The values of your organization are an aggregation of the values of the individual employees in your organization. Would you like to leave the final outcome with respect to your organizational values to chance and let them take a final shape on their own, whatever that might be, or would you like to thoughtfully construct your organizational values by carefully selecting people who believe in and naturally live by the values you would like your organization to possess?
Since the values of your organization are merely an aggregation of the values of most employees, you need to start your thought process by understanding the individual values first. Think about how values work in an individual.
First, values are a mental phenomenon. They establish their base in an individual’s mind. Values are essential guiding principles that help you make your decisions. One starts to “think” about what one should do and what one should not do depending upon the values established in their “mind”.
Second, values develop by one having thought about them for a long time in the past, mostly at a subconscious level. People listen to what is being said at home, in their neighbourhoods, at school, at work, at social gatherings and in such other environments that they frequent as they go about their life. They pick up certain values subconsciously from these environments. They may sometimes also cultivate certain values at a conscious level.
Since the values of your organization are merely an aggregation of the values of most employees, you need to first understand the values of an individual and how they develop in an individual.
So individual values are a mental phenomenon and they are established by repeatedly thinking about them over a period of time. This is important because if you wish to do anything about your organization’s values, you now know that it will most certainly involve the mind of the individuals and that they might have firmly established certain values — patterns of thought — in their minds through repetition over the past many years.
Because the process involves the minds of the individual team members and not just your own mind, you cannot merely tell them what to do and expect it to materialize. If as an organization, you have defined a set of core values in isolation and you hope that your people will follow them, that approach might run counter to the way values develop in the first place. The problem is not with your hope that your people must live by those values. That seems like quite a reasonable thing to expect. The problem is with the way the expectation has been laid out.
Our past values have developed because we have thought about them for a long time, consciously or subconsciously.
So, after defining the values, if the next step is ‘We now expect you to follow them’, then the odds are high that it will not turn out that way. This is because before the values are followed, they must be established firmly in an individual’s mind first. If you have not put in place a systematic process that will ensure that those values are established in their mind, your hope may never be realized.
“Define the values and they will follow them” is quite similar to saying “Build it, and they will come”. They most probably won’t. You would have to find them, educate them, train them and build trust. It is natural to indulge in the illusions of hope, but hope is not a strategy. You need the 3T framework to implement it effectively — Train yourself, Train your team, Train repeatedly.
Most key elements in the organization start with you, and values are one of the most important instruments in the mix. It starts with you. Do you genuinely embody the values you want others to follow? Do you think about them on an ongoing basis — are they quite frequently on your mind or do you just bring them up when you must give an official talk to your employees? Do you demonstrate them even when no one is watching? Values almost always work through imitation.
If I consistently see my superiors talking a certain way, thinking a certain way, behaving a certain way, the probability that I would imitate them is fairly high. This works both ways, and the non-desirable characteristics are imitated far more quickly than the desirable ones. For instance, if a manager is given to talking ill of others behind their backs, many subordinates might start to imitate that, and the ones who find it inappropriate might find it difficult to effectively work with, and respect, such a manager.
“Define the values and they will follow them” is quite similar to saying “Build it, and they will come”.
It is quite possible that living a fast-paced competitive life, you might not have thought deeply about your values. You may not have a well-defined system of internal guidelines that you use to make your decisions. If you have been looking outward most of the time and do not look inward very frequently, you might have also imbibed certain behaviours by watching others merely because certain things look fascinating, or are made to look so. You might have forgotten to ask — Is this right for me or not?
Many leaders are adept at creating a financially valuable organization but struggle with creating a valuable life for themselves. The reason is not that they are incompetent at doing so. The reason is much simpler and quite empowering. They just lack training. They haven’t trained themselves in values so have perhaps followed their natural instincts or what they saw others do without affording it much thought. Contemplation on who you truly are and what you stand for changes everything.
Think about it this way. If I said that an organization’s leader is great at generating business but is not as good at singing, dancing, or painting, would that alarm you? Probably not. Does that mean that the individual is incompetent? It does not. It simply means that they are not trained in a certain skill or art form. Don’t mistake inexperience for incompetence.
It is quite possible that living a fast-paced competitive life, you might not have thought deeply about your values. You might have forgotten to ask — Is this right for me or not?
Values work exactly the same way. If you do not train yourself consciously, your subconscious will train you the way it wants to. Because you are constantly absorbing information from the outside world, that training could take various forms. It is better to define that form for yourself consciously first. If you live in a restless world, you are much more likely to absorb restlessness subconsciously unless you install a filter consciously. That needs training.
Ignore everything that suggests values are something you either have or don’t. One, that is completely untrue. But more importantly, it suggests a dead end in life. Never accept a dead-end in such matters. You are alive. With training, in almost all cases you can turn things around no matter how bad they are.
Train your team
Recall that an organization is merely an aggregation of human beings and that the values of an organization are essentially the collective values of all or most of the people who make up the organization.
Think about a magnetic compass as an analogy. The magnetic needle in the compass rests in a North-South direction when left free of any external force. What does that mean? The needle itself is an aggregation of many atoms, each of which must point North-South in order to enable the entire needle to point North-South. What if the opinion amongst the various atoms were divided? What if they wish to individually point in different directions?
Would the organization made up of those individual atoms — we call that a needle — point in the North-South direction? Unlikely.
