The following is an updated and revised version of a set of five posts from the spring of 2008 on the topic of Values 2.0. After reading them during my 10th anniversary of blogging, I decided that they needed to be brought together into one longer, more coherent, less fragmented post.
The above photo is symbolic of the values that I write about below. It is taken at the Lemhi Pass along the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail on the Montana - Idaho border. A place of great meaning to the followers of the story, as well as to me.
The Value of Values
Several years ago, I was involved with a project where values were the focus of the revitalization of the company. In this project, a cross-section of the company developed a values statement that they believed, and I concurred, were representative of the values of the company's people. Their values statement was warmly and enthusiastically received by the company. The efforts of the company's leadership to inform and deploy their values throughout the company earned them recognition beyond their industry as a trustworthy company.
Having gone through this experience, I became convinced that values are a social mechanism for the purpose of uniting people around shared ideas or beliefs.
Whether the idea is integrity or creativity, the idea provides meaning and purpose for people. When that idea is shared with others who also value it, a social context for their relationships is formed that enables them to work through obstacles and achieve higher levels of impact that thought possible otherwise.
The values culture of a business is integral to the healthy functioning of human relationships within an organizational context. Too many organizations ignore this facet of leadership. They treat values as an ancillary exercise that is elective and marginal in impact.
Values: Museum Artifact or Living History
Values are ideas that identify what is important to us. In an organizational context, these ideas are intended to project a certain image about the company. Whether the value is being "dependable" or "fun" the effect is to make a statement that describes what the company believes in or stands for. This is the traditional approach to values. They are iconic statements of identity.
For many people and organizations, this approach treats values as an historical artifact.
You go to a museum, and in the main hall there is a life-size model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You walk into a room called The Hall of Values, the first thing you see is a frame with a magazine ad for "ACME Dynamite Company - Dependable Explosions since 1904." Then there is a statue of a man in a business suit and a sign that simply says "Trust." At the rear of the hall, there is a display of an auto assembly line from the 1950's with a sign that says, "Innovation."
We see concepts applied to business as a way of distinguishing them from their competitors. We call this branding or marketing, of course. But we treat values in much the same way. They are like museum artifacts.
There is an ancient, historical character to words like "trust", "dependable", or "integrity." They are words that signify a specific meaning. These words are recollections of a past time. They carrying with their historical meaning, fixed images of the company that are intended to remain as the values impression of the company.
We know when there is a breakdown between the espoused values and reality, when a company sells itself as trustworthy, dependable and operating with the highest integrity, and in the morning newspaper we read of the embezzlement of millions of dollars by a top official. We know that the "espoused values" no longer command attention like they did in the past. This disconnect leads people to believe that the value words are hollow. Have enough of this occurrences, and people believe that this isn't one person or one company but a society-wide or industry-wide culture of corruption.
It may well be true that 99% of the company's employees are trustworthy, dependable and have integrity. The moral failures of a few are thrust upon the many whom remain behind to pick up the pieces of a tattered reputation. Values reduced to ad copy or a relic in the company museum set up the conditions for failure.
This traditional approach to values treats values as museum pieces. Leaders are curators of those values. We parade the values out for celebrations, then return them to their rightful place in a glassed trophy case in the lobby. I'm not blaming marketers for this situation. In fact, they may be the only ones who come close to understanding the importance of values that represent the company.
How we utilize values in the future must be very different than in the past. Instead of values being museum artifacts, they need to be living history experiences that take on a life of their own.
Values that are fully realized are not static museum displays, but about the living experiences of the company. If they are historic values of the company, recreating the experiences that led to particular values becoming the company's values may be needed.
For example, I have heard people say that their company used to be like a family. They would say things like:
"We cared for each other like family. We knew each other's spouses and kids. We got together to play softball in the spring and attend company picnics in the summer."
If being a family is a value that is a part of the company's DNA, then create opportunities to be a family. Set up committees to raise money to help "family" members in need. Just don't talk about the glory days of the past when you were like a family. Be a family now.
If values matter, then they will mean more by being intentionally applied to the relationships and processes of the company. The ideal is simple. The application is not so simple. It requires work to integrate values into the work of a company. Yet that is what Values 2.0 is about.
The Difference between Values and Value-added
Is there a difference between values and value added? What is this difference?
Value is a measurement of appreciation, impact or benefit.
