Co-creating organisational values
Our collective business actions and decisions are guided by our individual and shared values. Being intentional and mindful of their impacts is essential for a sustainable business.
Creating a new business is, in equal parts, creatively stimulating and creatively complex. Standard practice dictates that we write a mission, vision, purpose, and values into the new idea. These, of course, are really reflections of the creators, or perhaps, co-creators personal values and vision. By writing them, what then, do we expect of them? Let’s start with values;
Values game of ‘Top Trumps’
We love to write corporate ‘organisational values’ statements that imbue our businesses and organisations with some human qualities, principles, and ethics. They are intended as a guide to ‘behaviours’ across the business. A centralised, unified guiding set of principle behaviour expectations, to be more exact. Are we really expected to be homogenised and standardised the moment we step into a new business, or when a new values statement gets ‘released’?
These, for instance, are The Good Stream’s as of January 2021;
- Creativity [Joy in shared creative exploration]
- Openness [Seeking collaboration, honesty & reciprocity]
- Curiosity [Always listening, learning and thoughtful]
- Spirited [Go forward with positivity & determination]
- Liberated [Non-conformity & courage to challenge]
- Compassion [Deep care for our relationships with people & nature]
These are, of course, what I value and believe in. They are personal me. So what really happens with these values as this business invites people in and makes new relationships?
Perhaps a useful metaphor?
I used to love playing Top Trumps as a kid (and with my kids). We all wanted to be like Frodo here, who wouldn’t want to to have a Resilience of 10? Small in stature, big in heart!
Consider then, how the personal values Top Trumps game often plays out in the work environment; my Openness score may trump your Openness score, so I am the winner of that round. By the rules of the game, you are the loser and you feel your Caution score would have been a better hand for the business. Very rarely is a conversation is a opened, asking why our value scores differ, why this is the nature of being individual, and how our belief systems compliment each other.
In this standard business game, all we do is win, lose, draw or overpower – one value (belief) trumps another.
Add to this game, organisational Top Trumps cards, the game then becomes increasingly tense and complex.
Whose values win?
Having worked on my ‘organisational values’ I have a nagging feeling of doubt.
We write them – usually in isolation to our people and stakeholders – and publish them blindly, but who really lives them? And what do we expect all our employees to ‘sign-up-to’?
“Do we expect our organisational values to Trump our people’s self-defining beliefs and value systems?”
In LOTR, the people, hobbits, elves and wizards had deep cultural and personal values (and I dare say, so did goblins & orcs). All of which were distinctly and wonderfully different. That was their richness and strength as individuals and as a Fellowship. Loyalty to each other and the Fellowship’s purpose was central to getting that One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. This is no different from business. If we don’t openly talk about and share our personal and organisational values, and how these shape our beliefs, expectations, and limits of others, then we start toward the shared business purpose blinkered and hobbled.
No winners or losers
This should be, in reality, a game where all values and strengths would be different on every individual card. So, nobody is winner or loser, just individual and complex. This beautiful complexity all working toward the shared organisation ‘living purpose'. Our individual values never being subjugated by the organisational values statement, but always personally alive and in tune with the organisation. Forever individual, respected and frequently celebrated.
 Kate Raworth – Doughnut Economics, Penguin Random House [Page 233 – redefining the business of business] “Today’s most innovative enterprises are inspired by the same idea: that the business of business is to contribute to a thriving world. And the growing family of enterprise structures that are intentionally distributive by design – including cooperatives, not-for-profits, community interest companies, and benefit corporations – can be regenerative by design too. By explicitly making a regenerative commitment in their corporate by-laws and enshrining it in their governance, they can safeguard a ‘living purpose’ through times of leadership change and protect it from mission creep. Indeed the most profound act of corporate responsibility for any company today is to rewrite its corporate by-laws, or articles of association, in order to redefine itself with a living purpose, rooted in regenerative and distributive design, and then to live and work by it.“