I asked you this question because even if a value is a common notion, it is quite difficult to define. This difficulty comes in particular because they are used all the time, but mostly without thinking. We use them naturally, almost instinctively. It also comes from the fact that there is no real word to define the nature of value. For example, we talk about behaviors, personal characteristics, behavioral traits, personal rules or norms. A quick internet search gives us lists of values by hundreds: respect, kindness, security, humility, etc. Difficult to find the notion that connects them all.
Finally, I find it easier to speak about their utility to define the concept: we use values to make decisions. To give a definition, I usually prefer to use a metaphor:
Our values form a personal compass, built from our experiences and education, that guide us in our choices and behaviors.
In this article I explain why I believe that it is a strategic tool for teams, I propose a method to define your values and relevant moments to mobilize them.
Values as a foundation for creating a team
When I realized that values were at the root of behaviors and decisions, I immediately understood the great interest of working on this subject. Indeed, if you share the same values in a team:
- You know that in front of the same situation, everyone will naturally adopt a similar behavior or make a coherent decision;
- You can leave more freedom to your collaborators because you know that they will be consistent with what you would have done;
- You enable everyone to feel comfortable with the decisions to be made and the behaviors to adopt.
Shared values can bring team cohesion and foster employees’ well-being. It is also a common standard for management that can help to take a decision. It’s the simplest and most powerful tool I know to build a team. Moreover, the magic of this tool is that everyone already has values and embodies them. This work should not ask you to change your behaviors, but rather to identify your values so you will be able to better embody them as a group.
Analysis of experiences to identify values
I started working on identifying my values to find my co-founder. However, the different methods that I found seemed to me too superficial because essentially declarative (for example one of the most common is to choose without thinking 10 values among a list of 200).
I believe that it is very difficult to determine the values that guide us on a daily basis. All values seem important and yet we embody some more than others. I really feel that by just picking a few words on a list, we might be influenced by a lot of elements and then do a very irrelevant choice (which then can be risky if you set these values as a team foundations).
To determine my values by minimizing bias, I had really simple reasoning. Since my values have guided my choices and behaviors until now, I only have to analyze them to find my values.
In order not to choose fantasized values but to really identify those embodied in everyday life, I propose to start from an analysis of practices. To do this, one of the the important things is to address specific and concrete situations that you experienced. The best is to be able to talk about particular moments and interactions with one or another person.
Here is the procedure that I propose to identify your values:
1Define the longest possible list of “positive” behaviors. I put the quotation marks because they are positive behaviors for you. They are not necessarily for everyone. I advise to write one behavior on one post-it and try to reach more than 50. To make this list, you can:
- Analyze situations that you have appreciated to identify the positive behavior (s) that explain why you liked it;
- Analyze situations that brought you frustrations, tensions or even created conflicts and identify the “negative” behaviours that led to these situations;
- For each “negative” behaviour, define what would have been the “positive” one to adopt in the same situation;
- Expand the analysis by focusing on processes: decision, recruitment promotion, conflict, and departure management.
2Group behaviors that seem similar in your mind (those that are consistent and seem to express the same idea) and that can be explained by the same value.
3Choose a word for each of these groups to express the value behind it. This word does not need to be a value in the philosophical sense. The most important thing is that it speaks to you and represents what you want to say.
4Write your value charter. I propose a structure to do that in the next part of this article
Here is a series of questions that can help you in Step 1 (you can add “and why” at the end of each question)
To identify “positive” behaviors: Who is the last person you met and appreciated from the beginning? Can you describe a collaboration that works easily? Can you explain some of behaviors you have observed and find important towards external stakeholders (clients, participants, partners, investors); and behaviors that you always find positive within a team (for the team / for you); What do you do and would you like to see more from your colleagues? Who in your team is so aligned with culture that he could be the model. Which of your friends or family would you easily recruit because it would suit your team?