For example, I hear often the phrase "value added" which means that the client is receiving more than what they expected. There is a higher level of impact or benefit. Value can be defined as a Return-On-Investment (ROI) figure. Or it can be something less quantitative, more qualitative. In those instances, the measure is based on a particular perception of an idea, like a car or a suit being valued as a luxury item.
Values are ideas that define meaning or value.
Typically we'd see values as those ideas that point to a purpose or a standard. Values unify when shared between people or in organizations, and divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the unimaginable.
For example, you are sitting in a meeting and everyone is texting on their phones, not paying attention to the presenter. This typical experience may be widely accepted, but it is also rude. The judgment that the behavior is rude is based on values that govern the social relationships of people. Typically we call this set of values, etiquette. These values are ideas about what is appropriate behavior in a meeting or other social context. The values of respect and courtesy demand some sort of accommodation to the ever present smart phone.
Values are the ideological foundation of human interaction. They are the fundamental beliefs that create a culture, and as we all know every organization is run by a prescribed culture. Groups that work and those that are ineffective are both so because of various values that are functioning. Those values are either shared ones or at odds with the purpose of the meeting or group. More importantly, their share values are either not acknowledged or not acted upon by the group or organization create ambivalence and indifference in the participants.
Ask any person who works in a large corporate culture, and they can describe values that govern how they work together.
If you want to provide value-added products and services, ask yourself, "What values am I utilizing to increase my value-added impact?"
Values 2.0, the Interaction Paradigm
We are entering a new era regarding organizational values. It is an analogous to the change that Neville Hobson describes in this video from 2007. He says that the web has shifted. It used to be that websites were "read only ... (and now, we're) seeing a shift to read - write. You can read and write." This is happening through the use of social media. A similar shift is taking place on the values front.
For illustration purposes, let's describe the old way of using values as Values 1.0, and this new approach that I'm advocating as Values 2.0.
Values 1.0 are values that are used as boilerplate ideas to serve some abstract function. They represent an idea that is meant to be read without interaction. These words become iconic as representations of the company.
For example, for as long as I can remember, Coca Cola has been referred to as "The Real Thing." This values statement is an iconic label for the soft drink. Is the value of authenticity simply a marketing slogan, or is this representative of the company itself? I don't, and my purpose here is only to show how a value concept can be used in a non-interactive manner.
This was been the basic approach to communication by companies throughout the 20th century. In essence, their communication strategy is the distribution of information to the public.
Values 2.0 are the ideas that give people a reason to engage, interact and unite around a share purpose of who they are and what their organization stands for. Today, this is now the default approach to communication. Interaction with the customer is the key to building a successful brand. It is also the key to changing the internal communication environment of organizations.
These two approaches can be distinguished in this way.
Values 1.0 - Ideas - Icon - Irrelevance
Values 2.0 - Ideas - Interaction - Integration - Impact
Placed in the context of the Circle of Impact, values serve an important role, just as do a clear purpose, a compelling vision and a healthy organizational structure.
Values matter at the most basic point of human interaction, and increasingly in a business climate that requires greater people interaction skills to meet complex demands. Values are the super-glue that unite people together for the work they must do.
The heart of Values 2.0 is human interaction for action. We are not talking about lovely sentimental ideas that are printed on posters and hung on office walls. We are talking about the ideas of substance that support and guide people in their interactions.
Creating a Culture for Interaction
When The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in 1999, it represented a transition that would come to mark the first decade of the 21st Century. The shift is captured in the first Cluetrain thesis - Markets are conversations.
Cluetrain introduced the idea of human interaction into the discussion about marketing and business, predicting the rise of the social media phenomenon. The book seems a bit obvious now, but a decade and a half ago their book was revolutionary in what it proposed.
Two decades ago, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' published Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One of the first books that took seriously the place of values in organizations.
I find myself returning to both books time and again because of their treatment of values in organizations. They were both instrumental, at the time that I first read them, in my own developing thoughts about leadership and organizations.
In Built to Last, Collins and Porras make an insightful distinction between values and cultural practices. The difference is simple.
Core Values provide a social foundation for groups of people and organizations to change while preserving the integrity of the organization.
Cultural Practices are those practices that have lost their reason for being, yet still command allegiance as the historic traditions of the organization. These are situations where you might hear in a meeting, "Well, we've never done it that way."
According to Collins and Porras, companies that are successful over time, are so because they are true to their core values. The distinction matters because leaders of organizations must push change at the cultural practices level in order to preserve their core values.
Values, whether acknowledged or not, are important to a business. A basic question we must ask is: "How are values important to us?"
