Today’s post is the featured article from the March 2010 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription. 

john-newHaving core values is all about choice … if you don’t choose them, they will choose you. In the end, it is impossible not to have them. The question becomes who is choosing whom? Since the release of GOOD to the CORE, I have become increasingly aware that values are more often choosing individuals and organizations than vice versa. In many cases we unknowingly help this process along.

We have become far more sophisticated in business planning and execution. Tremendous energy and focus have been devoted to the development of organizational visions. We have made great strides in understanding the need and development of effective business strategies to direct our path towards the vision at-hand. Technology has provided us the will and the way to create detailed measurements of numerous daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual metrics. And we have clearly learned you get what you measure.

But have we really understood the lesson learned?

We have taken vision, strategy and measurement dead-serious. The question becomes, have we taken core values more serious … or have we seriously considered them at all. Some organizations have considered them to be the “soft touchy-feely” kind of stuff. Hardly!

Core values, thoughtfully chosen, create rock-solid foundations upon which visions, strategies and measurements can stand. It is in not choosing them … letting them choose us … that we create the soft touchy-feely. As in … soft touchy-feely foundations.

Clear visions, sophisticated strategies and measurements will propel you. We can teach them in the classrooms of our most highly-regarded business schools across America. We can refine them in boardrooms and at business retreats of the most intelligent executives. And, I propose, the better we become with them the more dangerous they become with us … unless we are, first, more dead-serious about our core values than any of these business tools.

I have learned the concept of core values is simple … yet from that point forward, are anything but easy. I have also learned that we are easily deceived into thinking we are more on top of this than we really are. I have now seen hundreds upon hundreds of very thoughtful people run head-on into the sudden reality that maybe they really don’t know their own personal values as well as they thought they did. I have lost count of the employees that simply don’t know the values of the organization where they show-up to work each day. It would have been easier to keep count of the employees that did. And these are good people … dedicated to the vision, strategy and measurements of their employer.

Today’s workers are very smart. But they will respond to what organizations deem to be important.

If an organization is dead-serious about defining, communicating and holding everyone accountable (top to bottom) to a set of core values … you can bet employees would respond.

By definition, core values have to come first. They have to supersede. They have to trump any vision, strategy or measurement. Otherwise they are of no value at all.

We have seen the results of a few well-educated executives who were too smart for their own good … too advanced to want to master anything as simple as core values. Or maybe they were just no good at all. More likely, they were actually very good … but they blindly let enticing visions, intellectually-stimulating strategies and carefully designed metrics pull them. And with the pressures of the pull they began to drift. Eventually a set of values chose them … and not the ones they would have chosen.

The same holds true for our personal dreams and aspirations. Dream big … but without values … you may very well wake-up to a nightmare.

For organizations to truly benefit from the value of values, I am coming to realize each of the following must simultaneously exist:

1. Owners and employees,alike, must first understand their own personal values. Organization values are empty when not systemically connected to an initial understanding of our own personal values. It must be clear that, organizationally, personal values are anything but personal.

2. Leaders must lead the way in developing, understanding, communicating, and driving the core values of the organization. They must first hold themselves accountable … and then hold everyone else accountable.

3. Everyone must realize that visions, strategies and metrics are important … but must always be at the mercy of a clearly defined set of core values.

Otherwise … you may very well be asking to be one of the chosen!