To identify “negative” behaviors: With what friend do you know that you could never work even if you like her or him? Can you talk about someone with whom the interaction has been particularly complicated? Can you name behaviors that you observed and that you always find negative between colleagues or with a partner;or behaviours that put you in a bad mood in the morning or that you find unacceptable at work?
Writing the value charter:
In order to complete this work and be able to use it, we must make a choice from the group you have to identify your key values. To start, I recommend choosing two to four values. If the choice is not clear to you, and you find it hard to prioritize, you can come back to behaviors and compare the importance of behaviors from one value to those of the other one.
For this charter of values, I propose a three-level structure for each value:
- Level 1: The value in a sentence.
- Level 2: A definition of this value with your own words. It is interesting to explain why it is important to you as well as the “ingredients” that you put in this value.
- Level 3: a selection of behaviors to express how this translates concretely in your daily work concretely.
Behavior is a way of acting in a particular situation. Concretely, you can write them in the form of an affirmative sentence that starts with “I” and contains between 2 to 3 ingredients: an action, a context and sometimes an explanation. I + action + when + context + because + explanation.
Example with the Boldness value for a fictional company “Alpha”
Be careful not to fall into the temptation of not going far enough in the writing. One of the strengths of any value is to always be positive (it’s always good to say that we have this or that value). However, if no one can say “this value, I do not embody it”, then your charter of values lose their interest.
To work only with people who share your values, you need to express them in a way that makes them cleavant. People have to be able to know honestly if they truly and naturally embody this value or not. This is why the structure is so complete and goes until the behaviors.
Values are always positive, but the behaviors they induce make them cleavant by allowing everyone to say, “I embody it or not”.
Then, values can be a tool for every team management moments
Once defined, your values can be the foundation of your corporate culture if they are shared by everybody. For this, you have to transpose them in every strategic moment of team management. I usually advise teams to use them too much. They will be relevant only if they are integrated at all levels and translated into decisions and practices, so use them as much as possible. In the beginning, take them out on every occasion and ask yourself if it is relevant or not. You’ll see it quickly, and it’s better to take them out too much. Anyway, here are some examples :
- When recruiting it can help you to know if the person will integrate easily into the team.
- For conflict management, values can be an objective reference and/or a very useful mediation tool.
- On a daily basis, values facilitate management by helping everyone to take the “right” decision and adopt the “good” behavior.
- When making a strategic decision it can help to find the “best” option for your team
To come back to the definition, I said that values are like a natural compass. The power of values resides also in this natural character. Indeed, we all have values, we already embody them and they instinctively guide us on a daily basis. Then, it is not a tool that requires us to change. On the contrary, it allows everyone to be fully oneself within a collective.
I therefore strongly encourage you to do this work for yourself, with your team or potential associate or before joining a team. However, to make sure they are truly authentic, you will have to dare to go to the “negative” side as well. In teams, for example, it is important to analyze situations experienced within the group and in particular some that brought tension.
In any case, be honest and do not try to hide anything. The true values are easy to read with relevance in light of the evolutions, the behaviors, the choices and the reality of the project and the team. If you want to create a tool which has a chance to be useful, you need to set your authentic values.
Do not try to lie … it will be easily seen!
To go further, the very good Ted-X by Ruth Chang (How to make difficult choices) is particularly interesting in this dynamic. She explains that the toughest choices are great opportunities to get to know yourself better. Indeed, faced with a dilemma, there is no good answer because since no decision will be unanimous. The only “good” answer is therefore in yourself.
I also discussed this subject with Ticket for Change for their Podcast Vécus. I explain the process we used to determine our values at Pack Your Skills and I give some tips for using them. It is in French but let’s have a call if you want it in English.
PS: I also wrote another article about the purpose of a project: Why (and how) to define the purpose of his project. I invite you to read it because, for me, it is the second essential ingredient when you have a project. Values give consistency to the team, the purpose gives a direction. A team with a strong and shared purpose but without common values is a motivated group, but in which it can be hard to move forward together. A team that shares the same values without having a common purpose is closer to a group of friends than a motivated team to develop a project.
And if you want to exchange, find me on www.instinkto.fr