Values – more feel good decorative prose to adorn the boardroom walls?
If you’ve read about ‘mission’ then you’ll have some appreciation of the power of a statement that can unify, motivate, focus and direct your workforce. If you believe the human spirit is without limits then the mission statement can be the source of unlimited power, and with such power comes responsibility. Do the ends justify the means? My own moral compass points to ‘no’ but you need to decide for yourself what goes and what doesn’t.
If ‘mission’ is ‘why’, then the values statement is your measure of quality assurance. It is the framework against which you decide what constitutes ‘well done’. If your mission is to make money, and lets face it in our capitalistically oriented business culture what else is there?, what’s allowable and what isn’t? Is it OK to be less than forthcoming with the truth? Is it OK to lie? Does it matter if one or two people are hurt in the process of making money?
Consider the following as a line in our values statement:
‘We value the truth, in its entirety above all else’.
Now the quality of any activity in the pursuit of making money can be measured against how honest it is, and clearly any level of deception would be considered poor form. The values statement is to governance what mission is to focus. A weak statement, which is open to interpretation can be exploited. I once worked for an organisation in who’s values statement ‘compassion’ and ‘respect’ featured prominently. Some how they allowed one division of their organisation to sack their workforce and make them re-apply for their own (reclassified) jobs at lesser pay rates. In the name of ‘compassion’ they were given assistance in writing their own resumes. Some of these staff had been part of the organisation for more than a generation. Agree or disagree with the the strategy it it is blatantly contrary to the organisation’s core values and that it was allowed to happen is one of the reasons I no longer work for them.
Values statements, like mission statements are all encompassing. If we are allowed to choose when they apply and when they do not then they stand for nothing. The purpose of the values statement is to answer the question, “Do the ends justify the means?”. The answer is, ONLY if they do not compromise our values. Our values reflect who we are. If there are exceptions then there are holes in how we see ourselves. If you have a mirror that lies to you then the only one being fooled is you. It means that the values statement is incomplete or incorrect. If we need to compromise our values to achieve a goal then either the goal is wrong or we are not being honest about our values. A popular theme in Hollywood movies is that the rules don’t apply to the cool people. “You can’t handle the truth!”. The implication being that even though it’s contrary to our values and abhorrent to most, it had to happen. If that is the case then one of two things is broken. If we are prepared to sacrifice what it is we’re fighting for, in order to win the war then we have already lost and we need to rethink our values. If we believe in the human rights of individuals, then processing undesirables like terrorists and asylum seekers off shore in order to evade the rights that our soldiers have died to protect is wrong. Paying someone else to commit a crime does not make you less of a criminal.
Regardless of the currency, a powerful mission statement can be highly profitable and generate quite a bit of momentum. If you want to stay in control then you need a strong statement of values. Together your mission and values represent the universe that you are trying to build around yourself. Do you really want to be the wealthiest person in the street if it means hiring body guards to protect you from your own family because they care more for their inheritance than for you?
In ‘What they didn’t tell you about project management in class’ I talk a bit more about values in the context of mission, strategies and plans.