Don’t overdo defining values

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Putting too much effort into defining an organisation’s values is a waste of time.

Skip it altogether, or, if you must, then save messing about by adopting universal values like:

  • Honesty 
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Love 
  • Fairness
  • Courage

Or one overarching value like Google’s one that they (troublingly) dropped: ”don’t be evil”.

When you define and publish a set of values, they usually end up engendering cynicism when bosses don’t walk the walk. You kill them by codifying them. A better approach is to tell stories about yourselves, from the origins and history of the organisation, from which people can infer the values and the expected behaviours. From these stories, we can define a vision of who we aspire to be as an organisation, a common cause or purpose, and the principles that guide our decision making and our work patterns. Those are worth devoting effort to agreeing and describing.

What matters is that we have values and principles which we live by, that we live in a principled way, not that we can put them on a motivational poster at work.

What you put on the walls are the principles of the way we do things around here, not why.  What matters is that we care about values, not that we can recite them.

(This is a quote from our new book Open Management.)