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The value of values

Danny Ruspandini - Impact Labs Australia
Danny R.

Speaking with a group of colleagues today, I was reminded of a lesson I learned years back about the real value of identifying company values.

Have you ever considered why we write company values?

They’re often thought of as a one-and-done exercise - come up with some values, slap them on the wall and we’re done... that’s how a lot of organisations do it, but the real value comes when you use them as a daily filter.

Author Patrick Lencioni identifies 4 types of values:

Aspirational Values

Values you work towards but haven’t achieved yet.

Eg: If your team often have to work late, but this goes against what you’d like to see happening in your company, you might consider adding something like “work-life balance” as a core value - which would likely need some time to instil across the company.

Accidental Values

Things that are identifiable within the walls of your organisation, but aren’t always useful or practical in other ways.

Eg: The sales team goes out for sushi every Friday night to celebrate a good week. Great for team culture, but not necessarily something you can filter decision-making through.

Permission-To-Play Values

The minimum we all expect a business to have - by definition, they’re not unique. Many organisations confuse Permission-To-Play values with Core values. They’re not differentiators, they’re simply table-stakes.

Eg: Honesty - of course it’s an important value to have, but shouldn’t every business operate honestly?

Core Values

These are the ones that are never compromised. They’re unique qualities to your organisation, and they’re developed directly from two of the most unique things your business has - your people, and your goals.

Core Values are the ones that drive every action and decision your company makes, from hiring team members to working with clients, from financial purchases to small daily decisions.

(Lencioni goes into more detail in his Harvard Business Review article here).

Example of using values as a filter (anonymous client)

Our client (a software company) had 4 core values, one of them was “Never Compromise on Quality”.

They build video editing software that has been a dominant player in their space for over a decade - the interface is intuitive and minimal, and every feature is thoughtfully built. In the words of their clients, it’s an almost flawless system.

A new feature that was requested by users, was to export finished video directly to social, rather than exporting the video first then uploading it.

The request was interesting and the team discussed it - some advantages were that they would be the first to market with this feature, as no one had done it well yet. Some challenges came up too, like the fact that at any moment, any social channel (Instagram for example) could change something that would make the feature lag, or even break.

Even if they rolled out it out to just one social channel at a time, there are just too many social channels for the team to constantly monitor them all for changes, so the potential for a broken feature is high.

They asked: Does this satisfy our value of “Never Compromise on Quality”?

The high likelihood of the feature breaking, which would compromise the quality of the product, meant that the answer was no, it doesn’t satisfy the value. While it would be a popular feature, they decide against implementing it - it didn’t pass the filter.

In summary

When your core values can be used as filters, you’ll use them all the time. You’ll ask “does this fit with our values? Does this keep us on the path towards our goals?”. It can be a quick yes or no.

This is why values like “Honesty” are ineffective. Of course you’re honest all the time, right? 😄 It doesn’t help with important decision making.

If you’re interested in a simple framework for uncovering your organisations Core Values (it sounds simple enough but can be a head-scratching process) I’ll share what we use in a future email.

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