Modern leadership “jargon” includes this phrase, “Values Alignment.” We all toss it around like 1) everyone knows what it means, and 2) everyone knows how to achieve it. In my experience, neither point is usually true. So lets dive in…
What are values? The Oxford dictionary gives us, “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life….” That hits it about right. Principles that represent the judgment about what is important – not just in a single context or situation, but in life overall.
A key distinction, is that we all have values that are not situational – and these deeper values drive us in a powerful way. For example, honesty is a core value for many. One of the fundamental values I have is that people deserve love and respect. We all have a number of these core values. Think on this a minute – can you state your core values? Write them down!
Core or Not Core? Core values are those values that you would give everything to protect. It is not easy to boil your various beliefs and values down to the core. As you come up with an idea, ask yourself if you could live without that value – if you can, it is not core. For example, one of my not-core values is that time is valuable, so meetings should be effective. But I would not fight to my last breath for an effective meeting! So this is not a core value – other things are more important.
Values in Conflict
Major differences in core, fundamental values drive conflict. It is inevitable. The conflict might be “inner” – causing dissatisfaction, disengagement, and other things beginning with “dis-.” In extreme cases it can be external – the newspapers are full of this kind of outward verbal or physical conflict.
Don’t think you and your team are any exception. Don’t think you can somehow manage or finesse your way through major core value disagreements. Core values are those things someone would protect at all costs. No cleverness can make up for opposing core values.
“Values Alignment” is not just an absence of value conflict. There isn’t much inspiration or energy in a “sort-of aligned” state. Close alignment on core values, however, binds your team into a tribe, builds energy for the important work ahead. Think of it as value “resonance,” similar to when a sound wave causes the structural parts of an object to vibrate together, in sync, in alignment.
For you to have values alignment, the work and mission of the group needs to be based on a significant set of shared values. And the other core values, those that are not shared, should not be in opposition. This might sound like a tough standard, but keep in mind that differences in non-core values will occur in a diverse team – it is the solid, aligned core that keeps things together.
What actions create “alignment ?” Values alignment occurs when folks with a set of shared core values know what they are, discuss these core values, and share how to apply them and make them relevant in life and work. Did you write down you core values earlier? If not – take a moment to do so, at least to hit the high points. This list will be refined over time as you come to understand what core/fundamental really means.
4 Steps to Better Values Alignment
1. Write Down Your Core Values. Simple, but not commonly done. As a leader, it can help to actually post your core values as an ever-present communication of what you stand for. It will be a powerful reference point and anchor for your teams. Regardless of your role, writing down core values is important to achieve alignment so you actually, uh, know what you are aligning!
2. Talk about you core values. I know you saw this one coming…don’t shy away from mentioning your core values as you make decisions, celebrate victories, or discuss problems. When they are relevant, talk about values. Just like you would other important factors in your work or life.
3. Know the core values of the people in your business and life. Core values will differ among people, but there needs to be overlap, and a lack of opposition of core values. Ask the people in your world (peers, supervisor, team members) about their values. Look for fundamental, core values. Understand where they are coming from. Identify and talk about overlap, shared values. This is essential for recruiting talent – do not bring anyone onto your team until you have a good read on their core values. Don’t even think about it.
4. Address values opposition and conflict. This is the difficult part. Some folks in your organization may have core values which conflict with those of you, your team, and/or your organization. But first – take a careful look at where the values difference is. If it is outside the core, then there is likely a shared core value that can be leveraged to resolve the conflict. That disagreement over whether to recognize individual merit or team contribution can be resolved by starting at shared core values such as caring for people – and work up from there.
But…if you find that someone in your team or organization has deeply held values that conflict with the organization/teams’ core values, then that person – for their own happiness and that of the team – needs to join a team or organization more in keeping with their core beliefs.
Take the issue of Values Alignment seriously. It will be a source of energy, inspiration, and common mission for your team.