Tag Archives: cultural values

How to Define Company Values

Twenty three people milled about the room. We had gathered together to talk about culture. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. With such a large group, from vice-presidents to managers to supervisors, we broke into six smaller groups so quick discussions could occur. The CEO was in the back of the room with strict instructions to simply listen.

“On the table, everyone grab a little stack of sticky notes. Please identify five values that you believe are important in guiding our behavior as the company works together. Write one value on a separate sticky note.” Within 90 seconds, most had completed the assignment. Each small group was given another 90 seconds to share their responses, to make sure each person had five sticky notes. We were three minutes into the meeting.

“We have a big white board up here. I know it will get noisy, but everyone stand and come stick your five values to the board. Once all the notes are on the board feel free to group all the duplicates together and then sit down.”

And so the room was thrown into chaos for a few minutes. In the end, 62 different values were represented on the board. Those 62 values were quickly and randomly rearranged into 31 pairs of words.

“This next step is like a double-elimination tournament for a softball game, only quicker. For each random pair, we are going to vote on which value best represents what we want for our collective culture. The winners will go on one side and the losers on the other. Then we will pair all the winners and pair all the losers. To get off the board, the value has to lose twice, so a losing value could earn its way back to the winner’s side of the board.”

The voting went quickly. As the selections went from 62 to 31, down to 12, we then broke into group discussions to get the last 12 down to six. Groups were allowed to advocate for their most important values. In the end, we had five values, with very clear understandings what behaviors were connected to each. The process had taken an hour and a half. Our next meeting was scheduled for the following week.

How to Build Intentional Culture

The management team was assembled in the conference room. Culture was the topic of the day.

“You can either try to get people on board with your culture, or you can build the culture that people want to get on board with. Which is it going to be?” I asked.

Since Miguel called this meeting, everyone looked at him. The silence worked its discomfort. I broke the group into teams of two. Erica’s team was the first out of the gate.

“I don’t think you can talk people into it. The culture has to make personal sense and they have to believe it is really true. People can smell a pig no matter how much lipstick is on it.”

“What do you mean, it has to make personal sense?”

“I mean the values of the company have to be close to the values of the person. If there is a conflict, either the company has to change or the person has to go find another company.”

“Do you think culture comes from values?” I continued to probe.

Erica wasn’t sure where this was going, but she had already stuck her neck out. “I think culture is the collected values of every person who is a member of the group. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. It sets the expectation, creates the environment in which we work.”

“So, would you agree that the first conscious step toward a positive culture is to actively collect the values of each member of the group?” I stopped. “A little scary, perhaps. Until we collect the values, we can get away with ambiguity. Once we collect the values, there is no place to hide.”