How would you mend such a situation? Do you think if the CEO of the needle made an announcement that from tomorrow, we all are going to point only in the North-South direction, that would be sufficient? Or if she were to display this on all the walls of the magnetic compass, would that work?
While instructions might work better in certain regimented environments, an enterprise usually isn’t one. Training, however, does work remarkably well. But only the right training.
Many leaders are adept at creating a financially valuable organization but struggle with creating a valuable life for themselves.
Just like you took the time to train yourself, take the time to train your team on those values. The crucial element to keep in mind is that you can have a busy regime of such training and yet see no conspicuous result in the mindset of your employees. In such a case, the problem usually lies with the method, the manner or the credibility of the team conducting such training.
It is not uncommon to see such training being conducted in a transactional and robotic manner. The trainers themselves may display no personal commitment to those values. They may not radiate any conviction about their training material. While you may complete the training session and tick it off your list, the effectiveness of that training depends on the intensity of the trainer and the authenticity of the methods used. If you deliver the training mechanically, do not expect your people to be inspired. You did it to essentially tick an item off your list. So did they.
Most values and vision trainings, if they ever occur, fail to have much impact primarily because they lack the conviction of the leader, or the conviction of the trainer, or both. In certain cases, the methods might sound very well-researched, but they lack heart. They lack the ability to make a meaningful connection.
The trainers themselves may display no personal commitment to those values. They may not radiate any conviction about their training material.
The ideal situation is for the leader to train their team members himself. So as a leader, don’t just train yourself to follow certain values. Train yourself also to train your team members on those values. When they watch you live by those values every day, your training sessions automatically gain credibility. They look forward to it, because they are inspired, not because they need to finish this task off their checklist.
You could also be trying to inculcate certain specific behaviours in your team members — honesty, politeness, innovation, etc. Remember this: Unethical = Untrained. Unimaginative = Untrained. Uncouth = Untrained. Uninspired = Untrained. Uninnovative = Untrained.
You can bring about almost any behavioural change with the right training and the right methods.
Train your team.
Once you have taken the time to train yourself and your team, the next step is to keep your mind dust-free going forward. If you do not do something about it actively, the external influences will start to affect you eventually. This is less like learning how to ride a bicycle and more like learning to sing or paint. Learning it once is not sufficient. You need to practice constantly, or you will lose your skill. You are especially vulnerable when you have trained yourself for the first time because the ideas have not yet gained a strong enough hold upon you.
Consider this to be an important maintenance exercise of your mental energies and those of your team members. A breakdown in their energies might not be as visual a phenomenon as the breakdown of some physical machinery inside a factory might be where one can see that something physical that was moving and probably even making noise has now very clearly stopped functioning, but it is hardly less important. Your mental energies drive your physical world. They are most important so must be maintained well.
If you do not do something about it actively, the external influences will start to affect you eventually.
Once you and your team have trained on certain principles of values and vision, you must undergo refresher training periodically. A refresher training need not last the entire duration of the original training and could be an abridged version of it. You must go through such a refresher program at least once a year. If you have the discipline, a refresher training twice a year is a perfect way to keep the doctor away.
A periodic refresher training is critical. As you move through life, external influences will impinge on your collective mind. You will watch other people, listen to other people or read about various things going about in the world. All these activities have the potential to influence you and veer you off track.
You need to constantly refresh the sanctity of your values and vision inside your mind to keep it active. If you don’t, you slowly start to regress to your older, untrained self.
Your values anchor
There are many ways to create a financially successful organization. But should you wish to create one that is truly inspiring, you will need a strong foundation of values and a regular habit of Contemplation on those values. To acquire and maintain that strong foundation you need to train yourself, train your team members, and train repeatedly. No shortcuts to this exist, and they never will.
A strong values anchor holds you steady as you navigate the professional waters. It can help you define new paradigms as well as get you through uncertain times peacefully. If your team has also been trained in the same values, the level of camaraderie and belongingness can be almost touching.
Values are the ideological hooks on which you can hang your product development strategy, fundraising, business model canvas, people strategy, customer service and other elements of your business. You will place your non-financial vision, culture, OKRs and compensation atop these values.
The following is the Adios framework for Organizational Strategy: Values — Non-Financial Vision — Culture — OKRs — Compensation. Here is what you are saying if you were to translate the framework into sentences:
These are the Values that we believe in and we have taken steps to train ourselves in them; Using these Values we wish to achieve this Non-Financial Vision; To do that, these are the behavioural characteristics of the team and hence the Culture we would like to have in our organization; OKRs is how we will measure our progress so we stay on track; This is how we will pay you for the short-term (monthly salary), medium-term (bonus) and long-term (stock options) which would be in alignment with our Values (and sometimes might be quite different from what many others might be doing).
Values are the ideological hooks on which you can hang your product development strategy, fundraising, business model canvas, people strategy, customer service and other elements of your business.
You must have a strong foundation of values underneath so the organizational edifice stands strong and tall for a long time to come. Think in multiples of decades, not years.
What can you achieve over the next decade using the Adios Framework? Answer this question in detail by writing in your journal.
It is always better to take the fundamentally stronger road. That road, in this case, is the road of values and vision. You will never go wrong on that one. It might be a little harder and a slightly longer path to where you wish to go. But it will be your road, not a borrowed one. There are many right roads to take, but the one right for you may not necessarily be right for someone else.
Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Discover your own right road.