FINDING YOUR DEEP VALUES can be like falling in love.
Love is elusive, one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” type of things.
What I’ve described as deep values also can be elusive, because it starts with what you live and breathe every day. For me, I’ve decided that being of service is crucial to my life and my business. People generally have two reactions to this:
- “DUH … You’re in the business of delivering a service!”
- “Huh? Does that mean you’re not a real business, you just do whatever people say they need?”
I end up with a situation where a concept that’s crucial to me, “being of service,” sounds vague and confusing to others.
I discovered this disparity quite a number of years ago, when I noticed that corporate mission statements always sound like platitudes to the people who didn’t create them. You take your leaders on a two-day retreat, spend some time really thinking about your direction, goals, and strategy, and what emerges is a statement something like
We are passionate about delivering unique, high value products to knowledge professionals, helping them become more cost-effective and productive.
I sometimes joke that a statement like this is “fully buzzword compliant.”
When you and I read this, it sounds like the same sort of mission that EVERY company has, and that it has no power to motivate.
Here’s what’s fascinating, though: The people who created that statement believe in its power.
They’re no dummies. They worked hard on this, and it was the best that they could create. The reason it’s boring to you and me is because we aren’t connected to the stories behind it. We just see the results, and the words have little power for us.
When people fall in love, what’s really happening is that they’re connecting their stories with each other. From the outside we see all that mushy kissing and sweet talk, but that’s just the attraction and romance part of it. It’s not the real, deep, abiding love.
It takes time for peoples’ stories to intertwine, and lots and lots of time, communication, and reinforcement.
Likewise, if you want your employees to connect with the statement I showed above, you’re going to spend a lot of time, communication, and reinforcement on every word and concept. The phrase “knowledge professionals” will explode into a whole series of concepts and logic that’s absolutely unique to your organization.
Think of Google’s core concept, “Don’t be evil.” From the outside, we poke fun at it. We have our own ideas of what we think “evil” means, and apply the statement to situations where it was never intended. We deride instances where we think Google’s behavior is inconsistent with what we think the statement meant. We even change it to “Do no evil,” which is actually a different concept.
But that statement was never intended to be used outside the original Google culture. It had considerable power for them, conveying many layers of meaning.
I’ve seen some interesting examples where companies attempt to capture this kind of richness in the written word. It’s quite tough, and you’ll never do it completely. That’s OK – the written word is only a portion of your plan for communication and reinforcement.
The richness of your words and actions will help employees to intertwine their stories with your company’s story.
They may even fall in love.