Values Will Save You

business values leadersI can’t count the number of times I’ve brought up “values” with leaders of organizations as a way to solve a problem only to be met with a knowing smile. Then the leader goes on to explain what the organization’s values are and how they have contributed to the success of the organization and isn’t it great?! What they typically fail to see is that we were discussing a problem and that if the values had been lived, the problem would not exist.

A great example of what I am pointing to is what has happened to Twitter. As this recent NY Times Op-Ed piece so eloquently points out, Twitter relies on its “rules,” not values to decide how to curate content. However, if they really enforced their values, it’s unlikely we’d have the online scream fests, shame conventions and downright mean-spirited and nasty behavior that has become commonplace on their platform.

To change behavior, all it takes is for one person to say “no, I don’t think so.” Then another to follow and then several others to feel it’s okay not to participate in whatever it is. But the initial “naming” of the behavior as not acceptable is the hardest part for most people to do, including leaders. It takes courage to do so and, in a workplace when one is not in a position of authority, it’s doubly difficult because the real loss might be the job and income to support oneself or one’s family. The cost can be high for saying no but I would argue it’s higher for saying nothing.

Most surveys of employees will tell you that fulfillment and happiness in the workplace are higher when the organization has a mission-driven culture or purpose, or that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s meaningful. At the core of that meaning is a set of values that are being realized or lived. When we are in a state of flow, we are living out our values, our talents and who we were meant to be. Great workplaces live and die by their values – take Zappos for example. They have a very defined set of values that guide behavior and if you don’t like it, you leave, and they help you to do so.

However, even if your company doesn’t have an overarching purpose that is inspirational, it can help people achieve what they want, be who they are, and live their values. As the leader, you need to go first and don’t equivocate if it’s a value that the company was founded on. Be courageous and stand up for your values – rules follow values, not the other way around. You are the ultimate enforcer of the values by living them. If you don’t, they are not real lived values, they only exist on paper.

For everyone, considering the company we work for, the work we do, and the people we work with will instantly bring into focus whether your values are aligned or not. And if you’re not happy, it’s likely there is a significant values misalignment and time for a change. If you’re the leader, you can be courageous and make a stand for who and what your company is – values first.