How to discover your organizational values?

Are you trying to define what keeps your organization together? Do you want to discover your organizational values? Would you like to write down “the way things get done around here?” Then, read on!

I am frequently asked to help brands and organizations to discover their values. Not so rarely, my clients give me a piece of paper, on which their existing values are written. On that paper, you would see a laundry list of cliché (or sometimes trendy) words like: Integrity, teamwork, efficiency… Not only these words often feel inauthentic to the organization, but also they are like deserted islets, standing all alone, waiting to be instilled some meaning. That’s why we need to divide the task of “organizational values development” into two phases: Discovering the “right” values, and then breathing life into them.

Based on my experience, if you are dealing with values, you’d better have some knowledge of depth psychology, which deals with the “real” psyche – soul… The reason I say this is because depth psychology is the most fertile and insight-filled field that deals with human behaviour. Just as modern physics shows that empty space is far from being “empty”, depth psychology shows that “culture” is far from being an afterthought. Once you start speaking the language of the psyche, you will never look at things the same again.

So, where should you start? If you do have sufficient funds, you could hire Kenexa for a Cultural Insight Survey. If you want to do it in-house, then you might find this, this, and this book helpful. These books would give you a structured way of dealing with values.

Now that you discovered your authentic values, you need to awaken the meaning of those words. Keep in mind that two people could have a completely different understanding of the exact same word. For instance, when you hear the word chaos, probably this comes to your mind. But the same word would mean this to a physicist. As this simple example shows, words are like boats, drifting by the currents of the ocean. For a boat to stay put, you need to anchor it.

This can be done by writing a very brief explanation for each value. Values are like gravity: We cannot see the gravity, but we see its impact. Values are abstract, intangible concepts. But their impact on behaviour can be seen clearly. So, instead of trying to describe the value, define the desired behaviour. My favourite example -and the one my clients find very helpful- is Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues. Once you discovered your values, emulate his thinking, and describe the desired behaviour. Here is a piece of wisdom from Franklin.

I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning… These Names of Virtues with their Precepts were:

  1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to Dulness. Drink not to Elevation.
  2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or your self. Avoid trifling Conversation.
  3. ORDER. Let all your Things have their Places. Let each part of your Business have its Time.
  4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY. Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY. Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. JUSTICE. Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
  9. MODERATION. Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no Uncleanliness in Body, Clothes, or Habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY. Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

There you have it, the 2-step process of how to discover your organizational values. Tell me what you think, and feel free to contact me for more! If you liked this article, feel free to share it with your colleagues and friends!

And as a bonus, I like to share an infograhic about how to create corporate culture.

Corporate Culture

540-698 Dovercourt Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada

Leave a Reply