I recently had the pleasure of visiting The Ickworth in Suffolk for a few days and took some walks through the landscape and I was struck by the movement of the grass in the fields as the wind blew across them and how mesmerising and powerful the scene was as like a wave on the sea the grass moved and bent with the gusts and then returned at their own speed back to upright, only to be shifted by the next gust that came along, completely rooted but agile under pressure.
In my corporate career I have been fortunate to work within the HR teams of two global companies at a time of their development and roll out of corporate values; in the first instance it was development of these as a co-creative exercise as a whole company, and in the latter it was the evolution of an already existing EMEA set of values into a single global set. Both were exciting times and took up a great deal of internal discussion time about how to manage change, how to communicate the change, how to embed and embody the values in behaviours and probably the biggest topic was defining what values actually are, why they are important, and how they differ from all the other corporate language in use, primarily competencies, which are much more tangible and form a more measurable part of many internal people related processes. As part of our analysis we identified upwards of 25-30 different words in the corporate languages that might resonate with employees and guide them in their thinking and activity. Quite an ask of people and the values work was intended to simplify all this, not add further complexity.
The purpose of this article is to discuss values and their importance and application not just to corporates who are looking to rally their employee base around a shared sense of culture, but for us as we define ourselves in the world; with reference to diagnostic findings through tools such as Hogan and through more emergent experiences that lead to greater self awareness.
There is a concept in a Gestalt coaching approach of Confluence; where we become one with another, a team, a process, and it is almost impossible to then separate the individual. In some instances this may be a huge strength; imagine a choir, an orchestra, the grass fields of Suffolk, and high performing teams where you may want one single belief and way of working together, where everyone is invested more in the adventure and the group than their individuality and own needs, but in almost all other situations this oneness can get in the way of creativity, individualism, personal wellbeing, being able to take a broader view or see different sides of a debate. This confluence is perhaps the state that employers hope for, but the paradox is they also want individuals who can adapt, be creative, and challenge the status quo.
In her book The little book on authenticity, Dr Nina Burrowes makes the case for values being core to who we are, our authenticity, but also our flexibility. Please get a copy of this book and lose yourself in it for a while. I paraphrase and use my own words here but we are the embodiment of our values and we have a purpose in life to work out who we are by reference to our value set. As Dr Burrowes writes however, "Having chosen what kind of person I aspire to be the next step isn't to reveal my values. It is to become them. To live them.” A long exercise for many. In my coaching conversations, and also through a tool such as Hogan, we can explore and identify people's value set and what it really means to them and how they choose to live as they move forward in the world with this awareness.
I have long talked about values, corporate and personal, as fundamental to our decision making process, and this has been reinforced through my corporate work and deeper more personal 1-2-1 work with clients. By this I mean a Value is something that you use to make real fundamental decisions in your life.
A Gestalt based approach may point out a paradox that often we reach a challenge in life, to our values, where we are expected or believe we are expected, to behave in one way but for some reason we feel a block, a discomfort, a knot somewhere in our bodies, something does not feel quite right, and we rebel against it in some way, even if we follow through we are left feeling like something is or was wrong with what we did. This is powerful information and we should trust our sensations more when they give us a physical reaction, something that somatic coaches work deeply on with clients.
Knowing what you stand for can be really empowering. And this is enhanced by being aware of what happens within you when your values are challenged and you feel you are going against them.
When I work in what I've always found to be the very exciting and inspirational area of employer branding and the employee value proposition (EVP), we can discover a great deal about some of the core motivations, broadly the value based decisions that people have about choosing a particular employer, and knowing this and researching your employee base and your corporate literature can help define a really compelling and attractive EVP. This has been big business over the last 10+ years or so. This is the junction where we hope to match up a potential employee or existing employee's personal values with those of the company.
Over the years I have had countless experiences of coaching conversations, therapeutic modalities, workshops, development programmes, and points of great testing, failing and learning. Through these experiences, and some significant challenges I have constructed, tested, reconstructed, reviewed, and become clearer on what these values or decision points are for me, and those who know me well would I hope would agree that these are values I live by, choosing Dr Burrowes language. These have become important guides and have deep roots through which to lead my life, my career, and my decisions. However and this is an important addition in the little book on authenticity, these roots allow us to bend and be flexible around them and are not so rigid that we crack and fracture in strictly adhering to them; think buildings made in earthquake zones around the world that move and bend with tremors, or grasses that sway in even the strongest winds always returning to their own gentle harmonic movement after the hurricane has subsided. Our values and what they mean to us need to be flexible to the circumstances, our experiences and what's important to us over time, and of course we all grow and change. Ask yourself, are you the same person with the same values and motivations as you were 10 years ago? Do you expect to be the same in 10 years hence?
The values that have grown out of all these experiences and are now in my daily behaviours and are very much in line with an understanding of our inner child, and these in many ways resonated with the corporate values of the companies I have worked with, enough to keep me there and happy, but in other deeper ways, are so very different and a point of difference enough for me to need to move on at times. These are:
Curiosity: Always learning
Play: Experientially growing
Openness: Mutuality of trust
Connect: Being present
Change: Always adapting
The Hogan 'Core Values and Motivators for Leadership Roles' MVPI assessment measures an individual's values against a standard set; Recognition, Power, Hedonism, Altruism, Affiliation, Tradition, Security, Commerce, Aesthetics, and Science (naturally these terms do not have the the richness of one's first language so having someone qualified to talk you through the true depth, meaning and application of these labels is important when taking the assessment). These give powerful insights into what drives someone in their decisions and motivations, aspirations and drivers, and provides self reports on who they might prefer to work for, and with, and what turns them off. A fascinating exercise for me was to compare these robust, validated and tested psychometric findings with my own perceptions and those of others around me and they did indeed reinforce rather than contradict and were hugely encouraging.
Of course values change over time, and we cannot all share the same views on life, but this is what makes us all interesting. When we have some shared values with our colleagues and with our organisation this helps us to move in the same direction and make decisions aligned with the business direction, and results in less disruption in our health as we are not being asked to perform in ways so opposite to our own values. But values need to be flexible around a deep root and when we all sway together in the same wind, we move as one but the extent of our bend and the speed at which we return after the gust has passed all vary individually, creating to the observer that amazingly beautiful scene of a field of grass moving like waves on the ocean. In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and agile world, knowing ourselves but being able to shift and adapt to our environment of choice is of critically significant importance.