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Core Values

We’ve all seen the mission statements, the vision statements and the core values that adorn corporate websites and brochures. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect what the company does or how it behaves. All to often we see companies say one thing but do another. That’s not congruent. And it’s just not cricket*

Congruence

We believe in congruence as a core value. We don’t just believe it, we practice it, we encourage it, we nurture it and we promote it. It shouldn’t just be our core value, we want others to adopt it as well.

Then what?

So let’s assume you’ve written your core values (if you haven’t, get in touch, we can accelerate that). What do you do with them now?

It’s worth going right back to basics. There are two words in that phrase: Core + Values.

So far you’ve identified the values of your organisation. You haven’t made them core yet. This is the step that infamous organisations trip up on. We need to ensure that every action in the organisation is aligned to those values.

Transparency

We’re in fascinating times right now, watching the world enter lockdown. We’re also getting to watch how companies are behaving.

Some companies are acting true to their core values. They’re extending grace periods to customers and suppliers, they’re offering support beyond what’s contracted, they’re treating customers as human beings. These companies are being praised in social media and are likely to emerge with a newer, more loyal following.

Other companies have either lost sight of the values, they’re not connected to those values or they never identified them anyway. These are enforcing contracts with the full rigour that they have access to, they’re pushing responsibility away from their own organisation and onto suppliers and customers, they’re treating customers as assets. They are losing customers now and they’ll continue to lose them until they change how they interact with people.

Becoming Core

So how do we ensure that we fully integrate those values?

Every decision needs to reflect back to those values. It sounds simple but so many organisations let them lapse. It requires active maintenance and discipline until it’s just how everyone acts.

1) Make them visible

Those posters have a place, but they’re usually in the wrong place. One organisation we consulted with had the core values on posters in the corridors. We were in a meeting making decisions with the client and we stepped outside to look at the value. No-one had ever done that before. They’d just ignored the values.

Another company provided values on business cards for their staff. It was a bit gimmicky but could have worked had they met the remaining criteria.

2) Reduce the number

If you can’t remember and recite them, you have too many. The recital doesn’t need to be word-perfect, but it should reflect the tone and purpose of the value.

A handful is a good guide.

Don’t make the mistake of combining 15 draft values into 5 by using several clauses and lists.

3) Write them with the recipient in mind

Make them easy to understand and easy to use. Think about the agile manifesto, not only does it show what’s good, it shows what alternative good is better than. So it’s easier to make a choice.

4) Use them

In every meeting with major decisions, and in many with more minor, refer to the core values. Are you adhering to them? If not, why not. Make it a habit of checking the decisions against the core values. Make it obvious that you’re assessing decisions against the values.

5) Don’t start without them

This is an extension to (4). Many companies start projects that don’t align with the core values. Either the values have been forgotten or ignored. This is one of the most expensive wastes a company can create and has potential to cause significant reputational damage when it goes wrong.

Every project should to be assessed against the core values. While preparing the business case, while agreeing to start and at regular intervals thereafter. Don’t let projects stray.

6) It’s everyone’s responsibility, but make someone accountable for making it happen

The person/team assessing alignment to core values has to have sufficient influence to alter the direction of the change portfolio.

Don’t leave this to your PMO or benefits manager to assess. Not unless they can prove both rigour and impartiality. They need to the rigour to assess alignment ruthlessly. They need the impartiality to not cloud or influence their judgement. That includes admitting that the PMO function itself may not be sufficient.

7) Don’t forget new starters

While the authors of your company’s core values may live and breathe them, the values have to persevere and last beyond their initial creation.Take some time to consider how best to encourage their adoption by new starters. It could be that you want to start earlier and ensure that potential recruits are already aligned with your values. That doesn’t mean that you should hire clones. You can still diversify even with the same values.

8) Don’t forget corporate partners

Talk to your suppliers and customers. Understand where your values align with them, and importantly, what may cause friction. If you understand what each other counts as important, you’ll have a better idea of how you can improve your collaboration.

9) Think of them as a proxy for your conscience

I’ve heard two versions of this:

“Conscience is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”

C.S. Lewis

You can’t be everywhere all the time. So establish the core values as a proxy for you being in the room making the decision. Thinking of them in that way will force you to think of the difficulties your staff may face and the advice you want to give them so that they you’d approve of their actions.

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Design Governance

What do you focus on?

This slide deck is based on a brief presentation that Alan gave back in 2019, describing how the advantages of staying at the same level of detail together, rather than heading straight for detail.