Some people worry that the process of articulating a set of core values risks creating a kind of “holier than thou” mentality. I think this concern originates from a subtle but significant misunderstanding of how to go about discovering core values. The task of identifying core values is not about stating those values you would like to be known for. And perhaps an intended outcome of ithat approach could be a false sense of importance or superiority. Rather, in my experience, the most effective values articulation process centers on digging deep to identify those values and beliefs about work life the individuals in that organization do truly and authentically hold dear to their heart. Some people experience difficulty with this approach; finding it easier or more comfortable talking about those things they wish they were. But the persistent and recursive effort to zero in on those values we authentically hold and follow can be one of the most rewarding experiences achievable in work life.
Doing so from a place of confidence that these authentically-derived values will become a publicly respected and expected code of conduct, unleashes peoples’ power to act. It clears the cloud found in so many organizations of just exactly what operating principles are expected whether explicitly or implicitly. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” “Business is war” and other commonly repeated conventional wisdom leave ordinary good people confused about what is expected of them by their leadership and therefore can result in hesitation to act, constricting what could otherwise be a natural flow of results.
The truth about identifying an authentic set of core values through honest introspection is that they do not make either the individual or the organization doing so any better than anyone else. They may result in the organization enjoying a clearer sense of self-identity, but not an increased sense of importance. The key point is that these are our values and they are important to us. Properly integrated into the organizational fabric, in times of stress or ambiguity about what is right or how to proceed, core values can serve as a much-needed and strength-giving guiding light.