and are pretty clear to everyone involved. And then start a much more valuable discussion of how to behave in accordance to those values and…how to remind each other of living them. Especially how to remind yourself.

The best people, teams and organizations live their values. Their actions speak for themselves. That just doesn’t mean they didn’t need to learn living them.

Avoid bragging about your values. Instead, live them and show the difference that you make. Show their true worth. Perhaps you will be a reminder for people who are learning to live their values.

Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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