When Built To Last was written, the approach to values in business was primarily ethical and utilitarian, asking, "What are the boundaries of what is legal and will not embarrass us?" This approach was inadequate then, and remains so today. The complexity of organizational life has grown, even as web-based transparency has grown, it is much easier to hide the unethical and illegal, and let ethics be a function of public relations.
Without genuine, authentic transparency, companies are really not in conversation with their constituents. The effect of not recognizing the role of values in organizations, like transparency, a business today can lack real awareness and perception of how it is doing.
Today, a business that is not addressing the Interaction Paradigm is behind the developmental curve. Clay Shirky, a smart observer of the cultural implications of the development of social media, says,
... Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you'll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.
And what's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer.
Values 2.0 is a strategic shift from a consumerist view to a more values focused, relationship-centric organization.
The Nature of Interaction
The question remains for us what is interaction? How can we interact about values so that they are more than some abstract concepts that has sentimental personal meaning, and little practical relevance?
The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if (we) think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.
I see values as social objects that function to united people together. Let us call them "operational values." These values are ones that are utilized, operationalized, deploy, lived out in the operations of an organization.
For example, if trust is a core value of a company. Then actions of trust would be ones like transparency,
Values function to strengthen, support, guide and protect relationships within a social context. These are the kind of Core Values that Collins and Porras describe in Built to Last.
What are the interaction functions of an organization that are strengthened or empowered by values?
There are three human interaction functions that are enriched by values.
Communication in all its forms.
Decision-making and its implementation.
Evaluation of both people and company performance.
When values are utilized in an operational sense, they shift from being abstractions for promotion, to practical beliefs that open up avenues of learning and discovery for meeting company goals.
A social object, according to Hugh MacLeod, could be anything. These objects are points of affinity that people share. It could be a local sports team, family history, spiritual beliefs, a music group, or a co-worker's fight with cancer. The stronger the affinity, the more personal the connection, the deeper the values are.
Social objects are a connecting point. The values deepen and give purpose to the relationship. For organizations, these social connecting points provide an additional means to quality people for employment.
The relationship starts with the social object - an introduction to one another- and deepens as values are identified. The relationship finds vitality and sustainability as purpose and vision develop.
From this development, smart leaders will adapt their organizational structures to support the strengthening of the company's social environment. This is how abstract values become operational values. It is important that businesses understand what their values are. Not the boilerplate ideas of P.R. materials, but rather the beliefs and attitudes that people have about the company that they share and give them strength and hope.
Creating a Culture of Trust
At the beginning of this post, I wrote,
Values unify when shared, divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the impossible.
In a Values 1.0 world, values are treated as Icons, as symbolic emblems that have meaning, but little relevance. In fact, the iconic values are in competition with the actual values of a company.
There is no choice about whether to have values or not. They are the most fundamental expression of who we are as human beings. There is no escaping their impact upon the functioning of any social or organizational environment. When ignored or conflicted, values become a source a divisive constraint on a business' ability to create impact. When they are utilized as a platform for interaction, they build unity and a culture of trust.
In a Values 2.0 world, leaders understand that to build their corporate culture around a clearly identified and embraced set of values provides the conditions for creating a culture of trust.
This diagram illustrates this connection.
Values are ideas that unify relationships and guide an organizational structure to create a culture of trust.
Is trust really that important? Ask the former employees and shareholders of Enron. Ask the spouses of politicians caught having extra-marital affairs. Ask your children if trust is important. In fact, ask them about their friends, or supposed friends, and you'll find that much of what passes for human relationships in a business setting is at the same level as a 15 year high school sophomore. It can be mean, nasty, petty and emotionally destructive. Ask your kids. They understand trust in a more immediate, fundamental way than we adults who play our word games with the idea.
Trust is earned by the integrity and impact of the organization.
The culture of an organization is representative of all the people, not just senior leadership. The idea situation is for senior leaders to express respect down through the organization chart, while employees express trust up through it. In each case, at the heart of this exchange is a set of values that are shared, mutually believed in, and that create the unity that enable the company to do more.
The application of values is not the ultimate purpose of Values 2.0. It is rather a means to the creation of a culture of trust that elevates the prominence of the social environment to be a place that strengthens the organization. That is the long range purpose of utilizing values as a means to enhance interaction and impact.
The key is to begin. To take this one page conversation guide on Values 2.0 and see how one idea, with one person can become something more than a topic of conversation. Follow the line of thought from Idea to Interaction to Integration to Impact. This is a learning process, and the best learning is transformational. What better way to be value-added.