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Establish Workplace Values.

Many of our clients ask us how they should go about setting values that are genuinely meaningful for their team. In a previous article, we posed a question: “Do you actually have workplace values?” The answer to that question is not as black and white as it seems – consider these three answers:

  1. “We don’t have workplace values “– In this case, I would recommend you make it a priority to establish some values for your team
  2. “Yes, we have workplace values – but when people don’t observe them, nothing happens.”  – In reality, you really don’t have values
  3. “We have defined our values and we live them. They are a really important part of our everyday work life” –  In this case, amazing. 

So, how do you go about establishing values that genuinely work? The answer is based upon what values really represent. Values are the way your community, the people who come to work together in your organisation, have agreed to work together. They have said, “this is the way I would like to be treated at work, but also the way that I am committed to treating other people at work.”

By seeing values in that context, it’s easy to understand that they cannot be meaningful, unless it’s the community that sets them. Without the people who need to live these values setting them themselves, values meaningless and irrelevant. 

We have worked with organisations where the wrong people want to establish and impose the values. For example, several boards we have consulted have tried to set values for the people in the organisation. Often these boards are made up of people that visit the organisation rather than live in it. They do a great job, but they only come once a month to sit in a board meeting, either as a volunteer or perhaps as a paid board member. 

How can people who visit the organisation once a month set the standards for a community that they don’t live in, day by day? Often, the people working within the organisation feel it is a bit arrogant for vacant board members tell them how they should treat each other. It must be the people in the workplace, that are in that community every day, that make and implement these decisions. 

 In values, there can be no hierarchy. Every voice should be equal. A manager, even a senior manager or the executive leadership team, should not have more say in deciding the values than any other team member. 

So, how do you establish the values that are representative of the whole team? You ask them. That may be a simple process if you have got a small number of people. It can be more complicated if you are a large organisation with many staff. But the payoff for the effort is significant. Because once your people have decided what the values are, you now have the ability to hold them accountable to those values.

Whether people choose to participate in the process of setting values is up to them. If they have chosen to participate, you can acknowledge, ‘I know I am holding you accountable to a value here. But I i’s one that you said that you wanted. So as a leader, what I am really doing is upholding the values that you have told me are important to you, and your colleagues.’

If someone chooses not to participate, then the answer is even simpler. You had a chance to have your say and you chose not to take that. Your peers, who did choose to participate, set some values. And now the entire workplace community is expected to observe them and be accountable to those values.

Values are one of the most important tools in establishing an ideal workplace culture. But for them to be effective, they must be owned by the team. They must be set by the team members who are going to live them because then you can hold them accountable.